We all encounter difficult people and difficult situations in our lives. This blog is devoted to helping you find ways to cope more effectively whenever you encounter something or someone that challenges you. I hear frustration from many people, though, telling me that they “do everything right” but still can’t seem to get that other person to cooperate, or to change.

A technique I’ve found very helpful and often life-changing is one called “Reframing.” It comes from research into NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and is about the power of our minds to take a situation, put a different “frame” around it and by doing so, change our entire experience of the situation.

So, for example – I was in a line the other day and the person at the beginning of the line was arguing with the clerk about something. We all stood waiting and waiting for the argument to end so we could also move along. One frame on this situation is, “I always seem to choose the lines with someone causing trouble.” Or, “This person is obnoxious – can’t she see how many people are waiting? What’s wrong with our culture that everyone is so rude?” These are legitimate thoughts and if I’d had them, it would have made my experience even more difficult as I stood and waited.

Instead, I chose to “reframe.” The reframe might look like this, “I’m very busy but waiting another 5-10 minutes isn’t going to make a big difference in my overall life.” Or, “That person must be very unhappy to want to spend time arguing like this, I wonder what her life is like?” Or, “Let me take a moment to calm myself/write a list of what I need to do/think about something, etc.” All of these are also reasonable options and while they don’t change the situation, they allow me more energy and ability to focus on what I need and what I care about. Instead of giving myself over to negative ruminating thoughts that destroy my energy and generally upset me, I can make a different choice simply by reframing.

Some people will say reframing is lying by saying something isn’t what it is. The reality is that the facts of the situation are the same – i.e. I’m in line, a woman is arguing with the clerk, I am waiting. What changes is the way I choose to interpret the facts and data. I don’t change anything about the reality, I just change MY reality and my experience of it.

Try reframing this week as you go about your daily activities. When someone or something begins to bring you down, consider whether there is another way to frame it. It isn’t about putting on rose-colored glasses, it’s really about redefining what we choose to get upset about. Reframing is actually very freeing. Life really IS short, so time wasted getting upset about things we can’t control doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.