Reframe the situation

Positive way to deal with adversity starts with challenging negative beliefs

Goal of this intervention is to give you a more effective and productive way to deal with minor adversities that may come your way in daily life. By minor adversity, we’re talking about a friend not returning your phone call, or a comment your boss made about your performance and how you reacted. How do you interpret these events? Do you jump to conclusions? Do you escalate the event and blow it out of proportion? What’s the internal dialogue that runs through your mind as to why this has happened to you? And given these beliefs, what have been the consequences of your actions? How many relationships have been affected by your beliefs and subsequent actions?

Your ability to control emotional response to external events—to think flexibly and accurately about the causes and implications of such events—is the essence of resiliency. It requires emotional awareness and self regulation—both of which can be practiced through this exercise. One of the keys is to surface the beliefs as they happen. Stop, think accurately, then respond (or the old adage, count to 10 to allow emotions to cool down).

How to conduct this intervention:

Step 1: Begin with a practice exercise. We provide the “adversity”, then you should fill in your beliefs and possible consequences
Step 2: Now, we’d like you to come up with “adversities” that you’ve experienced in your daily life.
Step 3: This step is the reframing process. For each belief in step 2 that was negative or pessimistic, try now to reframe your reaction—to be more positive and optimistic.

Questions to ponder:

  • Were you able to come up with 5 examples this week?
  • What did you notice about your beliefs? Any patterns in behavior?
  • What were some of the consequences you experienced? What emotion did you experience? Did you have any physical reactions?
  • Is there likely to be lingering effects from your actions?
  • How often did you make a “mountain out of a molehill”?
  • Did you find it easy to reframe your beliefs? Does this come easy to you or do you get stuck with your perceptions?

Expected outcome

This exercise is a good way to help you disentangle emotions, clarify situations, and separate issues—fact from fiction. It may also help you reduce or eliminate ruminating over the event and potentially responding with inappropriate (and often regretful) actions.

Things to watch out for

  • Try to be objective when doing this exercise. In the “what happened” column, record your description of what happened, not your evaluation of it. Avoid inferences and accusations—just the facts.
  • In the belief column, make sure you separate thoughts from feelings (feelings go under consequences or actions). “I just blew that exam” is a belief—its accuracy can be evaluated. “I feel sad” however, expresses a feeling. It doesn’t make sense to question the accuracy of “I feel sad”—if you’re sad, you’re sad- right?
  • Consequences record your feelings and what you did. Did you feel sad, anxious, joyful, guilty etc.? Often you will feel more than one thing. After recording these feelings, what did you do?

Is there any science to support this intervention

The Penn Resiliency Project (PRP) has done extensive research in the areas of optimism and resiliency including 13 controlled studies among 2000 participants. Majority of these studies showed positive effects on anxiety and behavior.

From the website:, additional studies are cited:
Resiliency is "... the inherent and nurtured capacity of individuals to deal with life's stresses in ways that enable them to lead healthy and fulfilled lives" (Howard & Johnson 1999).

Resiliency is "the process of, capacity for, or the outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances." (Masten, Best and Garmezy (1990)

We define resiliency as "taking a positive yet balanced asset approach to our abilities. Tap into and use our latent yet oh so very powerful innate skills and relationships to deal with adversity”. (Ballard 2007)

Additional comments:
How do you explain why certain things happen to you? Are you an optimist or a pessimist when it comes to your rationalizations, that is, your explanatory style? Let’s look at the differences and how they feed into your beliefs when adverse events take place.

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