The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reframing the Issue: A Way to Turn a Problem On Its Head

Do you find yourself feeling angry about a situation, trapped in a predicament, frustrated, anxious, or frightened about an upcoming event? Try reframing the issue. Reframing is a powerful tool that allows you to view the problem, situation, or predicament from another angle and move forward in a positive way. Here are a couple of examples, beginning with the simplest one.

A couple years back, the Brooks family was camping in a state park. It was late and we were all settling in for the night to sleep. In the next spot from ours was a group of teens who were sleeping out under the stars that night. They were talking among themselves. I found this distracting. My first thought was I would never get to sleep with all that gabbing going on. Then I reframed the issue. I observed that the tree frogs singing in the night were actually louder than the teens. I realized the teens were just another quiet, natural background noise in the campground. At that point, I relaxed and it was lights out. Had I not reframed the issue, it would have been a long and aggravating night.

Here's a more complex example:

A few years ago I was admitted into the emergency room with half my face paralyzed. I had a bad ear infection ... I didn't know how bad at the time. Two days after receiving medication for the pain of the infection (and there is little worse than this in my experience so far, the pain never lets up), the right side of my face went slack. The lines disappeared, drinking was a challenge as the lips would not press tight on the right side, and blinking was problematic. When this happened, being a 21st century kinda guy, I took a look online and found out that partial facial paralysis was not uncommon with a serious ear infection. Then I read the more frightening line ... "If not treated immediately, the paralysis could become permanent."

Calling the doctor's office, I was told to go to the emergency room. "When?" I asked naively. "Now," the nurse replied firmly, adding the unsettling thought, "from what you've told me I can't tell if this condition is related to the ear infection or if you've had a stroke."

With that, I left work and drove to the emergency room. In hindsight, doing that by myself might not have been a very bright move. Needless to say, the half hour drive gave me lots of time to think. I arrived at the hospital at 4:30 p.m. God bless the nurse who met me there. She immediately asked me if I could raise my right eyebrow (the eyebrow on the affected side). I couldn't. "Good!" she said brightly.

"Good?" I asked dully, confusedly.

"Yes, good. It means you didn't have a stroke. If you'd had a stroke, you could still move the eyebrow."

We are made in weird and wonderful ways.

After checking in, the waiting and the scanning began. I have to say it was nothing like "ER" or any other medical show. It's pretty dull. A CAT scan and waiting. Lots of waiting.

After an hour I started feeling cranky. I found out several scans would be needed and no food could be eaten. This was not how I'd intended to spend Wednesday evening. I began feeling sorry for myself, getting frustrated, and preparing to let my feelings be known. Then it hit me. As a church youth group leader I'd told kids repeatedly that every hour of every day they had a choice. They could be a blessing or a curse to others. I realized I needed to suck it up and practice what I'd been preaching (since I'm currently in seminary part time working toward ordination as a Baptist minister I figured I ought to give this a shot). I reframed the situation as an opportunity to help others and to be a blessing in their day. So, I began making a conscious effort to be upbeat and to concern myself with others, the nurses and staff working hard around me. I focused on others and not on me.

I was surprised by the results. Before long, I was receiving more frequent visits by staff members than I had been, updates on how things were going and such. It helped a lot to get through the hours of waiting and the concern that was rising over the repeated scans.

At around 11 p.m. a fourth CAT scan was needed to see if the infection had gotten into my brain. That blasted infection was everywhere else in the ear and the bone and now I knew things were more serious than I'd imagined. I went to see my new friend, the expert running the CAT scan equipment and she said dye would need to be used. Then she asked a fateful question. "Do you have asthma?"

I have a very mild case of what's known as "performance asthma." In short, it means if I have to run great distances, I ain't gonna perform. I can sprint like a maniac, but I can't run a mile without wheezing. I told her I did and that it was very mild. She considered and I realized later this was the moment my reframed, positive attitude made a difference. Had I been cranky, as had been my first inclination, I'd have spent the night in the hospital cooling my heels and waiting for an MRI in the morning. As it was, since I'd been considerate to her all evening, she mulled it over, agreed to test the dye and see how I responded. I asked her for the worst case scenario. She said, there's a 1 in 10,000 chance you'll die. I told her I was feeling a little luckier than that this evening. And I was, obviously, since I'm writing this.

All went well and my brain was infection free (thank God). More to the point, I saw the power of reframing and the difference the positive attitude I had chosen to live in that evening made in the lives of others around me and in myself. What could have been an awful, tedious, anxious evening turned into an evening worth remembering with small kindnesses shared all around. I'd gone into that situation with no greater expectation than to live out what I'd been preaching to the kids. In the end I learned a lot more and received a kindness unexpected and unsought at the end of the night.

Reframing is a very powerful tool well worth using in our daily lives. The political pundits are paid to use reframing in the worst possible ways, trying to force us to see the world through extremely negative lenses they are well paid to force upon us. This is causing our society great harm and civility to unravel rapidly all around us. Take reframing back, use it for yourself, and help improve the world and better your life and the lives of others today.

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