It’s been a challenging week for me. I have three major projects overlapping along with the day-to-day work. It’s been stressful.
Then on Tuesday, I had something derail my plans and threw my schedule off course. I was extremely frustrated to say the least. I have target dates that can’t shift and things that needed to be done.
So I tapped into my 3 Rs: reframing, refocusing, and resilience.
These are all mental skills. Mental skills, like any other skills, can be learned, practiced, and trained.
We are not doomed from birth to think or feel a certain way forever, any more than we are doomed from birth never to play the piano or learn to play golf.
Reframing: Changing a negative perspective to a positive one
Put yourself in the shoes of a photographer for your life.
Refer back to the experiences and memories captured in those photos. What do you focus on?
Whatever you choose to focus on is your frame.
Your frame shapes your attitude and how you interpret your life.
If you use a “negative frame” and shoot your life as a tragedy, that’s what it will be.
If you use a “positive frame” and shoot your life as an exciting adventure, that’s what it will be.
The actual events don’t matter.
For example, let’s say you have a car accident. You’re OK but shaken up, and the car is totaled.
A “negative frame” would shoot this event as “This really stinks! Poor me! My car is trashed!”
A “positive frame” would shoot this event as “Wow, I am so lucky! Cheated death again! This affirms my commitment to live life to the fullest — as if every moment could be my last!”
Same car accident. Different frames.
What are your “superpowers”?
As you review the photos of your life, let’s imagine you see a superhero. So let’s find your superpowers.
How do you know what those are? Well, they’re the flip side of your “negative” qualities.
- If you spend a lot of time daydreaming, your “superpower” is imagination and creativity.
- If you sometimes overdo things, your “superpower” is intensity and drive.
- If you’re anal-retentive, your “superpower” is planning and organization.
- If you have trouble saying no to others, your “superpower” is probably being a decent, caring gal/guy.
See how we reframed those things?
Now, how can you harness your superpowers for good rather than evil?
For example, why not use that intensity in the gym?
Reframing — quick tips
Here are three quick ways to “reframe” your perspective.
- Reframe problems as opportunities. How can you learn and grow from challenges?
- Reframe “negative” qualities as “superpowers”. Remember, just “flip” the negativity over.
- Reframe “I have to . . . ” as “I get to . . . ” For instance, instead of “I have to go to the gym”, try “I get to go to the gym and burn off some stress!”
Refocusing: How to get back on track
Now that we’ve got our positive frames, let’s stay focused on them.
Of course, life is full of distractions. Your attention will inevitably wander away. In fact, you might . . . Hey! We’re not done yet!
Your interpretation of your experiences is based on what you pay attention to.
And what you pay attention to will grow.
Working with your attention is a skill — and getting good at it takes practice.
Develop a refocusing plan in advance. That can be:
- A “refocusing ritual”, which many athletes have, such as brushing off their hands to symbolize brushing off the last event.
- A simple verbal trigger (remember those?) that reminds you to pay attention (e.g. “Back on track.”).
- A tried-and-true routine, such as a few familiar go-to meals or strategies.
- Imagining “parking” your concerns and distractions “outside” while you take care of business in the gym.
- Getting a quick hit of your “power song” or favorite motivational video or quote.
- You will be distracted. Stuff will happen. That’s OK. That’s normal.
- You will need to deal with interruptions, distractions, and an “imperfect” life.
- There is no such thing as a “losing streak” — every moment is a chance to get back in the game.
- Be prepared and have a plan to get back on track.
Don’t wait. Don’t beat yourself up for getting distracted. Don’t use it as an excuse to completely derail.
War is hell. But it also provides some very interesting data on resilience.
Recent research on military personnel, as well as people who have experienced trauma (such as a major illness or the death of a child), shows something that may surprise you:
No matter how bad events are, all of us have the power to bounce back from them.
We used to think that resilience was a trait that only special, perhaps extra-optimistic, people had. Not true.
All humans are born with the ability to recover and regroup after a crisis. We’re survivors.
And resilience is a process, not a thing.
Resilience is a set of actions and a way of looking at the world (hey, there’s that frame again!).
No matter what happens to you, trust your innate ability to survive… and eventually thrive again.
Stay relaxed and trust you’ll survive
Here’s a little exercise to try: Go for a light, gentle jog.
First, stay floppy and loose. Relax.
Now tense up. Tense every muscle in your body, even the ones that wiggle your ears.
What happens to your running?
Notice how when you tense up and get rigid, you can barely move. You end up running stiff-legged on your toes, sort of like a constipated penguin.
The same concept applies to resilience.
When we’re open to learning and change, accept discomfort and newness (even if we don’t always like it), and adjust our balance “on the fly”, we keep moving forward.
When we’re rigid and inflexible, fear moving in any direction, and try to control every last piece of our experiences, we end up exhausted and running — very slowly and awkwardly — like a penguin.
I was able to use my superpowers to get the issue resolved in time to do my first Facebook Live session that day. I had a target date that I put out there and was committed to keeping. I also got a few other things finished after I was able to refocus my energy on my work and my studies.
It does take practice and the compassion to give yourself time to work through it. Figure out what you can learn from it.
Today, think about something that’s been challenging you.
How can you bounce back and take one small positive action?