Before we get into this month’s essay, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who provided me with feedback on January’s essay. Some of you loved it. Some of you hated it. Some of you had great suggestions. This is a blog, not a book. Therefore, it is my place to explore ideas in a public forum while refining them through a feedback process. And you’re a big part of that. So each month, please feel free to let me know how the piece connects (or doesn’t) with you because it’ll help me to refine my thoughts and produce better essays.
JUST HOW BAD IS IT?
Cancer rates seem to be at an all-time high. Practically everyone you know has lost someone to this dreaded disease. Grandparents, parents, neighbors, spouses—nobody escapes cancer’s deadly grip. On the rise are incidents of breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer. If you watch the news or follow the reports online, it seems as though the epidemic is getting worse each year.
The obesity crisis. Almost everyone in the Western world is overweight, and most of us are obese. This leads to several chronic health conditions that threaten to break our healthcare system. Whether it’s diabetes, heart disease, or any number of related problems, we’re heading toward imminent destruction from the tip of our fork.
Thanks to the major pharmaceutical companies, some say, we’re in a drug epidemic that is taking more lives than AIDS did in the 1980s. Opioid addiction is rampant and destroying entire communities in some parts of the country. Substance abuse is no longer an “inner-city problem” swept under the rug with racial undertones. Today, the proliferation of orange prescription bottles means that suburban soccer moms and white-collar professionals are all susceptible to the dangers of opioids and other addictive narcotics.
Terrorism and global extremism feel like threats to our way of daily life. The federal government and other law enforcement agencies have worked tirelessly for the past two decades to sniff out and foil terrorist attacks like those of September 11, 2001. Rogue nations armed with nuclear weapons and psychotic leaders push the hands of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight each year. Sleeper cells invade our bedroom communities and force us to live under a hypervigilant alert.
Gun violence kills Americans on a daily basis. Whether you believe the Second Amendment should be repealed or that the majority of gun owners are responsible, upright citizens, the shocking images of bloodied innocents seem to be showing up on the nightly news—nightly. Whether it’s a lone gunman or a religious zealot wearing a suicide vest, the chance of dying at the mall, the supermarket, or the movie theater seems to be at an all-time high.
We might only be a few years away from a global-warming catastrophe. The rising sea levels and melting of the permafrost at the poles are a direct result of activity on the planet that is heating up the atmosphere and trapping more CO2 inside of it. It seems like we’re slowly cooking ourselves from the inside out. Scientists and environmentalists have raised the alarms and study after study concludes that if we don’t soon make serious changes, the planet will make changes for us.
Now that I’ve brought you to the edge of depression, take a breath. Yes, bad things are happening in our world daily. Some of those things threaten our very existence. But there’s only so much you can do as one person in a single day. And how you frame the challenges you face in your life can have a direct impact on the quality of it.
A VIEW FROM THE END
My friend Chris Brogan recently recorded an episode of his podcast, “Making the Brand,” with his friend John Haydon. The show notes for the January 29, 2020 episode read, “John Haydon is a friend, a musician, a Buddhist, an educator, and he’s only got a little while longer to live. He’s beat the odds by an immense stretch, but the road looks a lot closer to the end. He invited me to sit down with him and his brother Jim to talk about that.”
I’d recommend you listen to this episode, but you should know beforehand that Chris gets nothing but brutal truth from John. He’s going to die. And soon. John had been sick before, then gotten well again until his rare form of aggressive cancer came back, eventually taking John just a few weeks after this episode aired.
As I listened to this conversation, I began to think about what I would do in the same situation. How would I handle it? Of course, it’s nothing but an academic exercise because none of us really know how we’d respond. I can say that I’d be positive, that I’d fight to my last breath, but I’d be lying if I said that because I have no way of knowing how I’d react under those circumstances.
When my father was dying, I felt angry. Not because he was dying. We all have to. But because I felt like he’d given up the fight. This was the guy that used car salesmen dreaded. They hid when they saw him pull into the dealership parking lot because he had a reputation of wearing down the salesmen to get the deal he wanted. My dad was unrelenting in his fight to get the best deal on a car. But when he had the chance to fight that hard for his life against stage 4 pancreatic cancer, he chose not to. From the moment he’d gotten the diagnosis, he’d given up.
It’s taken me a few years to understand that I have no right to be angry about that. My dad’s life was his, and the choice on when to surrender it also belonged to him. My assumption that he’d fight cancer the way he’d fought Bob’s Used Auto Mart was wrong.
