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Turning Obstacles into Opportunities - The Art of Positive Reframing

Reframing is a brilliant tool to shape how you experience life. Your perception is what creates your reality and so changing your interpretation of your experience changes the experience itself.



What is "reframing"?

Reframing is a purposeful reinterpretation of the context and/or meaning of a particular topic or situation to create a shift in mindset and perspective. It's looking at something in a different way from before.



Why should we practice positive reframing?

I'll let the author of the book "Change your Thoughts - Change your Life" answer this.

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change" - Wayne Dyer

Why is this so important to do? Here's some more words of wisdom from George Lucas through one of his characters in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

"Your focus determines your reality" - Qui-Gon Jinn

The way you look at things and what you choose to focus on determines the kind of experience you will have in any situation. Regardless of what the circumstances are, you can decide to dwell on the negative or focus on the positive. Your choice will influence your mental and emotional state accordingly.



How can we have different experiences of the same thing?

Our experience of the world is shaped by our internal meaning-making processes which are formed by our values, beliefs, needs, motivations, memories, and lessons learned from the past.


This unconscious conditioning is what creates all of our natural and automatic reactions to different situations, which can range from catastrophizing to numbing to inspiring, including everything in between.


Everyone's story is different. We've all had different experiences in life. We've all grown up with different beliefs and values. We've all got our own motivations and we're all on different stages of our healing journeys. This is why everyone's conditioning is unique, why everyone's meaning making process is different, and why we can all have different interpretations of the same thing or situation.



Let's look at some examples

When a challenging situation occurs like a deadline being pushed up unexpectedly, here's how 2 people with different conditioning may react and behave.

Person A

Person B

What their conditioning and meaning making process tells them

I cannot do well without proper order. Unexpected changes derail me and my success.

I can figure out and handle anything thrown at me and this is a moment for me to step up and shine.

Their resulting emotional and mental state

Frustration, panic, un-resourceful

Motivated, determined, resourceful

Their resulting behavior

Lashing out, making more mistakes in a hurry or giving up.

​Shutting out distractions and getting laser focused on the task.


Here's another example - In a fit of anger, someone says something hurtful.

Person A

Person B

What their conditioning and meaning making process tells them

That person made me feel worthless with their hurtful words. Their actions come from malicious intent.

I have the power to allow or not allow other people's words to affect me. That person's words are coming from something unresolved within them. If I feel hurt, it's a sign I need to heal something within myself.

Their resulting emotional and mental state

Hurt, angry, un-resourceful

Patient, compassionate, resourceful

Their resulting behavior

Matching aggressive behavior, escalating the situation.

Maintains calmness and composure then practices self-healing if necessary.

With reframing, Person A can make a conscious decision to view the situation in a more productive way like Person B does, thus transforming the whole experience for themselves. The more one practices this, the more natural and automatic it will become to think in this manner.



How do you create a positive reframe?

The simplest way to create a positive reframe out of any situation or any obstacle is to find the opportunities it can bring. Here are some examples.


1. The Opportunity to Learn
"I never lose. I either win or I learn" - Nelson Mandela

New, unexpected, and difficult situations can be viewed as opportunities to learn important lessons that will enable us to prevent or better handle similar occurrences in the future. Even if you don't learn the right way or the best way yet, you still learn about what's not working and steer yourself closer to the way that will work better.


We also tend to learn faster and more deeply when we learn through first hand experience rather than through reading or formal training.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • What can I learn from this?

  • What's the lesson I need to take away from this?

  • What lesson have I been trying to ignore/avoid?


2. The Opportunity to Practice
"A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor" - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Practice doesn't always make things perfect, but it always helps to make you better. Challenging situations can give you a chance to improve and refine your existing capabilities through practice.


And this doesn't only mean practicing your skills and talents, it also means to practice patience, kindness, compassion, courage, resilience, gratitude, forgiveness, love, and giving hope to yourself and others.


The more difficult the situation, the greater the opportunity to practice and develop yourself.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • What skills am I exercising while tackling this situation?

  • In what ways can I strengthen my character through this challenge?

  • In what ways can I practice more patience/kindness/compassion/courage/ resilience/gratitude/forgiveness/love/hope in this situation?


3. The Opportunity to Improve Self-Understanding
"Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew" - Cicely Tyson

Difficult situations help you develop a deeper understanding of yourself, your wants, your needs, your boundaries. By experiencing things you normally wouldn't deliberately choose to experience, you give yourself a chance to see parts of yourself you normally wouldn't see.


People say that when the chips are down, that's when you see people's true colors and this is also true for yourself. You get to know who you are in the face of adversity, which sometimes comes from a more authentic place than what you project when things are going well. In the process, you learn what really matters most to you that you might not have realized had you not experienced obstacles in your way.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I learning about myself through this experience?

  • What is something new I am noticing about myself?

  • What is this experience highlighting about my character/personality?


4. The Opportunity to Connect with Others
"Hardship brings people closer together if you share it" - John Wooden

"Misery loves company" is how the old adage goes, but while that may be true, there's something even more powerful about overcoming hardship together with others. It becomes a shared experience of learning, healing, and growth.


