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Reframe Your Experiences

The framing effect says we feel differently when things are stated different ways
❝You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.❞ -Marcus Aurelius

I'm putting on my snow pants, boots, mask, coat, hat, gloves, and mittens as I prepare to take our dog, Bingo, on a walk. It's -10 degrees, plus it's windy!

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.


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're halfway through a workout. Do you tell yourself "I'm only halfway done," or do you say "I'm already halfway done."?

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.

Frames matter.

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, is 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