The Power of Reframing

The Power of Reframing

Ose Schwab

“…many circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may only appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view. Find the right framework and extraordinary accomplishment becomes an everyday experience”  (Zander & Zander 2000).

What do you see when you look at your life? Distraction? Procrastination? Opportunity? Hope? What do you focus on and why does it matter?

Look for a moment at Figure 1. As you take in the black and white picture, note what you perceive. What do you see when you focus on the black? How does what you perceive change when you shift your eyes to the white?

Coaches understand that as with visual perception what you decide to focus on influences what you see. What you see affects what you believe is possible and what you are willing to do (Shahar). This is particularly true for individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). If focus hangs on the deficits, motivation and energy drop. Overwhelm obscures the options. Judgment kills creativity. Conversely, if the deficits are not respected, understood, and addressed, realistic planning and strategizing cannot adequately occur.

Through inquisitive dialogue coaches are able to challenge incomplete or distorted pictures of reality. They help clients reframe the challenges in terms of what the client can do rather than what the client cannot do. Coaches offer clients a window to hope and reality in a way that commands action.

Research suggests that successful adults with learning disabilities and/or ADHD recognize, understand, and accept their deficits and strengths. They are also willing to take action (Reiff, Gerber & Ginsberg 1997). Those who do not follow this process risk languishing in “psychic prisons because they cannot look at old problems in a new light and attack old challenges with different and more powerful tools – they cannot reframe” (Bolman & Deal, 1991 as cited in Reiff, Gerber & Ginsberg, p.106).

Reframing is a process that involves ‘changing the conceptual and/or emotional viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced and placing it in a different frame that fits the “facts” of a concrete situation equally well, thereby changing its entire meaning’ (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/reframe). A slight shift in frame can add power by the meaning it evokes. The meaning can galvanize passion, love, fear, imagination, excitement, interest, and/or hope. Such forces can achieve more for the ADHD mind than structure or strategy alone.

So how do you reframe? How do you begin to see tendencies related to ADHD within a complete context that spans enough possibility for creative action? Consider the answer in a few stories that reflect the power of reframing. Initially these individuals found support from a physician, parents, or a coach. This help facilitated an appreciation not only for the difficulties but the talent and passion as well. In some cases, the goal shifted toward a more suitable target aligned with ability and interest. In another case, a change in role and environment highlighted the significance of a reframed perspective.

Find Enlightened Support
In 1930, Gillian Lynne’s parents took her to a pediatrician to find out what was wrong with her. Her school reported concern that Gillian, age seven at the time, had terrible handwriting and low test scores. She often disrupted the class and had trouble sitting still long enough to attend to schoolwork. The pediatrician met with the parents and Gillian to hear about the trouble. In response, he asked the parents to join him for a private consult outside his office. The three adults left Gillian in the room with music playing. When they returned to the room, Gillian was dancing. The doctor said to the parents that rather than suffering from some terrible problem, perhaps Gillian Lynne just needed to dance.

Lynne’s parents registered Gillian for ballet school. Later, Gillian Lynne became a star ballet dancer and a pioneer choreographer. Among other accomplishments, Lynne contributed years of dancing for various ballet companies and provided innovative choreography, like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” to the world. To read more about her accomplishments visit http://www.gillianlynne.com/intro.htm

Hone in on Talent and Passion
Mick Fleetwood, drummer extraordinaire, achieved success in music as founder of the band Fleetwood Mac. He was able to achieve this success despite his school failure.  In high school he was so miserable that he asked his parents if he could drop out. They understood that his talent was in drumming and allowed him to follow his dream. “’My parents saw that the light in this funny little creature certainly wasn’t academics”’ (Robinson 2009).

Mick’s musical success was feasible only because his parents validated his unique qualities and supported a more creative and expansive frame of possibility. They understood that Mick had a great aptitude for something that a score on a test could never reflect. And they offered him permission to pursue his great strengths so that rather than succumb to the status quo, he could define his own path colored more by strength than deficit (Robinson 2009).

Understand the Challenges
Bob sought coaching two months after being laid off and four months following a diagnosis of ADHD. At fifty-two Bob had achieved some employment consistency, employed for 22 years at one firm. Despite this accomplishment, he felt victimized by certain tendencies that thwarted his job search efforts.

Bob claimed that he had trouble starting certain tasks related to the job search. He often felt overwhelm and was plagued with fluctuating mood swings that would render him completely paralyzed. He tended to ruminate on the past, seeing the past as a string of failures brought about by deficits he now related to ADHD and anxiety.

