In the movie, The Game, Michael Douglas plays Nick Van Orton, the wealthy son of a wealthy man. The story begins when Nick’s brother (Sean Penn) gives Nick a birthday present: A life-changing experience, sort of like a personal-growth workshop, except it doesn’t take place in a classroom — it takes place in your life, and you never know who is an actor and what is real. The game is especially tailored to you and you never know what is staged and what isn’t.
The creators of the game make Nick’s
well-ordered life completely fall apart. All the things he identifies
with — his money, his calmness, his place in society — are taken away
from him. His life is destroyed one piece at a time.
Nick tries to find out if this is all part of the game, it appears the
company was a big scam, stole all his money, and left town. They very
realistically give Nick the impression they took him for everything he’s
worth. He lost his mansion, his credit cards, his Swiss bank accounts.
He was penniless.
While all this is going on, we (the
people watching the movie) really don’t know what the truth is, and we
see Nick going through all these miserable experiences and on the one
hand we’re seeing it as anybody would — just miserable experiences and
nothing more — and at the same time we are half-viewing it with the
question, “I wonder if this is the perfect experience to teach him to be
happier?” Because we realize these experiences are teaching him against
his will to care more about people, to appreciate what he had, and for
the first time in the movie, we feel he is actually engaged in his life.
He looked deeply bored with his predictable life before the game
He was a snob who lived in a bubble and didn’t
really experience real life or real connections with regular people. He
needed nobody. But now he has no money, and he has to rely on the
kindness of a waitress in order to get something to eat.
this a humbling experience, a potentially life-changing experience for
Nick? Or is it merely misfortune? We, the viewers, really don’t know
until the end of the movie.
Watching the movie was a
great demonstration of a profound fact: That the same experience can be
seen in at least two different ways, both of them equally valid. One way
of looking at it only makes you miserable without any benefit. The
other one helps you learn to be a better person, to have better values,
and to be happier.
And of course, the thinking viewer will also eventually realize while watching the movie, that all of life is like this.
might get an ulcer, and that is clearly just a hassle and he has to
take medication that gives him dry mouth or whatever...or... this is an
indicator-beacon that says change your life — the way you live your life
produces too much stress.
With the first viewpoint, he
just feels frustrated and that probably just makes his ulcer worse. The
ulcer itself becomes another stressful thing to add to all the other
stressful stuff in his life.
With the second viewpoint,
he may feel motivated to change his life in ways that’ll make him feel
better. The second viewpoint, the better one, the one that doesn’t come
naturally to anybody but the most buoyant optimists, is a reframe.
point of view you have about something is like a frame around a
painting. You can take a painting and put it in an old beat-up frame and
it looks like trash. Or you could put it in a fancy, museum-style
frame, and it would have an entirely different feel.
means seeing the same situation in a different way. It means to see the
same picture through a different lens. It means to see the same event
in a different context. It means interpreting a situation a different
way — in a way that makes things better. It means reinterpreting an
event in a way that helps you feel better and get more done.
We automatically see (interpret, understand) the events in our lives in a certain way. You found out in Antivirus For Your Mind
that it really helps to scrutinize the way you naturally explain
setbacks and find mistakes in your explanations. You look at your
explanations and ask, “Is it true?”
But sometimes you
can’t answer that question. Either you don’t know or the answer cannot
be known at all. That’s a good place to use reframing.
must explain events. If you don’t do it deliberately, your brain will
do it automatically. What explanation should you use? When you don’t
know whether an explanation is true or false, what criteria should you
The only intelligent criteria to use in that case
is, “How helpful is it?” Does your explanation help you feel better and
get more done, or does it hinder you?
If you find your
interpretation isn’t either true or false (either you can’t find out or
there is no objective way to decide), and you find out it is definitely
not helpful, unfortunately, you can’t just leave it at that. You have to
come up with another interpretation. Your mind will not allow “no
Your explanation can certainly be
provisional — good until something better comes along, like a scientific
theory — but you’d better choose your best explanation or your brain
will do it for you.
Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot.