Framing


Imagine any given day. There are so many ways to describe this event. You can describe it as the time it takes for the Sun to return to the same point in the sky. You can describe it in hours (24), or minutes (1440), or even seconds (86400). Zooming out further, a day can be just a seventh of a week, or a small portion of a month or a year. It’s all a question of perspective.

Now imagine a day in terms of a year. It’s only one out of three-hundred-sixty-five days. Not much, right? But then think about a simple week, which doesn’t feel that long. Suddenly, the week takes up a fiftieth of the year, much more than just a single day. Instead of feeling like a small portion of a year, the week is much larger. There aren’t that many in a year, huh?

The point I’m trying to illustrate with this exercise is that the stories we tell ourselves rely on the frames we give them; the vantage points, if you will. All of the definitions for a day that I gave above were true, but some seem longer than others. As we got to smaller and smaller divisions of time, the number to describe a day rose dramatically. You probably find a day goes by pretty fast, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t want to spend a day counting to 86400. Equivalencies don’t necessarily imply equal experiences.

We place perspectives on everything. As Einstein would say, there’s no “privileged” frame of reference. Instead, each of us view the world with a slightly different lens. This is important when trying to pass information to another person, because you cannot assume that they know everything that you do (they may even know more). As such, it’s important to try and place one’s message in the context that others will understand.

Equally important is the situation of trying to look at a situation yourself. If we accept that we frame every situation in a certain way, the logical question that follows is: am I framing every situation I face in the optimal manner? If I want to continue working towards a big goal, it’s important to always keep that goal in mind. If I’m going through a difficult time in my life, it might be better to frame this time with respect to the good in my life.

These little adjustments in how we view our situations can have a large affect on the attitudes we have every day. If we challenge ourselves to re-frame the situations in our lives with a more positive light, we give ourselves an easier chance of succeeding in our endeavors. No, we may not “magically cure” the situation, but it can help.

Framing doesn’t cost a lot of extra energy. Instead, it’s about slightly changing one’s perspective on an issue, and turning it into a better one.

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