5 Steps to Reframe Your Thinking and Fix Your Problems

In my very last year of college, 3 months before I was set to graduate, I had this period of time where I felt like all the dominos I had carefully placed over the last 4 years were suddenly knocked over.

One by one each domino fell, and as it fell, it knocked down another domino. The problems in my life were piling up, and all of the carefully laid plans I spent 4 years placing and arranging trying to make perfect, began to tumble.

I was frustrated, always thinking, “why me! Why does everything bad always happen to me!” It wasn’t fair, there were people moving and shaking through life with no problems. Their dominos were all in pristine order and they were even adding more!

I thought I did everything right. I had the boyfriend, the dog, the nice house, the new car, I was about to have the degree I worked my butt of for, yet, I was miserable. I was the unhappiest, unluckiest, person in the room.

The flaw was that I didn’t realize I had what you might call gravity problems. Until you realize you have gravity problems you can’t fix them.

Gravity problems are unchangeable, irreversible, and long-lasting. Just like gravity, the problems exist like a law of nature. They are fixed and the only way to handle them is to accept the situation for what it is or reframe the way you think about it.

The design problem that is your life

My problem was the life that I designed for myself. It wasn’t only flawed but it was built on a flimsy foundation that started to crack as soon as small problems arose.

When we have big looming problems like

  • Unsatisfactory career situation
  • Bad relationship
  • Bad financial situation
  • Lack of confidence
  • No sense of life direction

We are quick to blame the circumstance. We don’t realize that these problems accrued after building goals on a superficial foundation.

What I mean by that is when our actions are driven by some desperation to have something better, we make poor decisions and don’t allow ourselves to see all the opportunities.

You started your current position in a hurry because you hated your last job. As soon as you got an offer for something new you jumped at the first thing that sounded half good.

You didn’t start your job on the premise that you would love the work. Why are you surprised that you hate a job that started as a desperate attempt to get away from something else you hated?

We get stuck on this loop of one miserable thing after the next. The problem isn’t the job, the problem is how you think about the job. Until you change that your gravity problems won’t go away and you will keep ending up in the same unfortunate circumstance.

So what are you to do?

Looking at your problem objectively.

You can’t solve a problem you aren’t willing to have. Meaning problem-solving has to start with accepting and taking responsibility for your actions.

My unhappiness was everyone else’s fault, “If only my bosses weren’t so mean, or my boyfriend stopped working so many hours, or if I made more money then, I would be happy.” Someone else was knocking down my domino’s and I was just left to look at all the scattered pieces. I kept telling myself the same self-confirming story. That it was someone else’s fault.

Do you ever tell yourself the, “if this just happened, then I would be happy” story?

If you do, try to remember that every challenge you’re faced with, every decision, has the dual options:

  • The first option is to accept your problems and rethink them in a way that doesn’t make it feel like a problem.

You don’t get along with your boss? Think of it as developing your skills in dealing with difficult people or pushing your own opinions aside and learning to have the objectivity to hear another opinion.

You can flip any situation to sound more like a lesson and less like a punishment but it’s easier said than done.

  • The second option is to walk away.

It’s very simple, reframe the situation or leave it.

Remember, I said simple, not easy.

Life is a journey, one worth enjoying

After all of those carefully laid plans finally crumbled into heartbreak, a tiny apartment, and no direction in my life, I realized something important. Everything that I thought I wanted, that destination I needed to get to so badly, was never really as good as it seemed.

I always thought, “if I just got to a certain place, a certain level in my life, then I would finally be happy”. The thing is, you get to that place, and you already have your sights set on the next level.

You never stop to enjoy the place that you’re in, the level that you’ve attained because you can’t stop looking at what’s next. The goal just gets higher and further out of reach so you never appreciate the spontaneity and trepidation that life gives you every day.

You don’t need to be at your goal to enjoy life, you just need to be working towards it. Happiness isn’t the end goal, it is the result of the journey and making small progress. Focus less on the results and more on the compound effect of your everyday successes.

The 5 steps

Now that you know how to define gravity problems, it’s important to understand the 5 steps of re-framing. Re-framing your thinking won’t change the situation but it will affect how you feel about the situation. We want to transform our thinking to learn how to flip negatives into positives. 

Identify the problem and hold yourself accountable

As Bill Burnett, the creator of Life Design Labs at Stanford University, says, “You can’t solve a problem you aren’t willing to admit you have”. Hold yourself accountable, recognize the issue, understand that you play a role in it. If you want to fix the problem you have to first admit that the problem exists and that you have the power to do something about it.

Address your feelings but don’t validate them

Address the negative feelings, consider why you feel the way you do. Identify what exactly is bothering you. Realize that you have these negative feelings but don’t justify them. Don’t give yourself the right to be upset, angry and frustrated. Every situation is relative to your personal experience and the way you define the circumstance, just because you feel a certain way doesn’t mean your right.

Look for positives

Try this challenge. Close your eyes and try to count how many red items there are in the room without looking. Now open your eyes and look around. How many things did you miss? I’ll guess that there were more red things in the room than you thought. What happens is our mind will only see what we want it to or what we’re focused on. If every day you are looking for the negatives in the room it is all you will be able to see. Start to focus on the positives and I guarantee you will see more of them than you thought.

Flip the script

Once you are able to see a situation differently it is easier to turn negatives into positives. Decide at the very beginning of the day that you aren’t going to let anything bother you. I listen to this 10-minute motivational video when I start my day. It puts me in the right frame of mind to deal with any difficult situation and remind myself that it’s not worth getting upset over. Nothing can ruin your day unless you let it.

Take action

Cultivating the ability to deal with obstacles and challenges in a positive manner is the foundation of mental toughness. It requires discipline and mindfulness. If you want to develop this trait you have to actively work at reframing your thoughts and seeing things from a perspective other than your own. Practice every day to overcome negativity and master your emotions.

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