I kept thinking about John’s options while he spoke to Chris. John had every right to give up, to allow cancer to take him. He also had every right to continue living his life on his terms for as long as possible. John is going to die and sooner than he’d like. That much is a foregone conclusion. His choice was in how he was going to spend whatever time he had left.
Did John prepare his deathbed and wait for the end, or did he continue living as close to normal as he possibly could until he was physically unable to do so? Notice that the final consequence is unchanged. John is not pessimistic or delusional. He knows how this will end. But he still has a choice to make.
John chose to change the frame to decide how to view his reality. Death from cancer is not the same as dying from cancer. John decided to live until he no longer could.
There is the reality of the situation and then, how we frame it.
For John, his decision meant he spent as much quality time with friends and family as possible. Instead of dwelling on the unfairness of it all, the pain this disease had caused him, John had deep and meaningful conversations with his family, knowing that the words shared would be taken with his loved ones for the rest of their lives. John didn’t alter the reality of his condition, but he changed the impact it had on the time he had left—and on his legacy for those he left behind.
REFRAMING, OR CHANGING YOUR FRAME
In an article for Psychology Today, Linda and Charlie Bloom discuss the basics of reframing that have been a common practice for a long time:
Life is sometimes difficult. We don’t get what we want, and we get a lot of what we don’t want.
We can start to slip into a mindset of “Life shouldn’t have to be this hard,” or “What’s wrong with me that I have so many challenges,” or “My life is cursed.”
If we continue to play these same thoughts over and over in our mind, they become more believable. One of the skills to help us develop as mature, resilient individuals is that of reframing. When we change our point of view on any given situation, the facts remain the same, but a deliberate shift is made in how we see it.
We can replace the dismal, energy-stealing thoughts with more responsible ones, such as: “I think there must be something important for me to learn here.” These are examples of reframing problems as challenges, and taking them on as such.
As we shift our thinking about our situation, there is a change in emotional tone and the meaning that we give to our life circumstances. We can choose to move our experience from a negative frame to a more hopeful one, filled with opportunities. This process allows us an expanded view of our reality.
It’s easy to write this off as too “woo-woo” or esoteric to have any practical application in life. After all, if the “facts remain the same,” then what does it matter how we frame them? As it turns out, it matters quite a bit.
One of my favorite nonfiction books of all time is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck. Because she has done decades of research as a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, we don’t have to. The book synopsis says:
“Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., discovered a simple but groundbreaking idea: the power of mindset. In this brilliant book, she shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed. Mindset reveals how great parents, teachers, managers, and athletes can put this idea to use to foster outstanding accomplishment.”
Mindset was published in 2007, at a time when I’d been a classroom teacher for 13 years. I remember finally having the tools to help my students approach life through possibility instead of defeat. By changing the mindset—the frame—one could literally change what happens to them in life. This, as it turns out, has nothing to do with woo-woo.
CHANGING THE FRAME OF YOUR CREATIVE ENDEAVORS
First drafting is hard.
I’m terrible at revision.
I’ll never be able to become good at marketing.
The list goes on. These fixed mindset attitudes are pervasive in the industry of publishing, especially in self-publishing, where authors often have to do almost everything on their own.
At one point or another, I’ve said these things (and worse) to and about myself. I’ve convinced myself that I hated first drafting, that nobody wanted to hear what I had to say, that I’d never have the same opportunities as other authors—all false assumptions. Fixed mindset thinking.
However, I’ve also said that my monthly sales won’t pay the mortgage. That my new series isn’t selling the number of copies I’d thought it would. These were true facts.
We can usually change or improve behaviors, but there will always be circumstances beyond our control that affect the quality of our lives. So what can we do about it?
Education is always a good option. If I feel as though (or I know it to be true) I’m deficient at something, I take steps to improve upon it. Sometimes that means reading a book on the subject. Other times, I need to purchase an online course. And for things that I know I need extra help with, I hire a coach or mentor.
Your educational experience is yours. It can’t be stolen, repossessed, or taken. And yet, I’m shocked at how many of my peers in the writing community don’t educate themselves. I don’t know if it’s pride, fixed mindset, or budgetary reasons (all of which can be overcome), but doing the same thing will result in the same things. If you don’t change, nothing will.
I read dozens of books on craft and marketing every year. I’m constantly taking courses (online and off), listening to podcasts, and hiring experts to help me improve. Instead of focusing on what I don’t have or what I can’t do, I’ve changed my frame to one of learning. I’ve gone from, “I can’t do this,” to, “I can’t do this. Yet.”
But if you’re mired in a world in chaos, where do you begin? How do you change your frames in a way that acknowledges the challenges but doesn’t back down from them?