Tragedies involving loss can be particularly painful and full of grief. It's at these times especially when people need emotional support and it's always a beautifully bittersweet thing to see people coming together to support each other in the aftermath. It's a moment to come together as a community to honor what something/someone meant to us and in doing this, we strengthen our bonds, our connection to each other as people, and enable ourselves to love even more deeply.


Tough times can also help show you which connections are worth keeping in your life and which connections you can let go of. Some people are meant to be in your life for the long haul, some are meant to be there temporarily. These situations can help you see the difference.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • In what ways can I use this as an opportunity to strengthen/deepen my connection with others?

  • In what ways is this situation helping to bring me closer to others?

  • In what ways can I demonstrate more understanding and compassion for others?


5. The Opportunity for Healing
"Healing doesn't mean the damage never existed, it means the damage no longer controls our lives" - Akshay Dubey

When we experience something bad, it can leave a mark, a wound, a scar that can continue to affect us long after the initial situation ended and without us even realizing it. Then when something happens later in life that is in some way remotely similar, those old wounds come up again.


If we don't take steps to heal ourselves, then we are actually choosing to keep those wounds open, choosing to continue experiencing anxiety, anger, sadness, fear, hurt, guilt etc.


So when the old wounds come up, it can serve as a sign, a reminder that we need to heal ourselves of that wound so we don't keep opening it up again.


There are many ways that you can move forward with your own healing journey including methods you can use on your own like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Ho'oponopono or approach an expert (Like a Transformational Coach!) for a more thorough and rapid healing session.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is it within me that needs to be healed?

  • What is it within me that is holding on or feeling like I need to hold on to pain/anger/guilt etc.?

  • What trigger of mine needs to be acknowledged and healed?


6. The Opportunity to Express Yourself
"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind" - Dr. Seuss

This is especially for the more timid ones. The ones who are hesitant to speak up, especially when what they want to say might rock the boat.


Sometimes it takes a challenging situation for us to realize that if we want our voices to be heard, we actually have to say something.

If you want someone to know how you feel;

If you want others to know about an idea of yours;

If you can see something important that others seem to be missing;

If you want someone to understand how much you have on your plate;

If you want others to know about your needs and boundaries,

Remember that people can't read your mind and you will need to communicate and express yourself.


In times of misunderstandings, it can also be an opportunity to educate or provide clarification to help everyone get on the same page.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • What part of myself am I afraid to show others and why?

  • What needs or boundaries do I need to communicate?

  • In what ways can I help others understand me better?


7. The Opportunity to Try Something New
"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new" - Albert Einstein

Sometimes difficult experiences can require you to do things you've never done before. While new and uncertain situations can feel uncomfortable, they can sometimes be the best opportunities to try new tactics, new strategies, and experience new things.


If we don't open ourselves up to trying new things, we can get stuck doing the same things over and over again. The comfort zone can feel like a safe place and it's ok to want to stay there, but if we never venture out, we prevent ourselves from growing.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is it within me that is keeping me from stepping out of my comfort zone?

  • What can I try right now that I haven't done before?

  • What new possibilities might this bring for me?


8. The Opportunity to get Creative
"Creativity thrives on a consistent diet of challenges and opportunities, which are often one and the same" - Lee Clow

Creativity is more than creating works of art, it's a skill of resourcefulness, ingenuity, and imagination. Difficult situations, restrictions, and limitations can push you to stretch these skills and develop creative solutions for complex problems.


Your innovative solutions can also have the potential to work even better than the previous systems as you address the new problems that came your way and strengthen resilience against other potential future obstacles.


Use challenging situations as challenges for you to exercise your creativity and watch yourself create great things.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • From what other angles can I approach the situation and solution?

  • In what ways can I use these limitations/restrictions/challenges to create something good or even better than what I initially planned?

  • What new ideas can I explore?



9. The Opportunity to Reflect
"Reflection is looking back so the view looking forward is even clearer" - Unknown

When things go wrong, it can be an opportunity to take a moment to zoom out, reflect on the journey so far and how you got to this point so you can figure out the best way to move forward.


It can be a moment to reflect on how you've been approaching the situation, what has worked for you, and what hasn't worked for you so far to generate insights on what you need to do to make things better.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • What mistakes have I now learned to avoid?

  • What has worked well and what hasn't worked well up till now?

  • What would I change in my approach if it were to happen again?


10. The Opportunity to Explore another Perspective
"The difference between a mountain and a molehill is your perspective" - Al Neuharth

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own thinking, that we forget that not everyone thinks the same way we do. Remember that our perceptions are based on our conditioning and everyone's is unique.


When things come to a head, it can be an opportunity to step outside of yourself and put yourself in the shoes of other people who are also in some way connected to the event. Consider their reasons, their feelings, their motivations, their fears, and what's at stake for them. When you do this, you'll understand the situation with a broader perspective and be better equipped to develop appropriate solutions.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • How would (someone you admire) see and approach this?

