The artist Picasso was asked in an interview why he didn’t paint pictures of people “the way they really are.” Picasso asked the man what he meant by “the way they really are,” and the man pulled a snapshot of his wife out of his wallet. “Like this,” he said. Picasso responded: “Isn’t she rather small and flat?”
Picasso understood the fundamental idea that is also expressed in the Anais Nin quote, “we don’t see things as they are. We see them as WE are.” The way things are is for the most part a creation of our minds. Life is made up of a series of events and experiences, some of them as abstract and confusing as a Picasso painting. The meaning is all in the frame. The frame can bring out the best in the experience like a frame can highlight the best in a painting. The challenge is to frame your life experience with beliefs that are optimistic and empowering.
Picasso pioneered some interesting developments in art that mirror human development.
Cubism- Cubist art breaks an image into pieces and puts it back together in abstract form. This creates space for the viewer to see the work from multiple perspectives. It’s not about the way things are. It’s about the way the viewer perceives the artwork. The same is true with circumstances. Circumstances don’t define who you are. It’s the way you look at circumstances that defines the quality of your experience. Sometimes it’s helpful to break experiences down, and put them back together with the advantage of perspective.
Picasso went through a stage when he was fascinated by African culture and artifacts. It influenced his famous work “Les Demoisselles d’Avignon” which is a depiction of five nude prostitutes, some of them wearing African totem face masks. It’s a disturbing piece, but the most prominent feature is the way the women appear to be “looking” out from the scene. You can’t quite tell who is looking at who- the viewer of the painting or the women in the painting? This ability to own your own perspective is just as important in healthy relationships as it is in art.
Your perspective is your power. But it’s a power that needs to be claimed. Your brain wears its own set of eye glasses, which is your perspective, or your current beliefs. It sees what it sees through its meaning making grid. If your perspective becomes jaded like old glasses that are cracked and warped you may not even realize that you are approaching life with so much negativity. Your cracked glasses are stopping you from seeing the whole picture or the beauty of what is in front of you.
Think of it like framing a picture such as the Mona Lisa. Did you hear that Mona Lisa was charged with murder? It turned out that she’d been framed. I apologize if that didn’t raise a smile; maybe just a moan. Speaking of raised smiles, if you create a replica of Mona Lisa with down turned lips, the whole effect of the picture changes. If you take a painting of Mona Lisa but only frame a small part of the background, completely leaving out Mona Lisa, you are short changing your experience.
You need to check your perspective often and see if it needs updating. Are you seeing the present through yesterday’s beliefs? Are you expecting the past to replay itself in every moment? It might be time for a reframe. Even the famous Mona Lisa has been touched up and reframed in its 500 year history because of changing taste and also to protect her from ageing. In 1970 she was reframed with maple when they found insects in the beechwood. Then in 2004 she was reframed with sycamore to prevent further warping. The point is that this masterpiece deserves the best frame.
It’s the same with your experience of life. Life is too short and too precious to waste it in negativity. You deserve the best frame, and if you aren’t offering yourself the most optimistic and empowered perspective, then consider a reframe. Don’t frame your life with cheap wood, or wood infested with bugs, and don’t let your frame warp your perspective. Frame your life with the finest materials that include strength, forgiveness, and possibility- whatever qualities you value most highly.
Reframing Persistent Challenge
How do you frame your life when difficult circumstances persist? What do you do when all your best efforts at thinking positively and reframing fail to shift your perspective? A man wrote to the department of agriculture to find out how to cope with the crabgrass that was ruining his lawn. The department responded with a number of suggestions. The man tried them all, but couldn’t beat the crabgrass. Exasperated, he wrote once again, telling them that every method they had suggested had failed. His yard was still riddled with crabgrass. He got back a short reply: ‘We suggest you learn to love it.’
There are times in life when you can’t beat the crabgrass that feels like its strangling the color and joy out of your existence. If you’ve really tried everything, at least for now, learn to love it. Your time for change will come. For now, learn to love what is. If you can’t change the circumstances, change your perspective on the circumstances.
What do you do about nagging negativity? Woody Allen once ended a stand up routine by saying, “I wish I could think of a positive thought to leave you with. Will you take two negative thoughts instead?”
What do you do with persistent negative thoughts? Think positive thoughts about them. Reframing is not about suppression. You WILL face challenge and you WILL have negative thoughts. Some of them will be poor visibility from a cracked lens. Some of them will be appropriate and be the exact motivation you need to make a change in your life. Affirm even the negative thoughts, and the difference will become clear. Which thoughts are serving you, and which thoughts are locking you into self destructive patterns?
Pioneering psychologist Milton H. Erickson, was a master at reframing. When someone came to him to talk about a problem with procrastination, Erickson immediately congratulated him for being an expert on procrastination. He would then ask the person to teach him how to become a master Procrastinator. By reframing what was perceived as a lifelong liability into a skill, Erickson helped him see that it could be used for good in the appropriate contexts such as when delaying rage if angry or sleeping on a difficult decision before acting. Learn to love your inner procrastinator, and liberate it to serve you without being defined by it.
Reframing will help you to turn wounds into wisdom, pain into purpose, sadness into strength, and crisis into compassion. If you find yourself “in hell” keep going and give it a lick of paint on the way as the saying goes. Words like “maybe” and “partially” are helpful words in transitioning from absolute negativity, to possibility, on the way to optimism.
What if your life simply feels out of control? Anne Lamott offered a beautiful reframe in Travelling Mercies-
When a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born — and this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.
You have to believe that there is emerging order in the chaos of your life, like the pieces of an abstract painting. Stay with it, and the order will become clear. Help it along with as many positive, or even just open ended questions as possible.
Examples of Reframing
Here are 10 examples of reframing, ranging from the ultra practical to high level perception.
1. I have too much to do today. Reframe- I can do a lot today, and more again tomorrow.
2. This is the worst outcome. Reframe- I feel anxious now, but won’t feel this way forever.
3. My life is out of control. Reframe- There are many things in life I can control.
4. I feel so much pressure to be what others want me to be. Reframe- I don’t have to be what others expect me to be.
4. There is no end to this problem. Reframe- Solutions will become clear in time.
5. My dreams are impossible. Reframe- My dreams are getting closer every day.
6. I feel shame having to ask for help. Reframe- I am strong enough to admit the need for help.
7. My partner is not expressive. Reframe- My partner offers me solid, quiet support.
8. So and so is ruthless and stubborn. Reframe- So and so has amazing ambition and drive.
9. My family set too many restrictions on my life. Reframe- My family cares enough to help me set healthy boundaries.
10. Ian messed up his top ten numbering system. Reframe- Ian chose a creative numbering system to see who’s paying attention.