Part IV: Framing
*if this is your first read, make sure to start from the beginning at the Problogue!*
Just a reminder before we get started. Remember your ABCs = Affect (emotions), Behaviors (actions), and Cognitions (thoughts).
I’m going to venture a guess that you do not need me to define “framing” for you. You see it everyday in the media where liberal and conservative pundits spin facts and tell stories to advance their narrative. You do it yourself when you try to find the right words to persuade or convince someone of what you believe. There are books, studies, and videos abound on the subject, so let’s not dwell on it. Instead I wish to provide you with a new way to understand and use framing as it relates to self-awareness. Then, per usual, I want to turn it into a game (classic me).
Framing to me is really about attention. Attention is a funny thing, especially in this digital age where distractions are ubiquitous. We can never consciously absorb and process 100% of everything going on at once. As I have said before, our brain creates all these nifty shortcuts for us to categorize and understand the world around us, and attention is driven by that idea. Throughout our lives we develop patterns and canals of attention that paint our personal worlds in an assortment of colors - all of which are unique and different from the people around you. Sure, they can be similar, and it’s quite likely your friends have similar patterns of attention, and lens’ from which they derive understanding of the world.
The problem with attention is of course the blind spots that are naturally occurring. Because we can only process so much, a lot gets left behind, and what we do process goes through several filters before we actually perceive it. Your thoughts, opinions, emotions, behaviors, etc., all work to paint a picture...but it’s just that. A picture based on a reality, not reality itself.
Let’s get annoyingly literal right now. A frame literally creates a border around a picture. If you take your fingers and make a box and look through it, there is no doubt it’s easier to focus on what is in the center, than what lays outside. With that precise clarity, the periphery is naturally lost. When you move that finger frame, now something else is in focus, and what was once so clear is vague. These things exist in perfect clarity outside of your perception, but the way you attend to something changes the way you perceive, and ultimately interact with it.
There are frames that have been built for you by others, and frames you’ve built yourself to help facilitate your journey through the world. They provide a pathway. Our frames give us an anchor to reality, but it is NOT reality. Any person can perceive the same exact event in completely different ways based upon their individual frames of reference.
Example time! (my favorite time). Let’s step outside the abstract and into the concrete. I’m a football fan, maybe you are maybe you are not. If not, choose any competitive game, whether it be athletic or intellectual. Now imagine your team winning. Yay! So exciting! Another W in the books. This evokes excitement, joy, and pride. But what about the other team? They are likely experiencing the opposite of you: sadness, frustration, vulnerability. To further complicate things this, let’s imagine your partner, a loved one, or close friend is a huge fan of the losing side, and he/she is a stalwart fan while you are more casual. Where is the focus centered? On your joy of another win, or empathy towards your loved one. The answer to that lies in your individual experience, and the experience of your partner. The point is you both experienced the event different do to your attention and personal frames.
So how does framing relate to your self-awareness? First I need you to think about some of the frames you have on the walls of your identity, and in what situations those frames take precedence. When you stub your toe, is your thought, “Something bad always happens to me!”, or “I’m so clumsy!”, or do you just laugh about it, or etc., etc. When someone doesn’t hold a door open for you, do you suddenly develop strong opinions about that person’s character, and extrapolate their entire personalities upon this one moment? When someone rejects you, what is your focus? Is it internal (i.e. i’m not worthy) or external (i.e. they don’t know what they’re missing)? These are just some examples, but take a moment to think how you talk to yourself, and frame events, both when something negative or positive occurs. Try to be honest with yourself. It’s hard to reveal vulnerabilities to someone else, but sometimes even more difficult to reveal them to ourselves. There is no judgment here, only curiosity.
