Reframing: Simple Strategies

selfish babyReframing is the heart of NLP. Hypnotic suggestion results in reframing. Anchoring can cause reframing. 6-step reframing is, uhm, reframing. In the end, people come out of a successful session with a different perspective, or, “frame” about whatever they wanted help for. That frame can be conscious, unconscious, or both.

Reframing can be particularly useful, when a client presents a limiting belief that is getting in the way of the goal of the session. In this article, we’ll go over a simple strategy for direct reframing, that you can use right away.

I’m Not Selfish Enough

I had a client who felt she was often taken advantage of. She framed it as a difficulty in being selfish enough. She was (as she put it), always putting other people first. According to her, she didn’t have the capacity to be selfish. In fact, she didn’t want to be selfish. And her belief was that putting other people first interfered with her goals in the session.

Let’s look at the belief equations that she’s expressed, or implied.

  1. If you put yourself first, that means you’re being selfish.
  2. If you don’t put yourself first, you can’t reach your goal.
  3. She didn’t have the capacity to be ‘selfish’.
  4. Being ‘selfish’ is bad.

Which Belief To Reframe?

Now, a lot of people would instinctively go for reframing the idea that putting yourself first is being selfish. And that’s a valid approach. But here’s my thought on that. I bet other people have already thought of that, and tried that approach with her. I figured a more unusual angle might be better.

I went for the angle that she didn’t have the capacity to be selfish. “I understand that you were extremely selfish as a baby.”, I said. “You would cry, and wake everybody up, when you were hungry, lonely, or just felt like it. You didn’t care if it was the middle of the night. I hear that you were so selfish that you would literally crap yourself, and instead of doing something about it, you’d just lie there and whine, until somebody came and wiped your butt for you!”

I went on for a couple of minutes about her lack of attention for the concerns of others when she was a baby. She was laughing, and I was exaggerating. Then I switched gears.

“Of course, there are times when putting yourself first is actually unselfish, and helps others. If the oxygen masks drop down in an airplane, you’re supposed to put yours on first, then your child’s. The idea is that, if you pass out trying to help your kid get his mask on, he won’t be able to help you. If you get yours on first, then you can help him.”

This time, I was going after the belief that putting yourself first was selfish. I was saying that putting yourself first can be helpful to others.

The goal was to soften up her beliefs about selfishness, to create an opening for an intervention to work.

So, how did I arrive at those reframes? Well, they both used the same strategy. It’s a simple question that you can ask yourself about any limiting belief you, or a client has.

When Is That Not True?

When a limiting belief is expressed, you simply ask yourself, “When is that not true?”. Other ways to word the question are, “When was that not true?”, “In what context, or situation is that not true?”, and “What would have to happen for that to be untrue?”.

So, a client may wish for help stopping smoking, and tell you they don’t have the willpower to do it. You can ask yourself the following.

When in their life, did they have willpower? Or, when did they accomplish something even though they didn’t have willpower?

Childhood can be a good source of resources. Unless a child is mentally or physically impaired in some way, they learn to walk and talk — both extremely complex tasks that require thousands of failures before you can do them properly. So, you can use those examples. Erickson used to use lots of things from childhood. It has the added benefit of a tendency to regress.

Or you could go for the ‘you don’t need willpower’ approach. When do you not need willpower in order to do something? One answer (among many), is when there’s an automatic behavior. “You know how, when a fly comes at your windshield, you automatically blink? That’s programmed in. You don’t need willpower to do it, it just happens. Hypnosis uses the same sort of programming. Your rejection of cigarettes will be just as automatic. You’ll rarely need to use willpower.”

So, that’s a simple approach to come up with reframes to challenge limiting beliefs. Let’s do one together. . .

Using the “When is that not true?” method, how would you reframe a belief that it takes 6 weeks to learn a new habit?


About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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  1. HI Keith,
    Good article on reframing!

    In answer to your question, the first thing that popped up in my mind is when something changes suddenly. For example-something very simple.

    If you have long hair (which I once did! LOL) and cut it real short (which I did)…you then learn VERY quickly how to style a short hairdo. It does not take 6 weeks, especially if you are interested in how you look! (strong motivator!)

    Another example could be when someone decides to go to college.
    Once classes start and they are committed to learning and getting an education, they immediately get in the habit of going to classes as part of their life now. (studying may be a different story!) But the act of going to school-going to classes becomes a habit and it doesn’t take 6 weeks. In fact by 6 weeks, they’re almost through a quarter or at least a good ways through a semester!

    Another example: (you got me thinking!) is if someone is suddenly ill and needs to take medication. There is a very strong motivator at play-getting well, so the medication routine/habit gets set up right away. Now, of course, once they are no longer needing those meds, that habit will disappear.
    Or could be meds that are required for a lifetime, such as for some people on Thyroid meds…to name one.

    There you are! Some examples of when it’s not true–off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more deeper down in there….Smiles, Jackie

  2. I learnt today that it only takes 300 steps of walking incorrectly (broken leg/arthritis etc) for our brains to scramble the connection and continue to walk incorrectly long after it isn’t needed. We then need to learn how to walk properly again!

    Jackie is right, highly motivated people will change their habits in an instant…if you are wanting to lose weight, cutting certain foods can be done quickly.

    That’s all I’ve got for now…Elaine

    1. Thanks for the comment, Elaine. I’d think that if it only took 300 steps to learn to walk incorrectly, that you’d simply have to pay attention to doing it right for 300 steps to correct it.

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