I love movies! There is nothing I like more than going into a dark cool movie theater, with my favorite snacks and losing myself for 2 hours in the words and images of artists. Steve Martin’s character, Davis, told me in the 1991 movie, Grand Canyon, “all of life’s riddles are answered in the movies” and I agree! In my work to teach and train novice nurses, I have frequently used the scene in which John Keating (Robin Williams), stood on a desk in front of his class in the 1989 movie Dead Poet’s Society, asking his students to look at things in a different way.
Image from Dead Poets Society Film
These cinematic moments stopped me, stuck with me, reframed my perspective, and have guided me, since my early 20’s.
Movies gently and powerfully evoke emotions in me. They slip in life lessons from diverse perspectives when I am not looking. They inspire me to think about the message presented in the film and how it applies to my life. Movies help me to reframe deeply held beliefs before I even know I am doing it. Like a spoon full of sugar in Mary Poppins, the “medicine” goes down in “the most delightful way!”
Reframing is one of the first techniques I was taught as a young counseling Jedi apprentice (this is how I often think of myself).
Every profession has its own version of reframing content. Personally, I have experience reframing as a nurse with patients who do not respond in a typical fashion to the prescribed treatment. In education, I frequently reframe complex concepts, like how the heart pumps blood, to something more accessible. Like how a toilet flushes. This makes the principle more clear, less threatening to the learning, and illuminates what was dark before. In accounting, my husband’s business, I have learned that you can reframe how a business owner sees a large surplus or deficit by creating a T account, to show the large number in smaller, more descriptive pieces. I could go on and on but we have a word limit here! The basic idea is, the way we frame something can truly change how we feel about it. Reframing is this really amazing power that we have available to us at all times, to see something in a new way. If only we choose to.
I have become pretty adept at challenging my clients with “is there another way of seeing that?” Sometimes I gently ask clients, “what if you are wrong about that?” This works well with parents who are crippled by anxiety that their kids are “ruining their lives” or in young adults who feel “washed up at 25.”
The neurobiology behind reframing a situation requires calming of the central nervous system, a pause in the chemical and vice-like grip that fear has on our brain. Biologically, the alarm in our brain, our amygdala, is warning us of danger. It requires a momentary bubble of hope to come to the surface, taking our amygdala offline long enough for the executive function in our pre-frontal cortex to take over. When the pre-frontal cortex goes online, we can access our own wisdom and experience to show us another way of seeing a situation. We can problem solve and make choices instead of reacting to danger. Like Dorothy and her ruby red slippers, “you have always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” Seeing it or feeling it is an entirely different matter. But possible at all times, especially with practice.
If you enjoyed this blog post, I invite you to reply back and share a way you use reframing in your profession to manage complex situations. I would also love to hear about your favorite movie moment that helped you see things in a new way. I am always looking for a new inspiration!