I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this whole reframing deal, and how critical it is to our level of happiness. Reframing is more than seeing the glass half full or looking at life through rose colored glasses; that’s an oversimplification. Reframing is the work of an optimist, to be sure, but it is, however, work.

Crap. I mean, um, whoo hoo! More work. I love work. Give me more work please.

Just kidding, it’s not that kind of work. PHEW.

Reframing requires a willingness to see and receive good, an honest perspective and an active engagement in a shift in explanatory style and vocabulary. When we choose to stop blaming others for our problems, acknowledge our own contributions for the situation at hand, and actively engage in doing something about that, real change can happen.

Our current reality is dependent partially (or arguably, heavily) upon our attitude.  Our attitude, believe like it or not, is a result of the conscious decisions we make all day every day. We choose our responses. We choose our reactions. We choose the degree to which we allow external forces to impact us; and of significant note, we choose the words with which we articulate that impact.

Yikes. Talk about an accountability act.

Our explanatory style assists in maintaining our own positive attitude as well as in creating and sustaining positive interactions and relationships with others. Basically, the more negative and emotionally loaded your dialogue, the more intense and less satisfied you are likely to be in any situation.

To further explore this concept, I’m going to break it down into two parts. Part A- Your Explanatory Style; and Part B- Reframing.

So, to kick it off (I know you are so.very.excited for this. Calm down, you’re almost there); here’s Part A:

Your Explanatory Style: Essential Tasks to Avoid and to Learn When Communicating With Others

1. Give ambiguous emotionally charged statements

ex: “You need to clean your room” or, worse, “I need you to clean your room.”

Think about it. For one, do you really need them to? Really? You need them to clean their room? Like you cannot survive a minute longer if they don’t? Negative. You need food, water, shelter, and belonging. The rest of it – those are wants.

Furthermore, when someone tells you that you NEED to do something- do you want to do it? Honestly? In my experience (on both sides of this camp) you may as well say “fighters, draw your swords,” because you’ve essentially initiated battle sequence. Using words like “need,” “have to,” “should,” etc… immediately raise our affective filters, like, instantly. As in, we hear those words and an entire slew of negative associations and connotations arrive, front and center, in our heads. We question, bargain, negotiate and otherwise try to find reasons why that statement is either: a) stupid, b) wrong, c) inapplicable, or d) all of the above.

Bottom line, people don’t like to be told what to do. Guidelines and boundaries are different than regimented task management.  The more we speak in that language (the “need to” bullshit) the more emphasis we place on extrinsic, as opposed to intrinsic, motivation, which leads me to #2:

2. Give an “if-then” consequence or reward

ex: “If you don’t clean your room then you can’t go anywhere else today.”

Let’s be honest- this quickly escalates to “for the rest of the day, ever, for the rest of your life, you can never leave your room again. Okay fine, until I give in after an hour and help you do it. But then you can NEVER LEAVE YOUR ROOM AGAIN.”  Honestly, the kids stopped caring about the vague “reward” or “consequence” about three minutes ago.

Consistently creating caveats for your activity based upon the completion (or lack thereof) of a task only encourages reward-based behavior. Additionally, constantly throwing out threats just offers additional chances for misbehavior.

For example, if I keep saying to my kids “If you do that one more time...” I basically just gave them permission to do it again. Seriously. And believe me, they probably will. 99% of the time the forecasted consequence isn’t enough to prevent the behavior; in their cost-to-benefit analysis, the benefit (usually of: a) doing the action again, and b) pissing mom off) totally wins. Especially for negative attention seeking behavior. If the goal of the behavior is to get your attention and make you upset, then as soon as you respond to it- they win. You lose. Ya smell me here? Carrots and sticks are not going to help motivate anyone here, player, back off.

3. Over explain, overshare and other acts of attention seeking/ROB verbosity.

Ex: “I’m know I’m late, again. I ran out of coffee this morning so I had to run to the coffee shop to get more, and then my car was out of gas so I stopped to get some but then the kids started fighting in the backseat and one of them spilled their hot chocolate all over so we ran home to change clothes and then while I was waiting I saw a post from my ex-boyfriend on Facebook (it just popped up on my phone, I swear!)  and it was a picture of him and his new girlfriend and it sent ME into a total meltdown and so I had to take a breather to recoup before the kids saw me crying (again), and then as soon as we finally got to the parking lot I realized the other one forgot their lunch and then and so we had to run home again to get it and…”

You know what that is? YP. It’s just a bunch of excuses. What’s the real reason you are late? You didn’t prepare in advance like you might have, your priorities might have gotten out of line and then not having given yourself enough room for error in your morning, when the unexpected happened, you weren’t able to respond in an efficient manner.