STOP AND THINK
That was probably hard to do, as frames can differ depending on a variety of factors. Opening that question up too much likely made it difficult to think of specific instances. That’s fine. I just want us to start thinking about it, and noticing. When you are overly happy about something, that will create a proclivity towards positive frames. The opposite occurs when rain clouds torrentially downpour on your emotions. This is one thing I want you to start paying particular attention to. Start today! Try it for 24 hours, that’s all I ask to begin. Whenever you react to something, take a moment to check-in with your emotions. This is usually a great first indicator of the frames you use. When you are in the throes of an emotion, let it be. Fighting against an emotion is like pouring gasoline on it. Remember negative suggestion with the polar bear? When we try not to feel disgust, for example, while we are disgusted, we have to activate our memory of disgust to try and suppress it. Instead, start by just recognizing the emotion. “Hello anger...I see you…” Give it a good look, and win the staring contest. Make the person in the mirror blink first.
Becoming Robert Langdon:
Try to develop a catalogue of the frames you use dependent on emotion. I mean this literally. Write this stuff down- in your phone, in a journal, wherever. Later on you won’t need it, but this will be one of the most useful things you do. You can even start keeping count of frame activations. As you categorize, you can put tick marks down to see how often you use a certain frame, and in what situations.
To begin, start by differentiating between positive and negative frames, and then further by specific emotions such as happy, sad, mad, disgusted, surprised, etc. Begin with the emotions where this is easiest, and try to find some of your baselines as well. When you aren’t really feeling an emotion strongly how do you frame something different than if you did feel that emotion?
Let’s make this easy for you, and break it down into a set of useful questions you can ask yourself whenever you react to an event. Also feel free to generate your own questions along these lines using language you are more familiar with, or comfortable using. These are just some suggestions.
What is my primary emotion right now?
How is that emotion influencing the way I am experiencing this moment?
If I were feeling X emotion, how would I be experiencing this moment differently?
What is the voice in my head saying?
What specific words is the voice using?
Would these words be different if I felt emotion X?
What are other words the voice could use?
How do these other words change the way I feel about what happened?
Bonus questions: How much control did I have over this event?
What were the moments that led to this event?
At what point could I have done something different throughout that process (good or bad within reason) that would have changed that outcome?
How would that intervention have changed the outcome?
Bias Check: Thought I forgot about these? Well you’re right...I did. It’s hard to keep track of all my biases! As I am sure it has been for you. This bias I would like to explore is one of my above questions. In fact, it is a great example of framing. Look at the questions “How is that emotion influencing the way I am experiencing this moment?” Can you see the implication there? It assumes that the emotion is influencing the experience. Same with the question “How much control did I have over this event?” This question makes it difficult to say you had “no control” just by the way it was phrased. This is a manifestations of my own deeper frames and identity that assume control and autonomy in my life. Imagine I phrased the question “What was your level of control over this event, 0 being none and 10 being complete control?” This is why I suggest creating some of your own questions, but if you do be very deliberate about the phrasing. This could provide other insights into your frames. Pay attention to the way you ask questions, because that will ultimately influence how you answer them.
Keep these questions handy if you can. Behaviorally, it is really hard to broaden your mind, and remember a neutral thing like a set of questions while feeling a strong emotion. Copy/Paste it into your phone notes, tattoo it on the inside of your eyelids...whatever works. This will become easier with time, but make it as easy for yourself as possible in the beginning. If you don’t have it on hand, purely stopping and asking the questions: “What emotion am I feeling right now?” and “How is this emotion changing the way I think and behave?” is a great start. Be curious with yourself, and try to develop your own set of questions with the primary goal of identifying the frames you use and how they influence your ABCs. This will be easier for you to remember than anything I give you.
My hope is that you can begin to see the well worn pathways from A to B to C, or any combination of the three. I know you want to think you react with infinite complexity and unpredictability with every situation...but you don’t. At least not most times, and especially when you are emotional. There is always flexibility, always an opportunity to change, but we largely walk the same paths we always have. They are the path of least resistance, and most of us, even the most adventurous, are remiss to start down new paths.
Once you start getting good at this, you can begin frame-breaking and reframing. A friend of mine always says, “If you can frame it you can tame it.” What this means is once you recognizing a frame you are using, you can change it out for another one, repair an old one, or discard the ones that only cause you trouble. You can choose to see things differently. We will speak about this more in Mind Game Strategies, but I wanted to give you some context of why this idea of framing in self-awareness is so important.
Next up...The Frame Game!