What is it about new beginnings that is so very appealing to some people, and utterly terrifying to others?
I think there is something in the framing of it. Talking about change can sometimes feel like a hard thing. We often talk about humans not liking change, or finding change difficult. We associate it with an enforced thing, about which we had little choice. It is perhaps spoken about in hushed tones incase we somehow will it into being and have to deal with the consequences.
But talk about ‘new beginnings’ or ‘new opportunities’ and things take on a different tone. In there there is lightness and optimism; a sense of good things lying along the way just waiting for us to discover them. There is gold to be found at the end of that path.
Reframing can really help us to ‘trick’ our brain into making an undesirable thing, desirable. Our brains are incredible complex, complicated creatures capable of so very much. The rhythms and pulses they send out are responsible for everything from our hearts beating and the way we process the world to moving our feet and ensuring we eat. However, the brain can be tricked. The brain is somewhat gullible, in that it will believe what we tell it.
This is why us setting the tone for the inner critic, for example, is so important. The more we speak negatively about ourselves, the more we believe it. When we praise ourselves and notice the good in us, the brain believes that too. I know which I’d rather have my mind believe about me. This is also why affirmations, love them or feel a bit ‘squeaky’ about them, work!
Keeping a gratitude diary has been shown to enhance people’s perceived happiness. By attuning your mind to all that is good, you become an aerial for it, picking up on and being consciously aware of the joy around you. The simple act of noting down three wonderful things about your day hardwires your brain into looking for the good stuff in life. These don’t have to be massive ‘today I saved a life’ achievements (although definitely write that one down if it did happen), small simple pleasures can also make that list – the small victory of getting into bed early and reading; the joy of the perfect cup of coffee; the slightly smug feeling that comes from having made time to get outside and feel the breeze on your skin. They all count.
I think a side-effect of keeping a gratitude diary is that you become better at reframing. It is very hard to continue to think of a day as an absolute, unmitigated disaster when there are small joys to be found within it. When I think of the day my Mum died, I was in Croatia. I had a call from my Dad in the morning saying something wasn’t right with Mum. We knew she had secondary breast cancer and we knew that she wouldn’t survive it; we weren’t expecting it to be then. I started the process of making my way home. From booking the plane, to getting a lift to the apartment and the taxi arriving swiftly to take me to the airport, from the traffic-free journey to the airport, from the plane being on time to making not one but two trains that were pulling in as I arrived on the platform; thinking of my Mum dying is intrinsically linked with the absolute perfection of that journey which means that, although I didn’t make it in time, I know there is absolutely nothing I could have done to speed it up. I’m thankful that although there was only one leg of the journey left (driving from London to Swansea), when she died I was sitting in the car going from Wimbledon station to home for that last leg of the journey with my children either side of me. That wouldn’t have been the case if the connections hadn’t happened like clockwork.
That may sound like some people to a callus or strange thing, but to me, my ability to think about that day, that awful awful day that my Mum died with a sense of the world not entirely crumbling around me, reassures me that there is light amongst darkness and hope in grief. The other random things I recollect from that day? The friends I was with helping me book my flight when I couldn’t work my phone, the whiskey my brother brought up to me when I sat on the bed with my Mum unable to quite take in the fact that she wasn’t there anymore, the fact that my Dad made the undertaker wait until I’d got there and said goodbye, driving to Swansea listening to the playlist my Mum had compiled for when the end approached (the end that took us all by surprise when we’d spent the last five years getting our heads around it).
You may now be thinking, what the heck has that got to do with reframing. Well, when we get into the habit of noticing the small joys, we also find it easier to look for the small joys in difficult or challenging circumstances; the opportunities and new beginnings that might present. And so ‘change’ becomes ‘a new beginning’.
Reframing gives the ability to feel like there is an opportunity to influence, that it isn’t out of your control (see the article on the circle of influence for more on that). This isn’t about sweeping things under the carpet, or ignoring the seriousness or difficulty of a situation. In the same way that being optimistic isn’t a blind refusal to feel anything other than happiness or an unrealistically positive outcome for everything, reframing isn’t around denial. It’s about problem solving, about seeing things from different perspectives and about understanding what we can influence, even in a situation where it feels we have no control. It helps us to lean further forward into that old adage that we can’t control a situation, but we can control how we respond to it.
We must sit with the negative things that happen. We must allow our doubts and fears and worries to surface and not to squash them. We must allow the cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance to take place; reframing shouldn’t be a way of avoiding processing. But it can be key in allowing us to move on with hope and optimism.
Today, I’d invite you to try this for yourself. When something happens that hasn’t quite gone to plan, see if you can reframe the outcome. For example; if a piece of work comes back to you ‘red-penned’ perhaps you could see it as an opportunity to make it even sharper, or be grateful that someone cares enough about the work and about you to want you to look good by enhancing it further, or that it’s good to be able to see it with a fresh perspective. If you miss a delivery and are faced with the dreaded ‘pick it up from the post office card’, see it as a chance to get your steps in, or get outside.
And if you don’t already, I’d invite you to sleep with a beautiful notebook and pen by your bed so that each evening as part of your sleep routine, you note down just three things that have been good about today.