Ditto for responding to requests from others. Sometimes, a person just wants to hear a simple “yes” or “no,” not the reasons why, your thought process or how it is that you came to that decision. Quite frankly, most of the time, it’s really none of their business.

Guess what else? No one really benefits from you explaining all of that (other than perhaps giving them a good laugh); not even you. Your lack of planning = your problem. Your troubles? Also your problem. Everybody everywhere is struggling with something; you are not the only one who had a shitty morning.

When you start pouring your heart out you activate parts of your brain that have been on standby, and engage the sympathetic, empathetic or “irritated as hell” parts of the cerebral crowd surrounding you. Just stop. The grocery store line is not the best place for a therapy session, nervous breakdown or emotional breakthrough. Well, unless you are on a reality t.v. show (or want to be), then by all means, let it flow darling.  I suggest, however, that you share your emotional baggage with people who you know you can count on to support you.  The rest of the time, honey, hide your crazy and keep it together ‘cuz ain’t nobody got time fo’ that.

 4. Apologize or give permission.

Ex: “I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to answer your call right away and then I misunderstood your text. I’ll make it up to you later, okay?”

Again, an apology engages our emotional center and requests empathy, sympathy or forgiveness. Asking permission suggests a power struggle and invites conflict. Do you really need to be sorry you couldn’t answer the call? You just weren’t available to at that time. Simple as that. Ditto with the misinterpretation. Are you sorry you misunderstood, or did your misunderstanding create a lack of clarity on your part? Adding “okay” at the end of the sentence is asking the other person’s permission. Are you, or aren’t you? If you are, why make it sound like a question requiring that person’s consent?

Talk less. Act more.

Now, for the Action Plan.


1.  Give positive, brief and clear directions

Ex: “Please put away your legos.”

This breaks down the steps into achievable tasks. It is clear, specific and completely devoid of emotion. You avoid the battle by not engaging in a power struggle in the first place. Be polite, say what they are to do (not what you would like them to do, what you “need” them to do or would “prefer” they do). Just say what the task is, in a direct and cheery manner. Channel your inner June Cleaver as desired (apron optional).

 2. Give a “now-that” consequence or reward, if applicable and useful to the situation.

Ex: “Now that your room is all clean we can do something fun together.”

A statement like this clarifies the antecedent to the fun behavior, validates that the task was completed and offers feedback on performance. It is also totally empty of emotion, positive or negative. Like Dan Pink talks about in his book “Drive,” when completing algorithmic, mechanical tasks and we offer rewards that are: non-contingent, unexpected, and intangible, we create incentives that work (so long as we don’t overuse them to the point that they morph into a “if-then” setup).

Likewise, when offering consequences, avoid the battle. Let’s say you asked the kids to stop doing something and they did it again (real shocker here. Major stretch of the imagination). Just give the consequence. Say “I asked you to stop and you did it again. Please __________ (fill in the blank with whatever logical consequence applies here).”

Don’t live in a life of “if-then” rule governed behavior. Give immediate feedback, be clear and be consistent. Take the emotion OUT of the reward and the consequence. This is not a debate, they don’t get “another chance” or “one more try.” Do this consistently and I promise you’ll see a change in behavior (sidenote- some kids [and uh, adults] require experiencing this lesson more frequently than others but… eventually they’ll get it. Stay strong sister).

3. Be brief, positive and honest.

Ex: “I’m late. What would you like me to do as a result of my tardiness?” 

When in doubt. Keep it simple. Spending time rationalizing your actions and choices only serves to make people question your motivation, intentions and behavior in general. It’s not personal; nothing others do is because of you. Be confident enough in yourself to be cool with who you are and what you do, regardless of what others think.

Be impeccable with your word. Keep your business YOUR business. The more (unnecessary) information you provide the more you subject yourself to managing additional reaction control as others respond to your information. Stop fueling the fire by adding unnecessary tinder. The more you share your problems and frustrations, the more attention you give them, the more they build and the more they begin to affect those around you. Likewise, your relationships are between you and that other person, not between you and all of your mutual friends. Keep your game tight. Gossiping is gossiping. End of story.

4. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Ex: “I was unable to answer your call at that time, and texting didn’t help us communicate well, my bad. I will call you when we are both available to chat.”

Acknowledge your role in the situation, be convicted in and of your actions and again, keep it simple. If you act with integrity, veracity and positive intention, there is nothing to hide nor little for which to seek permission. When you are of good character and regularly can be depended on to follow-through people will view you with respect and show understanding when things come up. When you frequently let them down, are always apologizing for yourself and often seeking permission of others you come off as weak, ungrounded, disorganized and untrustworthy. Choose your words carefully.

Whew. That’s enough for now. Up next: putting that idea in action – DIY Happy Pills: How to Reframe Your Way Into Optimism.

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