I want to share with you a powerful ability that comes standard issue with being a human. That is the power of reframing. I wanted to do this now as I have recently released two modules about solution seduction and attachment, and reframing is essential to both.
For us to deal with our solution seduction or attachment, we can use reframing as a way to release the attachment. Reframing is our ability to look at exactly the same situation from a fundamentally different perspective, in so doing, reframing that situation. Our brains are pretty powerful. When you realise you’re not the thinker, (thank you Eckhart Tolle and many other spiritual teachers) you realize you do have control over your thoughts. And if you have control over your thoughts, then you can choose which perspective to hold as you make sense of any situation.
In my recent beliefs article I used a sketch of a high jumper to illustrate the powerful impact beliefs can have on our actions. To change our belief about a certain situation, or perceived reality, we need to reframe how we see that situation. We need to either choose to make different meaning of the event, or not to make meaning at all. Reframing is an essential mechanism to play with perspectives until you find one that gives you energy, one that helps you engage powerfully, creatively, with all your personal resources available to you.
I was speaking with Annie recently, she’s the remarkable woman who has been with me for the past five years in many different essential roles from executive assistant to executive producer to ruler of the known universe. I was speaking with Annie about this article and she shared a powerful story from her own life, which I want to share with you here. With her permission of course.
Annie has had a challenging journey with her health, with over a decade of being on dialysis, two kidney transplants, radiotherapy for a thankfully brief encounter with non-invasive breast cancer and many other operations along the way to keep Annie healthy. She shared with me a story from a phase in her life when she was on dialysis, before being the grateful recipient of the kidney she now has.
The relentless essential nature of dialysis can become quite monotonous and physically and psychologically tiring. She was reflecting on this time and shared with me there’s an extremely fragile fine line to navigate as you can quickly plummet into a cave of despair.
Being someone who is determined not to have her illness stop her from living, she explained the importance of seeing light in what can be quite a challenging and disheartening truth. She said it is possible to begin to exist in a state of hopelessness. But seeking for some light, she had a moment of realisation. Dialysis was her life force. It was keeping her alive. Three days a week, it was there for her, cleansing her blood and giving her life. Since that shifting of perspective, she began to see the dialysis machine as her friend and built immense gratitude. This realisation and perspective, completely reframed her experience of renal failure and I believe is a testament to her strength, positivity and resilience.
So, why am I sharing this story with you and how is this relevant to design and leadership? I am certainly not drawing any parallels between what we do and Annie’s or anyone’s experience of renal failure! The parallel only exists in the powerful effect of reframing our perspective.
In our work, we can experience challenging times. We can experience high levels of ambiguity and uncertainty, deal with difficult topics affecting humanity and sometimes experience conflict. Being able to interrogate your own thinking about whether the perspective you are taking on the work is a useful one is a powerful practice in leadership and design.
In leadership, it enables you to calibrate how you are leading through a situation, to bring your most powerful or resourceful self to the situation every time. In design it helps you see things anew. An essential skill when we are insight hunting during analysis and synthesis. To break out of common pathways of thought we need to cultivate the ability to look at the same situation using different perspectives, or lenses. This enables you to notice something you may have missed with your previous perspective.
Reframing not only helps us become more insightful designers, it also enables us to become powerful leaders by building the discipline to approach complex situations from different perspectives, committed to an outcome of mutual value. These are exactly the abilities I refer to when I speak of self awareness as critical to anybody’s practice in leadership or design.