How to Reframe Your Reality

Trauma therapist Lisa Young and Terra Frma CEO Allison Barnard team up to explain how reframing your reality can enhance your resilience mindset.

When we talk about reframing our reality, we are talking about creating actual changes in the brain. Pretty cool, huh? Despite the common assumption that we are unable to change how we respond to the world, over the past 60 years (though the concept dates back to the late 1890s) neuroscientists have researched and identified neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and form new neural networks throughout life. This plasticity allows the brain to adjust in response to changes in the environment.  

There are several ways to challenge and change the way our brains respond each and every day – mindfulness studies, meditation, reciting mantras, and therapy are just a few. Given the right continual stimulation, a brain can go through great shifts after an injury, a trauma, or even simply a long-worn pattern of thinking.  Let’s focus here on how a simple shift in our internal language can support the firing of new neural networks (ie activate the brain for peak performance!) and enhance our resilience mindset.

We’ve learned that negative thinking or perceptions can bring stress to the brain and, in turn, our whole nervous system. How so? Consider this example of a common negative thought: “This [negative thing] always happens to me.”  In telling ourselves that all stressful or terrible occurrences happen to us, we shift ourselves to a state in which we are constantly under threat and that we are helpless to stop it. The brain responds and produces the appropriate stress hormones to prepare ourselves for the next perceived attack. Under stress like this, our capacity for new learning and ability to make changes becomes compromised. We are braced for the next hit.  

Shifting these persistent thought patterns towards a positive, hopeful and simply more realistic perspective can release serotonin (the feel good hormone) and decrease the stress hormone cortisol.  When these hormones are in natural balance, we have a greater sense of wellbeing and thus our brains and bodies function together and with greater ease. These particular strategies work on shifting our focus towards mobility, flexibility and forward movement – in other words, resilience.

We all are guilty of occasionally succumbing to negative tendencies or practices so with a little focus and intention you can begin the transition into a default of a resilient mindset. We want to practice now so that our brains are wired toward positivity and action. In the event of hard times, we will need this positive outlook to keep us moving. Think of this as a workout for your resilience muscle.  

3 Simple Shifts to Create a Resilience Mindset

Just DO it

Too often we focus on what we don’t want to happen. Or even harder, we focus on what we can’t control. Making the shift to focus on what we can do and what is possible leads to greater chances that we will reach our desired outcome. Here are some examples of shifting language choices from a negative to positive mindset

Yes, and...

In the same way that we are often drawn to what we don’t want to happen, we are drawn to to word “no”.  No, I can’t do that. No, I don’t want to. No, that can’t be happening. It’s our internal way of denying something that feels bigger or scarier than we can tolerate.  

The shift to “yes” is inspired by the world of improv comedy.  One of the many rules of improv is “yes, and...” In order to keep a scene moving from start to finish, each actor must inhabit a spirit of yes, and then build on. An actor or player can say something, anything,  and the response must inhabit the “yes, and” rule. This builds the scene and keeps movement. Allison teaches this skill when coaching her clients. 

Resilience is the ability to bounce back or recovery quickly from difficulty. By internalizing the “yes, and” rule, we are more able to accept the situation before us and then kick-start the process of shifting, moving or solving it. It doesn’t cancel out reality, but it opens opportunities. This matters. All the time, and definitely in times of stress.

Here are a few examples of “yes, and” after a disaster takes place: 

Start with a yes and see where it takes you

Often you will find that after making the shift to “yes, and,” the next sentence often offers a next step or something we can do (remember #1).

Step Away from Extremes

One way we surely get ourselves into a mental trap is using what is called “all or nothing thinking.” Things are either all good or all bad, perfection or failure, yes or no. Whenever you hear yourself using extreme words like the examples below, take that as a cue to check what’s really going on:

Always - Nothing always happens. But it can happen often or frequently.  “This happens so much, something needs to change”

Never - Ask yourself, “Is this true?” Similar to always, while there are concrete truths that exist around always and never, we usually use these terms in a context where it isn’t really true and only serves to make us feel stuck in a situation.

Only -  “This is the only way to do this”  --  “There must be another way to do this”

Perfect -  What is perfect anyway?  

Failure -  “That did not work out the way I wanted/needed/expected and that feels terrible.  Now what can I do differently this time?”

All -  “All of those people act this way”  --  Is this true? There are exceptions to every extreme statement. If we accept that everyone or everything in one group is unchanging, we lose the possibility of change.

Nothing - Similar to always and never, pay attention to when you say “nothing” – how does adding “nothing” into your sentence alter how you feel about a situation? 

Where Do I Begin?  

Choose an area of your life that you tend to lean towards the negative or find yourself in any of the traps discussed above. Is it in relationships, at school or work, in the news, or at home? Where would you like to experience a shift?

Keep It Simple

Pick one of the above strategies and give it a try. For the next two weeks, or maybe month, incorporate one of these options into your speaking and notice what is able to shift as a result. When you’re ready, add another. Practice these shifts when it is easy so it’s easy when times are hard. This is how we build a resilience mindset.



Lisa Young is a trauma and first responder therapist and serves on Terra Frma’s advisory board. She is trained in Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing trauma work with additional training in Richard Schwartz's Internal Family Systems model.

Allison is a seasoned entrepreneur, certified life coach and consultant having held leadership positions in marketing and retail management. She has opened two successful small businesses and developed coaching programs that focus on resistance and resilience.

Tags: Resilience