There is a tool executive coaches use to help clients frame challenges in a more approachable way so that whatever obstacles have bedeviled them can be more easily overcome. We call it reframing. In other words, we ask “what’s another way to look at this?”
Often even language or semantics can be a barrier for us. Language that bothers us may be tied to particular strengths. In a team meeting recently, four of us talked about how the words like “goal” and “outcome” have different connotations for each of us. How about for you? Would you prefer to talk about your goals, your intentions, your visions, or dreams? If your primary domain of strength is executing, goals and outcomes may be very positive words for you. If you have ideation in your top five, you may prefer visions. Those with futuristic in their signature strengths may like the word dreams.
When we understand how language can trigger us into resistance or frustration, we can step back and reframe using the word with which we have the most positive resonance.
In the team meeting, a colleague I’ll call Drake had a lot of resistance to smart goals or outcomes. He said they felt confining and squelching. So he has instead intentions – a small, seeming insignificant change, and yet the emotional response is completely different.
I could relate to Drake, especially since I happen to bristle at the suggestion that I be more disciplined in my approach. That word sounds like the opposite of freedom to me. It evokes images of forced behavior, accompanied by punitive consequences if you don’t deliver with a salute.
I made a shift some years ago in my thinking about this subject. When I thought about why I exercise every day or do any of the things I do consistently and regularly, the word I find most appealing is devotion. It feels so much lighter and accurate to say, “I exercise because I’m devoted to feeling good and having energy.” It would inauthentic for me to say, “My self discipline keeps me working out daily.” This is likely the reason I’ve never ever signed up for a class with “boot camp” in the title; I don’t want to be barked at.
This reframe I did with devotion over discipline has paid off in spades. Even though consistency is dead last among my 34 strengths, I have maintained many elements of my business and personal life by thinking in this way. I’ve shared a newsletter a month with subscribers consistently for 15 years. The idea of devotion pulls me into playing music, writing books, developing programs…all for the love of what I’m doing and who it may benefit. One of my internal mantras is, “Tend your talents lovingly.” That loving devotion to what is meaningful is a huge part of my identity, and it feels completely different than being pushed by a sense of discipline.
The next time you find yourself digging in your heels with resistance, check in to see if a simple reframe might free you up, notice which strengths might have a need that isn’t being met in the perception tainted by the language you’re choosing. Having an awareness of what our strengths are calling for gives us power to create exactly what will inspire us or set us free on a path to realizing our deepest desires.