July 8, 2020

Positive reframes to change your thinking and your life

Recently, I participated in corporate challenge – it’s an event where companies get together and participate in a number of ‘sports’. I say sports in quotes because there’s a number of sports and different events such as team trivia, unknown challenge and more that I don’t think are considered sports (though please correct me if wrong).

The event that I participated in was badminton – it’s a team event where six people at least (three men and three women with one extra man and woman as extras) compete against other teams of at least six people in nine badminton games up to 15. Whichever side wins 5 games first wins and the scores are up to 15 – that is, whoever reaches 15 first wins that game (in badminton there are rules to win by 2 unless you reach 30 then it is whoever reaches 30 points first).

As we were playing the games, one of my teammates was cheering on and while this isn’t a post directed at him or to make him feel bad because I know his intentions were good, I was slightly bothered by the language that he was using. Every time our team won the point, he would cheer “great job” or “good shot”. That part didn’t bother me. Every time the other team won the point or we made a mistake somehow, he would cheer again but this time would say “bad luck” or “nice try”.

Before I continue, do you know which phrase bothered me and why?

Okay, you had a 50/50 shot and the phrase was bad luck. The phrase bothered me because it implied that every time we made a bad shot or lost the point, there was an element of luck involved (which I would not disagree, there is a little bit of luck), but the best players in the world are consistently good and a lot of them have the same amount of ‘luck’ as compared to other players. Because of the luck involved, I took it to mean that there was very little that we could do to affect the outcome, which was not true because the team was playing very hard and really making mistakes of concentration or focus that they would not normally make.

I tell this story because it made me acutely aware of the language that we use and say every day and how it affects our lives, our work and our mindset. Tony Robbins often said that the better questions you ask, the better quality of life you have and since I work for EY, I also have to say that they have a phrase that goes like “The better the questions, the better the answers”.

Let me do one more aside before I continue with this thought. In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, he says that to start a habit, you have to start small and start easy. Why?

There’s a number of reasons:

  • Starting small ensures that you are not demotivated before you even start (think about trying to run a marathon right away – it just does not work)
  • Starting small means that it is easy to do, takes no time and therefore you cannot throw up an excuse such as you have no time for it or that it is too tough

Most importantly, when you start small and when you do it consistently, each time you do that small habit, you are, what James says, voting for a new version of yourself. Think about if you are trying to develop a habit of exercising every day. You start small by doing one pushup first thing in the morning when you wake up. Maybe you do a few more pushups. Maybe you only do one pushup. But every day you do a pushup. That pushup that you do is not just building your health and physique, it’s also you telling yourself that you are someone that works out. You are someone that works out every day. You are someone that does not skip a workout. That’s the challenge sometimes when you are starting a new habit – you start by biting too much to chew. You skip a few days. And then when you get around to doing it again, your mind and body are both telling you that you are not that kind of person. You aren’t the kind of person that works out every day so it’s okay to skip a few workouts (or more). You aren’t the kind of person that eats healthy and does not binge on junk food, so it’s okay to eat that bag of chips and eat ice cream and all the other junk food.

Notice that in this scenario, you are voting for the positive person in you. Your mind works in the same way – for example, rather than saying:

  • I will lose weight -> I will be more active (one is looking at it from the more positive angle)
  • I will spend less time in front of the TV -> I will read more books
  • I will spend less energy working -> I will spend more quality time with my loved ones
  • I will spend less money -> I will earn more (okay, I cheated a little bit here because these two aren’t exactly the same)

Rather than having your mind focus on the negatives, or the things that you should not be doing / spending your energy on, you are reframing in a positive manner so that you can focus on the things that you should be doing. I’ve found this to be a great way of helping build better habits and to develop personally. And I believe you can do the same with this strategy.


Tell me if you’ve ever tried to reframe things in a positive manner? Do you see better results? What are some things that you are stuck on that I can help you reframe the questions for?

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