The Power of Reframing Your Mind to See What You've Been Missing
The Black Dot
A professor of philosophy asked his students to look at a drawing he had done on the whiteboard. On it was one large black dot right in the centre of the board. Telling them this was their examination for the week he asked them to write about what they saw on the board. After 30 minutes he collected the papers and began to read them out in front of the whole class.
Students described the position of the black dot, its size, they tried to give a definition of the black dot. The professor read them all patiently and then explained that they weren’t being graded on this, it was just something for them to think about.
“Everyone always focusses just on the black dot. Is it the same in your life?" He asked them.
You could almost see the students mind churning.
“There’s a whole board to explore,” he continued. “Yet we always tend to focus just on the dark spot in the centre that grabs our attention. There are so many gifts in life to enjoy but the human mind seems to want to find fault, flaws and problems. It narrows down, gets locked into small ideas and forgets that there’s so many other vistas and perspectives to explore."
What you don’t want!
When a client comes into my clinic or connects with me on a coaching call I’ll often start with the question, “so what do you want.”
Invariably the answer goes something like this.
“Oh I’d like to stop wasting so much time. I really want to get out of debt. I need to reduce some stress. My relationship is going through a really hard time.”
I gently remind them that I didn’t ask what they want to get rid of. I asked them what actually want.
I can’t tell you how difficult it is for people to navigate toward all the space on that whiteboard. It can be hard to realise that there are so many possibilities other than the few small things that seem to be causing all the heartache.
Simply by having my clients reframe their situation from what they don’t want to what they really desire is often a game changer. From, I want to stop wasting time to I want to be efficient and productive or I want to get out of debt to I want to be financially independent and taking 2 month vacations each year are two common examples of how this works.
Why is this important?
Tony Robbins paints a long story about learning to race motor cars on a track. At one point the driving instructor randomly pulls on the handbrake without warning, causing the car to go into a slide. As Robbins says, at this point nearly everyone starts to focus on the brick wall in front of them. Inevitably, most people end up there.
The point is to teach the driver that if they focus on what they don’t want e.g. the brick wall, then this is precisely what they’ll be drawn towards because they are giving it all their attention. When the car is in a slide like this you need to focus exactly where you want the car to go which of course is in the other direction.
What's Your Black Dot Look Like
The question for you then becomes quite simply, where are you focussing most of your energies? Is it on the black dot of the space all around? Are you stuck on all the things that are going wrong, inadequate or hard? How could you reframe problems into possibilities?
One thing I’ve encountered over many years of client coaching is that many people fall into a slump when they sense they have become locked into a career, relationship, state of health, mortgage or social situation that they have no real control over and no choice other than to endure.
At a recent social night with friends, all in their 40’s, one engineer told me about a conversation he’d had with this dad. He’d been talking about the fact that he’d been in the same job for nearly 20 years, had made some good money, was comfortable in life but at the same time deeply unfulfilled. He’d asked his dad, is this it? Is this all there really is to life now?
Unfortunately, his dad didn’t have an answer.
Take a quick inventory
Have a look at the following questions and write down your first honest answers:
· Where do you feel most trapped in your life – work, money, relationship, health.
· What thoughts keep you up at night.
· What do you do when these thoughts come up – make more of a story about them, complain, dismiss them, constantly look for solutions, blame others etc…
Focussing on the white space
What if you were able to shift your perspective as quickly as looking at all the empty white space on that board instead of that black dot? As the saying goes, when all you’ve got is a hammer, pretty soon everything starts to look like a nail. So, what if you had a drill, angle grinder and sander to help you with that life renovation as well.
It’s called the art of taking perspectives. You practice the ability to step outside of your current state and ask better questions. Your aim is to push yourself to see the situation from as many different viewpoints as possible. One of the best tools is to put yourself into different imaginary shoes and ask how would they see this situation.
You can use people you know and also well known identities. For example, if I’m stuck in a funk about money, I can ask what would certain people say about this:
· An accountant
· My mum
· Warren Buffet
· A financial adviser
· A starving child in Africa
· My boss
· Myself as a 7 year old
· Myself as a 70 year old
The point is to stretch yourself to think of as many different perspectives on this situation as you can. Then you simply have to let go of the idea that there is only one black dot on the middle of that screen called your mind.
I use this technique to bust open people’s beliefs all the time. It’s one of the simplest yet more powerful ways to begin challenging the stuckness you feel from time to time. Doing this for yourself just a few times as a process like this, begins to re-train your brain to do it for you more spontaneously in life.
Do a quick inventory now!
Choose one area of life that either keeps you up, makes you complain a lot or causes you to reach for that extra glass of wine at night and use some of the suggestions above. Write them down.
How would my accountant view this…
My seven year old self…
My seventy year old self…
Add as many others to the list that will help...
Don’t censor anything. Just write. Importantly, don’t write from your own brain. Actually jump into these other bodies and see the world through their eyes for a moment. The great news is that there’s no way to get this wrong! You’re just using your imagination, seeing the world from all that space on the whiteboard and forcing your brain to jump away from the black dot.
When you do this, even just a few times, you might start to find yourself dropping those stuck thoughts much more easily. In their place there’s often a period of silence followed by an occasional giggle when you realise how much energy you’d been using to hold that little black dot in place. Finally, there’s often new clarity that arises in the restful moments. For me, I find warm showers and long walks with my dog some of the best times for helping insights and new ideas to emerge.
But first you need to open your gaze and see all that space you’ve been missing.
Plotting a new course
From there it’s simply a matter of using the same approach that got you into that mess to get you out of it. Just as you focussed on what you didn’t want. Now you put all your energy into moving toward what you do want.
Somebody comes to me and says their relationship has fallen apart. They’re fighting all the time. They’ve moved in different life directions. They aren’t communicating.
Once we look at this from so many different perspectives, they then begin to focus on the 2-3 things they most dearly want from this right now.
Now I help them set up an action plan as follows:
You are clear what you want, have created just a few small steps in that direction and are committed to achieving at least one of them in the next 2-3 days. This way, instead of an out of control slide into the wall, your energy is now rapidly moving in the direction you want the vehicle of your life to be travelling.
Psychologists often say that one of the key contributors to anxiety and depression is a sense of not being in control of your choices. If the boss takes away your autonomy and the right to express your opinion, it creates discord. Similarly, if life has seemed to just move you in a certain direction against your will, then it’s time to write down the central stuck issue as a small dot on the whiteboard and begin filling in all the empty spaces with different perspectives until you’ve blasted this trapped energy out of existence.
Choose the one new creative strategy you like most, then commit to at least 3 simple action steps to turn the ship around.
Doing this repeatedly for all the different blockages that appear will very soon see you feeling incredibly positive about your life’s direction once again.