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Reframe negative thoughts

In resilience workshops, I chirpily tell people to use the reframing technique to manage negative patterns of thought. Here's an example of when I've used it myself - and what prompted me to put it into practice.

Clouds framed by the building courtyard
Clouding over or clearing up? Image by Johannes Plenio via Unsplash

I've been facilitating an online leadership programme for an organisation over the past few weeks. On the days between a couple of the modules, I got a flurry of emails from the participants telling me they would not be present for parts of the next module.

I'm more than a little ashamed to say that my initial response to these messages was to see them as 'the dog ate my homework' excuses. By the time the third one hit my inbox I broke into a little rant about people failing to prioritise their development and not taking the programme seriously. The fourth one just got expletives.

As I was doing my final preparation for the module, I wrote a list of the participants and made notes about timing based on who would be present at specific times. That's when the reframing kicked in — I saw four things differently.

  • First, participants with conflicts had made the effort to tell me what was happening for them and why the other thing took priority.

  • Second, the detail in the emails showed that participants were minimising their time away.

  • Third, the detail allowed me to plan.

  • Fourth, most participants were simply showing up and hadn't emailed me in between modules.

This pattern of thought was much more useful: I turned from being irritated to being pleased that people cared / were engaged / were polite. I recognised the benefit of the details they shared with me. I acknowledged that most of the group were attending as expected.

If you're thinking this is too small an experience to analyse in this way, remember that life is made up of a series of small events. I recognised a negative pattern and managed to reframe it—try it yourself!


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