The following is adapted from Your Real Life.
We have all experienced what I like to call “brain annoyances” in times of hardships and struggles. Brain annoyances are tendencies of the brain that can lead you astray; they’re distortions that get in the way of your ability to accurately identify and respond to a situation. There are a few common ones people encounter in times of adversity, but they can all be characterized in one sentence: the brain has a tendency to believe things that aren’t true.
So how do you gain that tenacity and take control back, to be able to identify what is actually true?
Reframing. To reframe a problem is to reconceptualize it by looking at it from a different perspective. This alters the perception of the level of difficulty the adversity presents. That in turn may open up new avenues for action.
Let’s review these four common brain annoyances and how we can reframe them to shift our mindset.
The 4 False Beliefs
Let’s talk about some of the most common false beliefs people encounter and how to reframe them.
#1 The All-or-Nothing Distortion
Binary thinking around the adversity that paints a black-and-white picture of success and failure or of right and wrong. This thinking is problematic because if there’s no room for gray when dealing with the issue, then we will wind up believing that the plan for overcoming it has to be perfect. We’ll think, “If it’s imperfect, it won’t work.” This kind of thinking is paralyzing.
How to reframe: Leave room for imperfection. By operating in gray instead, you leave room to try different things, to tweak and revise the plan, and to tolerate initial failures. Humans are not perfect. Solutions are not always perfect. Accepting this enables you to actualize your plan.
#2 The Fortune-Telling Distortion
Trying to predict the outcome of the situation (and usually getting it wrong). The human brain tends to easily fall into making bad assumptions, which can cause misfired signals in response to a problem or outcome that doesn’t actually exist, because our strongest intuitions are often wrong and we sometimes use the wrong data to make decisions.
How to reframe: Try to think positively instead of planning for disaster. When you’re trying to push your way through a stressor, it’s helpful to make positive assumptions. Doing so will help lead to positive outcomes.
#3 The Personalization Distortion
Thinking, Why me? People can’t help but (falsely) see themselves as the center of everything. This ego-centric thinking is a natural distortion of the brain that leads us to the belief that people around us are behaving the way they are—or things in the environment are happening around us—because of something that we did. We tend to blame ourselves or take things personally and it gets in the way of being able to objectively identify the adversities we face.
How to reframe: Try to objectively think about what is and isn’t your crap to deal with. Someone else’s actions are never in your control, so don’t take them personally. Try to internalize that you really aren’t the center of the universe—and that’s a good thing!
#4 The Magnification Distortion
Drawing conclusions and misfiring on wrong or incomplete information. Also, generalizing things or blowing details out of proportion. These lead us to make choices that aren’t well-informed because even though we think we have the whole picture, we actually don’t.
How to reframe: Be objective and look at the facts. Think about how the current situation resembles adversities you’ve faced in the past and apply the knowledge and resilience you gained from those experiences to the present. Make sure you have all of the information you need to see the full picture.
Turn Helplessness Into Optimism
Your brain likes to tell itself that you have no power to change anything. But you already know that’s not true.
Reframing can shift your experience of adversity or change in ways that will not only let you see problems differently, but also allow you to experience and manage them differently, too. When we understand our brain distortions and the often-wrong beliefs that lead to learned helplessness, we can flip them on their heads—turning helplessness into optimism, reminding us that with a growth mindset we have choices.
For more advice on how to reframe your perspective, you can find Your Real Life on Amazon.