With the help of books and practitioner input, Bob learned how ADHD impacted him and what treatment and life adjustments he could apply to accommodate and address his challenges. Bob also learned to design a balanced daily schedule that would energize him and accommodate his need for encouragement.

As Bob better understood the nature and circumstances of his challenges, he could feel in control of the way he planned and accommodated for such challenges. He was also better equipped to ask questions of prospective employers, weed out jobs that would not be a good fit, and in general stay focused and in control of his job search process.

Shift the Goal
According to Neil Baldwin’s (1995) account of Thomas Alva Edison (inventor holding 1,093 U.S. patents in his name, as well as many patents in the United Kingdom, France and Germany), a teacher saw Edison as a daydreamer and an inattentive student who was not worth keeping in school. At the time, rigid standards of school behavior in which punctuality, quiet compliance, and industry ruled. In this environment, Edison failed the good student test.

Fortunately for Edison, his mother acted on a very different picture of her son. She recognized and understood his great intellect and active imagination. She also understood the limits of the particular educational environment, intuiting that it could obscure her son’s natural style. Edison’s mom pulled her son out of the school and rebuked the teacher. She claimed he did not know what he was talking about, adding that he was probably less intelligent than her son.

Edison’s mother held out a different goal than to be a stellar student in the classic sense.  She rather sought to prepare him to explore and develop his expansive imagination.  To this end she designed a homeschooling program for her son that would defy traditional formalism and rigidity and unleash his imagination. Her advocacy and the home environment, which engendered much reading on Edison’s part, opened up many pathways to development and relentless innovation otherwise closed to this budding intellect.

Change Environment or Role
In some cases, the reframing comes with a change in environment or role. Janet, a former client recently called me to report that she had received a successful rating on her most recent performance review. Educated as a clinical psychologist, she spent six hard years as a case manager, not a good fit as it required frequent and detailed reporting. She also had to juggle 15 cases, all with different requirements and timelines. She had to enter notes into a complex computer system.

As case manager, she had never received a successful review. And she viewed herself as a failure. She believed she had to prove herself in this position in order to work in a role better suited to her abilities and less taxing on her deficits.

We worked together to adjust habits and apply structures. We even developed a spreadsheet that enabled her to track next steps for her many clients. Though some of these adjustments helped improve her performance, her fundamental view of self remained intact. She had trouble reframing. And, she was sure that her job was in jeopardy. She was right in part. Ultimately the director removed her from the case management position. She awaited reassignment, a possible demotion to an administrative position.

After several conversations in which we discussed what her ideal job would be, Janet decided to propose a research idea to her former department director. This idea would utilize her clinical and research experience. She would report to the director himself and be responsible for publishing the report. The director accepted her idea.

In this new role, her work habits drastically improved. She focused and was productive. She experienced success doing something within her expertise. The work came more naturally than the previous detail-intensive data reporting. Now she was able to utilize research, writing, and thinking skills. The role and environment change enabled her to consider what she could do well rather than what she could not do well.

Thanks to reframing, a line of possibility was cast to the horizon for Janet, Bob, Gillian Lynne, Mick Fleetwood, and Thomas Edison. Held together by the combined force of an understanding of talent, passion, and weakness, the line connected these individuals to their respective goals.

Without reframing, the world would be deprived of more than 1,000 innovations and the artistry of such choreographed productions as “Cats.”  No Fleetwood Mac albums would thrill fans. And the beneficiaries of Janet’s research would be deprived of important information. Future employers might not benefit from Bob’s ingenuity or he’d be locked into a cycle of multitasking that he might not keep up with. He and his family, as with the others, would suffer the impact of potential obscured and locked up by an inadequate perspective. And so, reframing proves to be a crucial process that helps individuals who operate outside the lines of the norm to harness their potential.

REFERENCES
– Baldwin, N. (1995). Edison: Inventing the century. Hyperion. New York.
– Robinson, K. (2009). The element. Viking. New York.
– Reiff, H. Geber, P, & Ginsberg, R. (1997). Exceeding expectations: Successful adults with learning disabilities. PRO-ED, Inc. Austin, TX.
– Shahar, T.B. (n.d.) A question of focus. Retrieved on 11/30/2009 from Tal Ben Shahar’s website: http://talbenshahar.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=27&Itemid=40
– Zander, R.S. & Zander, B. (2000). The art of possibility. Penguin. New York.

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