The Frame is Everything

I had a conversation with a client recently.  It was a great session for both of us. I share some of it here not to tell you about him personally, but to use him as an example of a fundamental principle of what I coach about, what I teach about, and what I try very hard to live.

beard-cap-elderly-162547You see, this client of mine is an older man. He is retired and has been having some health issues. He’s been spending a lot of time reviewing his life: looking back at the past, examining and evaluating the contours, the relationships, the activities and events. And the result of all of this examination and evaluation has not been pleasant for him. He concluded at some point in there that he has wasted much of his life. He wanted to meet with me to figure out whether some early childhood traumas were the cause of that waste. His pain was very real and my heart ached for his sorrow.

And as my heart ached I began to ask questions, because that’s what coaches do.

I began by explaining that there’s no way I could legitimately answer the question of whether or not a specific experience was the cause for the mistakes he had identified in his life. I further explained that I wasn’t sure the exercise of pinpointing a a single event as cause was really a valuable exercise if what he wanted was to feel better.

I asked him how things would look if he believed that his life had been a good one, if he was good enough, had done enough.

He sat with that thought for awhile and conceded that he would feel better with that thought.

I asked him if there were things he needed to forgive himself for. He came up with some choices and decisions that have clearly nagged him over the years.

I asked him what things he HAD accomplished in his life. He had a big list.

I asked him what he had done that he was proud of. He had a big list.

I asked him what parts of his life he feels good about. He had a big list. These lists didn’t overlap, mind you, so there really was a lot there.

I asked him if he thought my perspective on his life might be different than his after hearing all of this. He thought it just might.

And then we talked about the brain, and the power of a thought that creates a frame for our understanding.

At some point my client had inherited, created, deduced the thought that his life was not valid, that the things that made him unique were not valuable. This became his frame for the portrait of his life. If we want to talk about it in writing terms, this conclusion about his own worth was his thesis. Each review of his life, his choices, the events that have made up his days was sorted through with the purpose of proving his thesis. This is what the brain does naturally. It likes to help us be right. I mean really, who doesn’t like to be right?

So his brain understood that he believed he had little worth and so it was constantly working on providing evidence for that idea. The brain is incredible. It is powerful. It is efficient. It LIKES to work for us. It likes to sort, categorize, evaluate. It wants to work. The thoughts that we choose are assignments for that amazing machine: “Here, go prove this. Thank you.” It will do it.

And this is how our stories become so entrenched, so convincing, so compelling. The brain will find the evidence for that assertion, no matter how damaging it might be.

Because: human.

We are complicated. We make mistakes. We make choices that in retrospect seem less than brilliant. Human. And for most of us, that’s not a one shot deal. We keep learning our whole lives, so that’s a whole lot of opportunity for choices that could easily be interpreted as mistakes rather than being seen as a moment of real growth. There’s plenty of evidence in everyone’s files for some kind of statement about them being rotten or screwed up or less than worthy. Yes, I mean everybody.

And just as all of us have filing cabinet drawers full of things we might not be proud of, we also have good things we’ve done, moments of rightness/goodness/kindness, excellent choices and graceful recoveries. We have fleeting moments of tenderness. We have times when we felt loved and connected. We have days of wonder. We have moments of pure inspiration. Yes, I mean everybody.

Because: human.

So what makes us able to access those good drawers (and that felt awkward to me because my mother calls your underwear your drawers)? The frame we choose, the big belief about ourselves, the story we have about who we are at the core – that’s what helps your brain decide which files to dig into. And THAT my dear friends, is a choice. The frame that we give our lives, the story we tell ourselves about who we are, the labels we put all over ourselves – those are all choices.

I’m not saying it’s easy to make that choice. Your mind will fight you. It wants to stick with what it knows. Efficiency is highly valued up in there. But consciousness and practice really will do it for you.