NIX THE NEWS
That laundry list of global problems at the beginning of this essay? Those problems are real and significant. I’m not at all suggesting they aren’t. However, what can you do about the opioid epidemic? How can you arrange for peace in the Middle East? When will you solve global warming?
Instead of thinking about how you can solve problems at the global level, consider changing your frame to something local, something personal.
The first decision to be made is how to spend your waking moments. We all have to decide what to watch, listen to, and read. Again, I’m not suggesting that we don’t have major problems in this world, and I’m certainly not advocating a dismissive ignorance of those issues. But I do think there are ways to combat those problems that are more manageable and feasible as individuals than as a whole.
Before that can happen, you have to be willing to cut the cord, to ignore the constant negative stream of data pelting your skull daily. Stop watching the news.
When I was a kid, watching the news was a responsibility. We had to come to history class prepared to discuss “current events” as a global citizen. But this was when cities had daily newspapers and television broadcast the news on three channels only a few times a day. I’m not idealistic or naïve in understanding that the media has always been a business, but things have shifted dramatically over the past few decades. Now, news exists as sponsored entertainment, and the more dire or panic-stricken it is, the more attention it garners. Stop giving your limited and valued attention to corporations looking to exploit it.
But cutting out televised news isn’t enough because social media exists to serve the same function in many ways. It’s become an echo chamber of like-minded zealots or a political battleground for polarized enemies. Neither is constructive. Get off social media. Find new ways to connect with family and friends—the very reason we claim we can’t give up our beloved profiles. Try a phone call, or, better yet, a visit in real life without phones.
If cutting all social media is too draconian for you or if you can’t yet admit your behavioral addiction to those little red notifications, at least disengage from the toxic conversations. Back away from the bird and ignore the trolls who thrive on misery and confrontation. If you must keep your accounts active, filter them in such a way that you won’t be tempted into a negative exchange. A tweet never changed anyone’s mind about anything.
CHANGE MY FRAME
So, exactly how are we going to make these changes? I’m not a behavioral scientist, but I’ve researched and read enough to realize a few simple truths to make sustainable change.
1. A physical action will help to work that mental muscle, and consistent repetitions lead to change.
2. Accountability to others establishes that habit.
Therefore, I’d like to invite you to become part of my 30-day, CHANGE MY FRAME Challenge. Here’s how it works: I send you a free CHANGE MY FRAME wristband (U.S. residents only). You agree to wear it for 30 days. Keep it on the wrist of your dominant hand, that position representing the preferred “positive” position. When you encounter an obstacle or a problem, move the wristband to the wrist on your non-dominant hand, which represents the “negative” position. Allow yourself the time and space to feel the discomfort of your problem. This isn’t about pretending it’s not real. But once you’ve mentally gotten past the problem, move the wristband back to the wrist on your dominant hand—CHANGE YOUR FRAME. Your goal is to begin and end each day looking at CHANGE MY FRAME on the wrist of your dominant hand. In a journal, sticky note, or on your phone, keep a tally of how many days you end with the wristband in the positive position. Do you have a streak? How many days in a row did you end on the positive wrist?
If you live outside of the United States or don’t want me to send you a wristband, use a hair wrap, a rubber band, or a piece of string. You don’t need an official CHANGE MY FRAME wristband to change your frame.
To get your free wristband, go to ChangeMyFrame.com. Supplies are limited so don’t wait.
At the end of 30 days, you’ll send me a quick email with your positive day tally and streak, as well as how you feel about yourself after changing your frame. A month of deliberate practice isn’t going to radically change your life, but that simple, daily gesture will get you going in the right direction.
Instead of relying on goals, start small, and change your habits. If you try this method, you can’t help but begin to rewire your brain in ways that are positive and beneficial. You’ll be mindful about it daily (working the mental muscle) and I’ll be expecting your email at the end of your 30 days (accountability).
The worst that can happen? Nothing. No harm done.
But here’s what I think you can expect to happen if you become intentional about your daily activities:
- You’ll begin to pay attention to behaviors you’ve put on autopilot for months, possibly years—good and bad habits.
- You’ll think about the bad habits, but more importantly, you’ll be forced to ask why you keep doing them.
- The ability to change your frame will happen faster and easier each time you do it.
- Once you build the skill of reframing for little things, you’ll be able to do it for big things.
Here are some examples of places in your life where you can change your frame:
- Writing – Your car broke down and you didn’t get to write today. Move the band. After work, carve 10 minutes out of your evening to write.