  • What might be the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of other people connected to this situation?

  • What kind of thinking brought me here and what can I change about my thinking to successfully navigate it?


11. The Opportunity to Realign
"Success is only another form of failure if we forget what our priorities should be" - Henry Ford

The only constant is change. Sometimes things change during our journeys towards our goals. While change can be unexpected and uncomfortable, it can still be a good thing with the potential to act as an indicator that there is something you need to change as well.


Perhaps our strategy isn't working anymore, perhaps our priorities have changed and so our goals need to be redefined to reflect that. Time changes things and sometimes we have to evolve along with them so we can thrive.


It can also be a reminder to look at ourselves and check if we are still being true to ourselves and our values. If we aren't, it could be an indication to change our approach and actions to make sure we don't lose ourselves or lose sight of what's really important to us as we work towards our goals

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are my goals still working for me or is it time to change them?

  • Am I still being true to myself and my values? If not, what actions can I take right now to be more authentic and honor my values?

  • In what ways can I better prioritize what is most important for me?


12. The Opportunity to Rebuild
"Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely" - Uncle Iroh (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

It can be distressing when things fail, but sometimes we can only create the greatest successes after having learned from failure. When equipped with lessons from past mistakes, we put ourselves in an even better position to start rebuilding.


Failures can also allow you to see new possibilities or see existing factors in a new light which can help you when drawing up new plans and strategies. These may be paths you wouldn't have thought of if you hadn't faced hard situations.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • What can I do differently now given the lessons I've learned?

  • What potential new opportunities does this present for me?

  • In what ways can I use my experience and skills to create something better?


13. The Opportunity to Step Up
"Everything negative - pressure, challenges - is all an opportunity for me to rise" - Kobe Bryant

Sometimes when we get too comfortable, we can get complacent. In order to get where we want or need to go, we need to overcome complacency. Tough times can present an opportunity to rise above that complacency, to step up to the challenge and:

  • stand up for your beliefs

  • support a cause

  • show initiative

  • overcome your fears

  • demonstrate your skills/talents

  • show your commitment

  • show what's important to you

  • do what's right

  • do what needs to be done

  • do what others might not dare to do

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • In what ways can I demonstrate the skills and talents I've been building?

  • What needs to be done right now? (Then just do it)

  • What can I do right now to rise to the challenge?


14. The Opportunity to Grow
"It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness." - Seneca

If everything always went smoothly, you would never be tested. And if you've never been tested, you'll never get to understand your true potential, let alone expand on it.


So take challenging situations as opportunities to grow and get better. If you focus on the hardship, the fear, or the anxiety, you'll end up giving yourself more reasons to experience it and it becomes a vicious cycle. By focusing on the positives, how you're growing and getting better, you can motivate yourself from within to push through and create a virtuous cycle of growth and expansion instead.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • How have I changed from before this challenge till now?

  • Who do I want to be at the end of this challenge?

  • In what ways am I growing through this experience?


15. The Opportunity to Accept Yourself
"You're always with yourself so you might as well enjoy the company" - Dianne Von Furstenberg

It's when you find it hardest to accept yourself that you need to the most. We can have a tendency as humans to be hard on ourselves when the situation gets rough or when we believe we've faltered in any way. It can feel easier to reject the part of you that made a mistake and take on the feeling of shame that can come with it.


Sometimes we worry that if we don't feel continuous guilt, then we're not taking responsibility. Something we all must realize is that we can take total responsibility without having to place blame or inflict guilt on ourselves. We can accept and make peace with ourselves and our missteps without deflecting accountability for the situation and finding solutions.


For clarity, there is nothing wrong with feeling remorse as it's a natural emotion to feel when you know you've done something wrong. It's led by our conscience to help us live in accordance with our own values. The idea is to not fixate on guilt but to instead take responsibility and focus on what you can do to help make things right/better and move forward.


We can only experience real peace when we learn to accept ourselves for who we are in all our wholeness. Sometimes tough situations can serve to show us what we haven't yet accepted about ourselves so we can then take steps to accept ourselves more completely, which is a very personal journey for everyone.

During difficult times, ask yourself these questions:

  • What have I been reluctant to accept about myself?

  • What have I been rejecting others for that I've been rejecting about myself?

  • In what ways can I be more accepting of myself now?


Lastly...

There are plenty of other kinds of opportunities you can find during challenging times. All you have to do is practice finding them through reframing. Eventually this practice becomes a habit and experiencing life more positively becomes part of your nature.


This isn't about ignoring, avoiding or dismissing negative emotions and It's more than just finding the silver lining or looking at the bright side. It's about shifting the way you look at things to change your experience of life and challenging situations.


Imagine living life seeing opportunities where you once saw obstacles. You can choose to live in a world where you keep failing and falling on hard times or a world where you're continuously learning and growing. It all depends on the meaning you give it.


Though this isn't a silver bullet for all your troubles, it's a promising step forward for your growth and mental health and more so that your journey towards your goals becomes a more positive experience.


So the next time you face a challenging situation, ask yourself "What opportunities can I create from this?"

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