I had a tough run yesterday but it reminded me of an important mental skill. It’s the mental game technique called reframing. We give everything in life a frame. A frame is a standard of reference that people use to give things meaning. It doesn’t change the actual “thing” we are framing – only our unique interpretation.
Likewise, a frame around a picture does not change the picture itself, only the way we view it. Some frames detract from the picture while some enhance it.
Just as pictures are just pictures, the events in life are merely events. We frame them with meanings and the emotional responses that follow. But how we frame something is a choice. Choose a frame that gets you angry, upset, depressed and that is what you get. Choose a frame that feeds you, allows your confidence to grow and keeps you motivated and that is what you get.
By the way, reframing requires more creativity and energy than affirmations. This is NOT just “positive thinking” or “Pollyanna thinking”. It requires that you change your meaning to something. And you must do so in a logical or objective and convincing way such that you will be compelled to believe it! The reframe gives you a focus which is conducive to coping and/or performance enhancement.
So to reframe something we will take that negatively viewed event or occurrence and change the meanings we give it. There are two general ways we do that and a couple specific ways I will share here.
Here’s the situation. I’m struggling running because my exertional asthma (EIA) is acting up on a bad air day (not to be confused with a bad hair day). I have to stop regularly. With my inhaler I am able to run but not up to the pace listed on my workout schedule and not as far.
A common initial framing of this situation is one of disappointment. A lost opportunity to get that really good workout in. I think to myself: I’m losing ground. How can I possible run the race I’m training for? Why does this happen to me? I’ll never get in shape this way.
An alternative frame is to view the workout in light of not losing conditioning. I also burn calories to maintain my weight. Something is better than nothing. It doesn’t change the pace or that I labored. It instead is just one more workout done. It also is better for lung function long term to exercise than not to exercise. Therefore this run has purpose in the context of general conditioning, weight maintenance and long term pulmonary functioning. The objective fact indeed is that I do all these things by getting the run in.
I changed the context of not being able to do my scheduled workout to one of maintaining conditioning and long term benefits.
The other way to reframe is reframing the content itself. I cannot change how my lungs are functioning. However I can change HOW I view the fact that I have more labored breathing than usual.
I can view this as a challenge that is a part of training and a part of being susceptible to EIA. One alternative frame is to view the workout as a challenge. A challenge which will make you tougher on race day. And I’m up for the challenge. I could view it as being similar to altitude training maybe. If I can persist in this workout just wait until the air quality is good and I’m breathing normal! This is just “Lung Resistance Training” – LRT – a new form of toughness training.
The second reframe uses the same data (off pace, labored breathing) merely as feedback to persist best possible through the workout and to provide motivation.
Ask Empowering Questions
One specific approach to reframing an event is to ask empowering questions that change the meaning of the event. These questions are intended to help you gain perspective. For instance ask yourself, what is the real affect here? The answer to the above scenario would be something like – I run slower. Then ask yourself – what is so bad about that? I mean really? You may be disappointed. Perhaps you just change your workouts around and save the harder workout for another day. So get over it.
A specific reframe question I like is to ask: What could I or did I learn from this event? If you go in trying to “learn” something; that in fact will be your outcome. Anytime you learn, you gain because you can use that information on your quest for continuous improvement. You may have learned that you need to train differently on these days and you have to have a Plan B workout always available; or you learn that you need more warming up on bad air days or that you need to pay more attention to your nutrition or hydration, or take your allergy or inhaler medications at specific times. Or you just learn that those days become your easy training days and you need to just relax and go with it. All those things would be positive learning outcomes. Once it becomes an objective learning event it greatly diminishes a negative emotional reaction.
So, for me I reframed yesterday’s run as “LRT” and some character building. And just wait until I can actually breathe AND run at the same time! I’ve heard that enhances performance.
[Before I get comments – the personal scenario is an illustration I use in reframing. I know myself and have coped with EIA for 35 years. I do not mean this as advice to anyone to ignore EIA symptoms or push through asthma attacks. Know yourself. Follow your medical professional’s orders. And keep that stupid inhaler handy!]