Provision #633: Reframe the Negative

Laser Provision

News Flash: Life is not always a bowl of cherries. Life doesn’t always work out the way we want. Life has a way of throwing us curve balls. Chances are you already knew that. “Life is difficult,” to quote M. Scott Peck. But that doesn’t mean we have to sink in despair with an all-is-lost, woe-is-us attitude. That’s the real news flash: All is never lost. And woe is never all we can say about any situation. There are ways to reframe the negative, and it’s important for us to do regularly and often. With one more nod to the Kennedy funeral, this Provision looks at what it takes to transform even our most profound losses into something positive. If you’ve been having trouble with this lately, or even if you’d just like a reminder of what you already know, then this may be the Provision for you.

LifeTrek Provision

Judging from a couple of reader replies to last week’s Provision, Frame the Positive, I may provoke a few more partisan reactions by revisiting Senator Ted Kennedy’s funeral, but I was struck not only by the positive images and stories told by his family and friends but also by the many images and stories that reframed the negative in positive terms. That is an essential part of the appreciative mindset, so I thought I would share a couple of those stories with you as a way of introducing the topic.

The most poignant remarks at the funeral were made by Senator Kennedy’s son and namesake, Edward M. Kennedy, Jr. This was the story that touched me the most:

When I was 12 years old, I was diagnosed with bone cancer. And a few months after I lost my leg, there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington D.C. and my father went to the garage to get the old Flexible Flyer, and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway.

I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg. And the hill was covered with ice and snow. It wasn’t easy for me to walk. And the hill was very slick. And as I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice and I started to cry and I said, “I can’t do this.” I said, “I’ll never be able to climb up that hill.” And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget, he said, “I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.”

Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top. And you know, at age 12 losing your leg pretty much seems like the end of the world, but as I climbed on to his back and we flew down the hill that day, I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be OK.

You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and that it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons. He taught me that nothing is impossible.

I was also touched by a story told by Senator Kennedy’s other son, Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island):

When I was a kid, I couldn’t breathe. Growing up I suffered from chronic and crippling asthma attacks, and the medications I had to take were very difficult and gave me a throbbing headache every night that I had to use my bronchial nebulizer.

Now, obviously, I wish that I did not have to suffer those attacks and endure those headaches. Nor did I like having to grow up having a special no-allergenic, non-smoking room reserved for me whenever we went on family vacations. But as I now realize years later, while asthma may have posed a challenge to my physical health, it propped up my emotional and mental health, because it kept my father by my bedside.

My dad was always sure to be within reach of me, and the side effects of the medication meant that he was always holding a cold, wet towel on my forehead until I fell asleep again from my headache.

As far as the special effort that was made to ensure that I had a proper room to sleep in while we were on vacations as a family, this usually meant that I got the nicest room and it also ensured that dad was my roommate.

I couldn’t have seen it at the time, but having asthma was like hitting the jackpot for a child who craved his father’s love and attention. When his light shined on me alone, there was no better feeling in all of the world.

President Obama’s remarks were written, I’m sure, without knowing what Kennedy’s sons would say. But his remarks also form the point I want us to focus on in today’s Provision:

We cannot know for certain how long we have here. We cannot foresee the trials or misfortunes that will test us along the way. We cannot know what God’s plan is for us. What we can do is to live out our lives as best we can with purpose and with love and with joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we care about them and treat others with the kindness and respect that we wish for ourselves.

We can learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures. And we can strive at all costs to make a better world so that someday, if we are blessed with a chance to look back on our time here, we know that we spent it well, that we made a difference, that our fleeting presence had a lasting impact on the lives of others.

In the days after September 11th, Teddy made it a point to personally call each one of the 177 families of this state who lost a loved one in the attack. But he didn’t stop there. He kept calling and checking up on them. He fought through red tape to get them assistance and grief counseling. He invited them sailing, played with their children, and would write each family a letter whenever the anniversary of that terrible day came along.

To one widow, he wrote the following, “As you know so well, the passage of time never really heals the tragic memory of such a great loss, but we carry on because we have to. Because our loved ones would want us to and because there is still light to guide us in the world from the love they gave us. We carry on.”

Although it’s important and great to savor the positive, it’s even more important and great to reframe the negative. We can “transform even our most profound losses into positive events”. We can frame the unanticipated side effects of a chronic condition as “hitting the jackpot”. And we can live out our lives “with purpose and with love and with joy”, carrying on through even the worst of tragedies.

Negative things happen. The power of appreciation is not the power of positive thinking to always make everything right. There is no formula like that. It is rather the power to celebrate the best in life even when life is obviously not very good. Perhaps a simple mantra will make my point:

The optimist looks at the glass and calls it half full.
The pessimist looks at the glass and calls it half empty.
The appreciative person looks at the glass and calls it beautiful

Beauty can always be seen in even the worst of situations. If Viktor Frankl could see beauty in a Nazi concentration camp, we can see beauty in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. And it’s really not that hard. If I were to give you a camera and ask you to take pictures at home, at work, on a trip, in your community, or anywhere else you might hang out, I believe you would find something beautiful to capture.

That’s true in even difficult circumstances. You may be in a hospital, in an unemployment line, at a soup kitchen, on the streets, in prison, in hospice, or otherwise distressed as to your prospects in life and work. But if I were to give you a camera, if you were to see your situation through the lens of looking for something beautiful and uplifting, I believe you would find some things to focus on, click, and remember.

What good is that? Research indicates it’s incredibly good to reframe the negative in positive terms. That’s not pretending there is nothing negative; that’s not denying reality; that’s not putting on rosy-tinted glasses or living in “la-la land”. That’s noticing not only the dark cloud but also the silver lining. That’s seeing the acorn from which oaks grow. That’s appreciating the best of what is in order to give birth to the best of what might be.

So look for it, if you dare. Do it regularly and do it often. Pretend you have a camera, even when you don’t. Capturing the best life has to offer is a sure ticket to a better day today and even better day tomorrow.

Coaching Inquiries: What can you celebrate? What can you appreciate? What would assist you to do this consciously and mindfully? How can you remember to reframe the negative on a daily basis? Who could become your appreciation buddy for life?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click HereTop

Bonus Tip: Carry a Camera by Bob Tschannen-Moran

Many years ago I was working with a client who wanted to ride his bicycle at the start of every day. He was having a hard time doing it at all, let alone doing it consistently, so we started to brainstorm what would increase his motivation and assist him to take action. You’ll never guess what we came up with: a camera.

It turns out this guy was a photography buff and he enjoyed taking beautiful pictures. It never occurred to him, until we did our brainstorming, that his exercise goal could facilitate his photography interest. But it proved to be both an intriguing and successful combination: take his camera on his bike rides and find something beautiful to photograph.

Soon, he was riding away and sending me beautiful pictures. The combination led him to go different places, to take different routes, and even to go further than he otherwise might have gone when he thought of something special to photograph.

That’s the way cameras work. They pique our interest in the best life has to offer. In today’s Provision I wrote about the camera effect on negative situations. Pull out the camera and we can usually find something worth framing. It’s fun to have a camera around, just in case. That’s especially true where I live, since we get our share of fleeting moments with beautiful creatures.

But we don’t have to wait for a camera to have a camera mindset. We can use our fingers to frame the picture. It’s a way of looking at life. Of seeing the best life has to offer. And of reframing the negative through the power of appreciation. I encourage you to make it so on a daily basis.

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

I like this Provision, Frame the Positive, the very most of all that I have read. And I read every one of these that you send! Thank you so much for writing your thoughts down and then sharing them. We are all fortunate to hear you.

Needed to read your Provision today. Thanks! It’s been a bit overwhelming here getting ready for the program year and one of the first big issues arising. Focusing on the positive indeed changes things. Look what I read right after your Provision. God says, “I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). It fits right in.

Thank you for this information•it is excellent.

I wouldn’t call Kennedy’s life a drama. I would call it the tragedy of a wasted life. And, I fail to see the “good stuff”. He is no hero in my book. (Ed. Note: We see what we choose to see. I choose to frame the positive and reframe the negative. Hope you will join me on the trek!) 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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