- Diet – So you ate a donut. Move the band. Then get a salad for lunch and move it back. Changing your frame isn’t about perfection. It’s about positive, incremental change.
- Sleep – Determine your bedtime and wake time, whatever works for you. Then use the wristband to hold yourself accountable. Sleep deprivation can be as damaging as smoking or alcohol abuse. Those who believe they’ll “sleep when they’re dead” will get that opportunity sooner than the rest of us.
- Exercise – So you skipped the gym today. Move the band. Then tomorrow morning, climb back on the horse. Or the exercise bike. Or the treadmill. Again, strive for consistency instead of perfection.
- Mindfulness – Try journaling, prayer, meditation, or some other form of mindfulness that connects with you. There isn’t a “right” way to be mindful, only the way that will keep CHANGE MY FRAME on the wrist of your dominant hand.
In 2004, PBS aired Colonial House. From Wikipedia:
The series, intended to recreate daily life in Plymouth Colony in 1628 along the lines of the recreated Plimoth Plantation, brought home to viewers the rigors of life for colonists in the early seventeenth century. The show was videotaped in a 1,000-acre isolated area near Machias, Maine, and featured colonists and several members of the current Passamaquoddy tribe of Maine. Historians from Plimoth Plantation and Maine historian and archaeologist Emerson Baker of Salem State College helped to make the setting as accurate as possible.
Seventeen applicants were chosen out of thousands to join the project. Most of the participants were American, though there were some British citizens as well. The project began in spring and was set to run for five months.
I was teaching middle school at the time and decided to share this show with my students. It became my most successful and talked-about unit of any I’d taught before or since. I’ve had former students (who were in sixth grade at the time) come back to me 15 years later, raving about the Colonial House unit as one of their favorite activities of their middle-school experience.
The premise is simple, and a voyeuristic view into the power of changing your frame.
The participants had decided that their modern life had become too fractured, isolating—and this is before smartphones and widespread adoption of social media. They ached for a change in their life but didn’t know how to make it happen.
Once they arrived at the settlement, each person was given a choice—participate in the seventeenth-century simulation and gain new insights on life or quit the experiment and return home.
They chose (some left but not by their choosing) to stay, and in the eight episodes spanning several months, they completely changed their frames from modern Americans to colonial settlers.
The changes were stunning physically, mentally, and emotionally. These people came to understand the power of community in a way they hadn’t been intentional about before the experiment. They radically changed their frame and now took that new perspective back home.
NOW CHANGE YOUR FRAME ON BIGGER ISSUES
Cancer rates, overall, have been on the decrease over the last ten years. While they might be rising in underdeveloped nations, globally, we’re getting better at diagnosing and treating cancer.
While 40% of Americans might be obese, 60% are not. Obesity is predominately a lifestyle disease, which means there is great hope for anyone wanting to get back to their ideal weight. While it won’t be possible for all, everyone can do something to combat the epidemic.
Opioids are running rampant in some communities, but politicians and lawmakers are beginning to address the problem, which includes over-prescription by doctors and less than ethical behavior by pharmaceutical companies. Like obesity, addiction can be treated, and recovery is possible for most.
To date, there have been less than 3,500 Americans killed by terrorists since 1995. That number is not insignificant, and even one life lost is too many. But 36,560 Americans died on our highways in 2017 alone, and so it’s best to keep the terrorist threat in perspective.
The overwhelming majority of gun owners are responsible, upstanding citizens. While violence continues to be a serious problem on the streets of America, background checks and national databases will eventually make it increasingly difficult for bad actors to get their hands on a weapon. We can’t possibly stop every potential shooting, but we can make progress toward making them rare.
Carbon scrubbing and new technologies won’t instantly reverse global warming, but the acceptance of electric vehicles by the mainstream, as well as other carbon-neutral efforts, show promising hope for our future environment. Blaming and shaming won’t work, but intelligent solutions and shifts in cultural expectations around energy use can.
TAKE ACTION TODAY
Let’s be honest. Our problems are real, and trying to pretend they aren’t is delusional. But changing our frame and looking at obstacles with a new or different perspective is empowering.
Get your CHANGE MY FRAME wristband and start right now. Little changes turn into big results.
To get your free wristband, go to ChangeMyFrame.com. Supplies are limited so don’t wait
Go to TheAuthorLife.com right now to download the FREE book, “How to Self-Publish.”
The book includes essential information to help you take your idea to market including tips on craft, publishing, marketing, and more.
Plus, you’ll get my FREE video course that will take you from amateur to pro while avoiding many of the most common mistakes.
Now go live the author life!