The Sisyphean Act of Re-framing

Regular DR readers know that I frequently address the subject of perspective. How we perceive issues important to us makes a world of difference in our experience. As Re-booters, we know that we can’t control much, but we can control how we understand, interpret, and react to the people and situations which impact our lives. This is a point that bears repeating because it is so easy to forget in the midst of the stresses that confront us on a daily basis.

Sure, I can spout off all the wise-sounding mantras in the world, when I’m calm and unchallenged, but whether or not I can remember and act on them in the midst of a crisis or a crying baby or unpleasant interaction is another story entirely, isn’t it? And further, how strongly I permit the emotional or psychological residue of the unwelcome interaction—how long I let it continue to bug the *$%@!*! out of me–to linger in my consciousness is equally important because much of what can harm us is what happens after the unwelcome act, rather than the act itself. Know anyone who holds a grudge far longer than the actual insult merited? Are you nodding your head? I bet you are.

My mom is an artist, so all my life she has been teaching me to notice and appreciate how differently compositions can appear in different light. Recently, we were both amazed to discover how a tired looking green wall can be rejuvenated by changing a white window frame to grey. Her point to me has always been that sometimes the smallest alterations can have an enormous impact in what we see. Another time, we were critiquing a very so-so watercolor she had done when she grabbed a paper mat lying on the table to frame part of the piece and exclude the rest. As she shifted the mat across the painting, color combinations and partial compositions jumped out that were terrific—something we’d never have been able to appreciate without this exercise of focusing our attention on only a portion of the painting. What seemed to me a mediocre work included some intriguing and dynamic brush strokes. My opinion about the painting changed a lot; the mat enabled me to see parts I really liked in the midst of a mess.

This sort of surprising discovery is important for re-booters to remember when slogging away in the swamp of our lives. At times, it can be difficult to see or believe that there is something vibrant and worthwhile going on in the midst of our mundane challenges—and this can bring us down. I have a friend who feels frustrated by her son’s refusal to master potty training. He much prefers mommy to take care of his business than learning to deal with it himself. According to my friend, this process has gone on way longer than she expected and she is really tired of it, but that’s where she is. What process in your life has gone on much longer than you anticipated?

For my friend, or for me with my excruciatingly drawn out job hunt, or for another friend whose parent’s abilities were critically compromised after a series of strokes, there seemed to be no sense of satisfaction or future promise of fulfillment in grappling with this task—but we still had to do it. This is where re-framing or moving the mat around your life composition comes in handy. I may dread having to put myself out there to network (when it feels like groveling) or to apply for jobs where I have no inside connection, but I have no choice. I have to do it. So, how do I keep my spirits up as I slog away like Sisyphus? I do my best to re-frame. I examine bits and pieces of my overall effort and am sometimes surprisingly pleased when I realize I’ve achieved more than I thought. Now I can see small portions of my overall effort that I’ve done well. I praise myself for my tenacity. I do not crumple up the entire painting and throw it in the trash.

Homework assignment: Can you find a way to re-frame a burden in your life so that you can see something in it that gives you satisfaction? There’s gotta be something—just move the mat around.

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