What Happens When You Change the Way You Look at Things?

You know this from experience: When your perspective changes, your mood turns on a dime. You suddenly and quite completely feel a different emotion. Stephen Covey was riding a New York subway one morning. It was a peaceful ride with people reading the newspaper or looking out the window or resting with their eyes closed.

Then a man and his children got on. “The children were so loud and rambunctious,” says Covey, “that instantly the whole climate changed.” As it turns out, the man sat down right next to Covey and closed his eyes while the kids went wild. They were yelling and throwing things. Covey was irritated. How could this man ignore his children and their obnoxious behavior? Why didn’t he do anything about it? Covey says, “It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too.”

Covey did the best he could to restrain his irritation and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man replied, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

As you can guess, this shifted Covey’s perspective entirely and he instantly went from irritated to sympathetic. When your perspective changes, your emotions change.

A good reframe can create a similar emotional shift in many different kinds of circumstances, and you can create reframes deliberately. Here's an example of one kind of reframe, called a "comparison reframe:"

In an experiment, people were asked to do a simple task — to complete the sentence, "I'm glad I'm not a..." They completed the sentence five times.

After doing this simple exercise, they were happier with their lives. Their "life satisfaction" was improved from doing the exercise.

Another group of volunteers were asked to complete a different sentence: "I wish I were a..." After this exercise, they were less satisfied with their lives.

Here's an important principle that can change your life: Your happiness, to a large extent, depends on what you are comparing your life to right now. And you can voluntarily and easily change what you are comparing your life to at any moment you choose. When you do, the new comparison reframes your circumstances.

If you'd like to learn more about this important perspective-changing skill, including the different kinds of reframes and some practical methods for creating good ones, check out our book: How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought, Direct Your Mind, and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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