The Art of Reframing

I was talking to a friend over Shabbos and he related the following story:

He went on an admissions interview with one of his children and the questions being asked were upsetting him. By the time it was over he was really angry. What kind of school was this that would have an outlook like that?

When he got home he headed for the book shelf, picked up Rabbi Pliskin’s book on “Anger” and turned to the section on reframing. After quickly reviewing it he kept repeating to himself: “They’re teaching Torah!” “They’re teaching Torah!” “They’re teaching Torah!” After a few minutes he was able to reframe the institution into it’s proper perspective. Yes, he still disagreed with some of the things they said, but he was able to appreciate the good they were doing and eliminate any anger towards them.

Rabbi Pliskin, suggests that the key to a life of joy is to master this art of “reframing” — to change our negative perception of a situation into a more optimistic outlook. There is a free audio from Rabbi Pliskin on reframing available here. Let me leave you with this description of this simple yet powerful tool from Rabbi Pliskin’s book, “Begin Again Now”:

Reframing means perceiving a situation or event differently than you did originally or differently than it is usually viewed. A person who masters the art of reframing will be the master of the emotional quality of his life. While you do not always have control over external factors, you always have the ability to reframe.

Update: My friend Joe points to this great article by Sara Yoheved Rigler which contains a great story of reframing:

I  sat down at the kitchen table and decided to work this through. My feelings of outrage were bubbling up in my heart like a volcano, but the Torah expected me to process and control my thoughts and emotions as well as my actions. I knew that the way to change emotions is to change the thoughts that I was telling myself. By a gigantic act of will, I “changed the tape.” I forced myself to remember good things about my cousin, times she had been loving to me, times she had been vulnerable.

Read the whole thing, it’s an amazing article.

14 comments on “The Art of Reframing

  1. Mark ,interesting point on knowing when to reframe and when reframing is not the smartest way to understand the picture.Aside from reframing and judging favorably and loving your neighbor and having Barneys theme song as the refrain for life ……. Sometimes it works to understand why individuals act as mean critical, haughty snobby and holier than thou as they sound. Whether its mrs riglers cousins bad day or its just insecure co workers or even more insecure friends , when one realizes its just a sense of insecurity or jealousy or neediness or attention seekers its easier to reframe with the proper material. And then loving the jealous neighbor insecure coworker and haughty admissions coordinater and his holy school is easier to do.

  2. David Linn, “decayed frayed and dismayed ” lol yeah definitely love the do not reframe with this version of our carnation reframing ceremony.another option if there is no smelly components is the wreath reframing then “frayed” and dismayed” can get a whole new chance at life. And shine in all her spent and “frayed” finery.

    Ron Coleman , Muhammed Ali now there’s one great poet……
    Also , “sap”could be quite the “trap” especially the sticky kind. Not the best stuff to “fall” into.When reframed though its what spring trees are nourished off of and stuff.

  3. Great post and thanks so much for posting a link to the audio on refraiming. Its perfect sunday evening listening, more importantly its something i am currently strugling with in my own life.

    thanks again and be well!

  4. You may be confusing JT with Muhammed Ali, David. I’ve only met one of them but that’s an unlikely mistake once one has.

    Anger and arrogance are linked inextricably in all the mussar literature, including my favorite, the Iggeres HaRamban, which essentially says, in several different ways, “Who do you think you are to be angry at someone else?” Try this at home (if you have kids, I mean … then tell me how it works).

    This “reframing” sounds like a good exercise to prevent falling into this trap, not, however, to turn into a sap. (Hey, I’m a poet now, too!)

  5. In the example given by Mark, the reframing, IMO, was perfectly balanced. Mark’s friend didn’t say that the school is for his kids, he simply used reframing to ameliorate his anger and to see the positive that the school is providing for those who do choose to go there.

    I agree with JT and Steg that if reframing isn’t well balanced it can be used to turn black to white. However, a proper use of reframing, to use JT’s example, would be to say “These carnations stink to the high heavens, I need to trash them pronto. A week ago they were vibrant and fragrant. They brightened my room, cheered me up and made others happy. Maybe I should buy some new ones.” That type of reframing doesn’t change your decision about what you are going to do in that situation. It doesn’t blind you to reality. What it does is help you remember, appreciate and enjoy the beauty of the flowers instead of focusing on their present decayed, frayed and dismayed state (though JT might like that phraseology).

  6. Steg, I don’t think he was whitewashing the situation in order to blind himself to the choices he had to make about the school. I think he was freeing himself from anger controlling the way he goes about making those decisions.

  7. Steve

    The point of this post was not about choosing a school. This particular person spends a tremendous amount of time investigating and making the proper educational choices for his children.

    He also happens to be a Baal Middos and I am trying to learn from his example. Reframing is an extremely important tool in these travels.


    You bring up a good point. It would also not make sense to reframe the leader of Iran as a basically good person.

    But most of the time the people and institutions we deal are filled with a lot of good. The task of reframing is to recognize that goodness which will enable us to properly and more effectively deal with any negatives.

  8. This reframing actually worked nicely on a particular personal religious pet peeve person of mine.I reframed him in a whole new rose gold frame. Thé àrt of reframing can swing both ways thoug. Thé same way rabbi P expects his readers to reframe pious people that çause théir potential patrons pain and anguish with relentless admissions interrogation ….. This same reframing can be applied to truth promoters that may be a little controversial.If everyone would reframe the controversial parts and focus on the good and real truth they are promoting,Barney and his theme song would be proud.

    Also,basically “reframing” is “gilding the lilly’s” friendly far fetched cousin óptimistic opal.
    Ón the one hand,anger,snobbery,haughtiness…. These are all a waste of perfectly good ènergy that could be used for hyper happy laughing sessions with friends.
    Thé question is if I reframe my unhappy spent droopy foul smelling last months pink carnations from the corner bodega, in a whole new pink glass vase from ABC carpet and home …… Will the room suddenly begin smelling like an English countryside rose garden. I think its time for new flowers. Sometimes reframing with vases is not the answer. Although its a good way to store smelly old flowers. But they will still attract flies and other forms living çreatures.

    Maybe the Smelly carnations need to be advised that that instead of dining room table center pieces they would be better off hanging out with daisy the skunk and community. Where smelly is a good thing. And you don’t need to pretend you smell good even in a new vase.

  9. Mark-I don’t disagree with your depiction of what happened. The best thing to do in such an instance by a person subjected to such questions is to think or say to himself or herself or especially if asked by others about such a school- I am sure it is a nice school, but I think that (1) you should ask someone else about it or ( 2) I am the wrong person to ask about it without getting into your own hashkafic reservations, etc about the school.

  10. At its core the school *was* performing the wonderful task of teaching Torah. He might have had some hashkafic differences and he probably won’t send to that school, but why should he paint the whole school in a negative light.

    He chose to follow the path of focusing on the positive, and trying to fix the negative, where possible. I don’t see it as a whitewash, just a healthy way of viewing the world.

  11. Look at it this way. From a parent’s perspective, the days when one yeshiva or girl’s school had a monopoly had one’s childen’s education has ended and parents have many options -especially when the questions being posed send a mission that neither you nor your child will be happy in tha school.

  12. I agree that simple anger is impractical and gets you nowhere; but i fail to see why he would want to ‘reframe’ a school which represented itself in such a manner that he got as angry as described. It sounds like he had some serious issues with the culture of the school, which is definitely not something he needs to get incensed about; but why the whitewashed optimism? Just leave them and find a better school.

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