I see what I am thinking about myself. I see what it does to me. I KNOW there are likely other possibilities (that might be the part you’ll need to take on faith for the moment). I am willing to try on a different story, even if it is only a teeny tiny bit better.

adult-beautiful-face-774866If that feels like maybe it would be a huge relief, if there’s a little internal happy voice/a little tickle/a sort of weird bubbles in your chest feeling as you consider that possibility, I want to offer you this thought: “I am glorious.” Try it on. Try it on without the smirk or the eye roll or anything else you reflexively do to diminish your value. Think it on purpose with a deep breath in and a gentle exhale. “I am glorious.”

How does that feel?

I’d really love to know. Let’s talk about it.

The Sting of Rejection

“No, thank you,” she said and even though I know better, I STILL felt a little sting, that sting of rejection. When I think about it in my wise brain, I know that not everyone will like everything I do. In fact, I’m quite sure there will be plenty of people who won’t like anything I do and my wise self tells me that’s okay. That last bit there, that’s the part I struggle with sometimes.

And I think that struggle is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that, just like most humans, I want to be liked. I want the things that I do to be liked, and I want to please the people around me. I am a recovering people pleaser (with the caveat that there are some people who I’ve never once tried to please and I’m sure they would have liked a little more than that). I think I’ve moved steadily from wanting to please others, be the good girl, shine like a little star sticker in a piano music book TO just wanting to not be actively disliked (like it’s okay if you don’t think I’m the bees knees, but please don’t hate me or be mean) TO realizing that how you feel about me is your business and I and everyone around me are best served by my staying out of that and being the best me I can be. Sounds like a nice steady progression, right? But just like any growth, the motion is not always purely linear. We can be mostly mature about something and still have flashes of 7 year old. I really still would like a gold star every now and then.

The second reason I think my reaction to being refused is interesting is because in that reaction I show that somehow I’ve made everything I do/create/write/make the same thing as me. If someone rejects, dislikes, doesn’t LOVE something I’ve put out in the world, they are rejecting ME (in this way of thinking). That’s ridiculous. When I turn the tables, I can think of plenty of people who make/write/create/share things that I’m not wild about even though I really like the people. I’m sure they have an audience for their stuff; I’m just not a member.

So given that my wise self knows better, why the sting of rejection?

How to not be hurt so much by rejectionAnd THAT is when it really becomes intensely personal, which is to say that it is ALL about me and what’s going on in my head. The sting of the rejection has nothing to do with the other person, and everything to do with what it triggers in me. What do I make that rejection mean?

“I knew it wouldn’t work.”

“I was afraid of this.”

“Nobody’s going to want this thing.”

Those are just warm-ups; hang on for the big guns…

“Why can’t I get this right?”

“Why did I think I could do this?”

“I’m nowhere near good enough to pull this off.”

“I think I’ve made a huge mistake.”

“Maybe I should look into grad school…”

And still better…

“Nothing I do works out.”

“Everyone else has it all worked out. I never will.”

“There must be something wrong with me.”

“I am not enough.”

If I let it, my brain can go from offering someone my work to crippling self-doubt in three steps. And the most important part of that sentence is the first part, the “If I let it.” A mentor of mine refers to the unobserved brain as a toddler with a knife. That brain will think and think and think and think, and it will think you into very safe corners that you most likely have no desire to inhabit, if you let it. If you choose to let your brain interpret the world as it chooses rather than the way that you choose.

When I choose to observe my descent into self-doubt, I can see it with compassion. And then, I can challenge it. “Really? One ‘no’ is evidence of your lack of worth?” I get a little loud with my brain sometimes. Other times: “There, there. I see you’re upset and I know this all feels big and real, so go have a cry if you need to and then we’ll talk about what’s actually going on here. Just take a minute. I’ll wait.” There will be plenty of opportunities to use both of these approaches.

Rejection is not deathBecause rejection comes in so many shapes and sizes. And it can mean everything or nothing. It is so rare that the person who delivered it is still thinking about it at all, because to them, it was just a “no,” a “no” that they have a right to deliver, to express, to use to dole out their time and talents in the way that is best for them. It was just a no.

You’re okay.