Reframing Your Experiences


"You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength."


-Marcus Aurelius


I'm putting on my boots and rain jacket as I prepare to take our dog, Bingo, on a walk. It's only 33 degrees, plus it's raining...heavily.


There's part of me that really doesn't want to go. It's nice and warm in my home office, and frankly, I'm sick of being cold. However, I know Bingo needs to go on a walk.


I have to take Bingo to go on a walk.


It occurs to me, though, that there will be a time when Bingo is not with us. There will be a time when I look back and wish there were more moments like these. I can walk Bingo only a finite number of times, and I’ve been on more than half of those already. In fact, there will be a last time that I walk Bingo.


This changes the situation for me. Then I think about a thought experiment I recently read about. I imagine, as I'm putting on my jacket, somebody shows up my door promising to help me out. This person offers to take Bingo off my hands so that I don't have to take her on any more walks. This person informs me that Bingo will be well taken care of, and in addition, it saves me the trouble of going out in the cold in the rain (or snow in the winter).


Thinking about this thought experiment, I realize that getting rid of Bingo defeats the purpose of having Bingo. Taking Bingo on walks, even in the cold, is part of the fee I pay for enjoying the company of Bingo.


I don't have to walk Bingo; I get to walk Bingo.

The framing effect says we feel differently when things are stated different ways

Framing Effect


There was a powerful idea in psychology called the framing effect. The framing effect is the idea that we make different decisions with the same information depending on how it is presented.


The difference between identical situations changes based on the story that we tell ourselves. For example, the physical sensations of nervousness and excitement are nearly identical. However, if we interpret these physical sensations as something we would pay a lot of money to avoid, we call it nervousness. On the other hand, if we interpret these physical sensations as something we would pay a lot of money for, we call it excitement.


You've probably seen some other examples before. It would feel different buying meat that was 80% lean versus meat that was 20% fat. If you had to choose between two surgeries, you would sign up for the procedure with a 95% survival rate before you sign up for the procedure with a 5% mortality rate. Viewing something as a third empty versus two-thirds full feels different, too.

The same idea is in place with gratitude. If we focus our attention on what we have, we will be happier than if we focus our attention on what we don't have.


framing things different ways feels different to us

"I Have To..."


How many times yesterday did you do something that you didn't really want to do but felt you had to do? When we feel that we don't have a choice, our need for autonomy is not being met.


Often, though, this lack of autonomy is our interpretation of our experience. Having things to do, including things that feel like chores, are part of the human condition. This is part of being alive. We know there will be chores, struggles, setbacks, and risks.


But even if we have setbacks and challenges in front of us, we still have a choice on how we interpret these events.

happiness comes with choices

"I Get To"


Interpreting the events that happened to you as opportunities, even those you consider bad, changes your experience. Recognizing all the things that you get to do helps you appreciate and savor them. Everything you do, for example, will be done for the last time. You have already done things for the last time that you probably didn't know would be the last time you did that. When you think about it this way, you can find joy and gratitude even in things that you thought you didn't like to do. You may not like getting up in the middle of the night with your child, but when you've recognized that there will be a last time that you get up in the middle of the night with her, you realize there will be a time you look back and miss it.

"I Choose To...Because..."


To highlight the fact that we always have a choice, it can be helpful to reframe our experiences as things that we choose to do. This is an interesting exercise because it will highlight the real reason you were doing something.


For example, telling yourself you have to go to work makes it feel like you don't have a choice. Reframing this as choosing to go to work because of some reason makes you look for that reason. Sometimes that reason is that you have to pay bills. Sometimes that reason is that a customer or client is relying on you.


Figuring out why you choose to do something may give you reasons that you may not like. Telling yourself you have to fill out paperwork alleviates you from taking any responsibility for your choice. Telling yourself that you choose to fill out that paperwork because you want to keep your job tells you more information. It's like a mirror. A mirror doesn't care what it reflects; it simply shows you what is there, and you can use that information.


You are making choices whether you know it or not.

Reframing Your Experiences


Framing is powerful. Reframing your experiences from something you have to do into something you get to do highlights how much gratitude is available to you. it will help you appreciate the life that you have.

You don't have to go to work; you get to go to work.


You don't have to make dinner; you get to make dinner.