September Tip: Reframing

The first time I heard the saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you will treat all your problems like a nail,” it caused an epiphany of sorts. What tools did I use to solve the problems in my life? Did I always reach for my metaphorical hammer or was my toolkit better equipped?

I realized that my main tool — more of an overall strategy for dealing with challenges — is my ability to reframe situations. Reframing is the capacity to consider a particular challenge or problem and generate different ways to think about it and perhaps to solve it. It reveals different perspectives than what our default response might be.

A friend’s daughter offered a good reframing example when thinking about hiring help for her father who is recovering from medical complications and needs more care. “We think it will be better for him to have another pair of hands around to help out.” Having somebody else to help out frees him to focus his time and energy on what is more important to him.

Another tool in my bag of tricks is using Inquiry to find out what is happening in a particular situation. I become curious and ask open-ended questions which allow me and others to review our ‘stories’ – whatever they are – and see if we’ve missed something or can discover different facets to whatever is happening.

I often remind people that three important attributes for aging well are Adaptability, Flexibility and Resilience. Each of those requires the ability to adjust to changing situations. That may mean modifying attitudes and behaviors, and a willingness to question our assumptions and the conclusions we make based on them.

As I recently wrote, a new reframe I’m trying is the practice of saying, “I don’t know,” in situations where I would ordinarily jump in with an answer. I understand I will feel both the discomfort and relief of ‘not knowing,’ nonethless I’m aiming for what Buddhists call Beginner’s Brain.

Going one step further, I want to be able to ask someone else what they know or think about a particular subject. I know it will help expand options and perhaps lead to shared problem-solving.

Being open to not knowing but discovering how else to look at things is a skill that we get to practice every day.