Reframing: Thinking Outside The Box

Written by Terry Elston

"Think outside of the box" written over and across the outline of a box
Clipart brain with icons differentiating areas
Use your brain for a change!

How can you think of things that no-one else thinks of? The answer is by deliberately reframing or taking a different approach to the issue from everyone else. There are dominant ideas in every field. The brilliant thinker purposefully challenges those dominant ideas in order to think with innovation.

One of my favourite topics and experiences on trainings is teaching the art of reframing. Obviously, reframing occurs in life regardless of NLP and is a common means by which meanings get created and lost in various situations, either deliberately or by happenstance. Reframing provides a new context or focus for your thoughts and actions. Just as a picture frame puts borders or boundaries on what you can see in a picture, the frames of reference can limit what you see as possible. You and I are continually setting time-frames, boundaries, limits, etc. on what you can and can’t do – often without any real thought about the consequences or if the limitations are true.

Changing the frame of an experience can have a major influence on how you perceive, interpret and react to that experience. Being told that you have one hour to complete a task will most likely result in a different emotional state, approach and quality of work than if you are told that you have one week to accomplish the same task. This illustrates how a change in frame can have a significant impact on the way you feel about life. Albert Szent-Gyorgy, who discovered Vitamin C, said, ‘Genius is seeing what everyone else sees and thinking what no-one else has thought.’

virgina satir

If you can identify the standard viewpoint then survey the situation from a different viewpoint you have an excellent chance of gaining a new insight. When Jonas Salk was asked how he invented the vaccine for polio he replied, ‘I imagined myself as a cancer cell and tried to sense what it would be like.’ Virginia Satir often used the approach of creating an alternative goal for the parents of preparing themselves to be grandparents. In a typical case, a young woman consulted her; the parents had used their life savings to build an extension to their house where she was to live when she got married (at this time, she was away at college, and had no steady boyfriend).

Satir met the parents, and congratulated them for their willingness to participate so actively in the rearing of their (one-day-to-come) grandchildren, having babies crying through the night, toddlers crawling through the living rooms, toys strewn across the house and babysitting. She thus created a powerful positive image of the joys of grandparenthood; yet for some reason, her parents decided to rent the extra rooms out to mature lodgers instead, and save the money to support their grandchildren’s education. When the daughter subsequently got married, she lived in a city some distance away with husband and baby, and the grandparents visited frequently, but not too frequently.

The spectators at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968 were amazed to see a young athlete perform a high jump with his back to the bar. Until then, every high jumper ‘rolled’ over the bar with his or her face down. Dick Fosbury, an American, introduced an entirely new approach, the ‘flop’, leaping over with his back close to the bar and his face up. Fosbury was ranked 48th in the world in 1967; yet in 1968 he caused a sensation when he won the Olympic Gold Medal with his unprecedented technique and a leap of 2.24 metres. What he introduced was literally a leap of the imagination – and it revolutionised high jumping. Nowadays all the top jumpers use his method. He thought what no-one else thought and conceived a new method.

Examples of NLP Reframing

A reframe is useful for statements such as: “I am too pushy.” Or “I wish I did not focus on what could go wrong.” In this type of situation, your client has assumed that this type of behaviour has no value. You job is to discover when it is of value by asking yourself the question: “When or where would this behaviour be useful or viewed as a resource?”

A possible problem to reframe might be:

A: “I am too pushy.”B: Content reframe: “How can you use that on yourself to get more done in the day and not worry about anyone else!” B: Context reframe: “Compared to who, Hitler?”

A: “I procrastinate all the time; I just can’t get things done.”B: Content/context reframe: “That’s a great skill to have; especially when you apply it to overeating – just put off having that second helping at lunch until teatime. Lucky you.”B: Context reframe: “I guess if you were building a universe, a day is a very long time!”

A: “I wish I did not focus on what could go wrong.”B: Content reframe: “Focusing your wish to the intention of the opposite is definitely a good start. I’m glad you came to see me.”B: Context reframe: “With that kind of focus you could build the best spaceship today…they need people who can spot mistakes easily!”

If you noticed, a couple of those reframes didn’t really make complete grammatical sense. They are sometimes the best ones! The way to design excellent reframes is to consider all the information (knowing the person as well as you can), getting them to the smallest sentence as truthfully as it sits in their linguistic being; then letting your unconscious mind come out with the reframe and surprising you.

How can you force ourselves to take a different view of a situation?

Instead of looking at the scene from your view try looking at it from the perspective of a customer, a product, a supplier, a child, an alien, a lunatic, a comedian, a dictator, an anarchist, an architect, Salvador Dali, Leonardo da Vinci and so on. Challenge all the common assumptions. If everyone else is looking for the richest region, look for the wettest. If everyone else is facing the bar then turn your back on it.

Then the reframing occurs and you are truly thinking outside of the box.

Reframing, written by Terry Elston Check out the difference between a Context reframe and a Content reframe