Reframing Strategy #1 – Pre-framing

by Vlad Dolezal on June 10, 2011

Imagine that you’re walking down the street one day, when a person walks by quickly, frowning, accidentally pushes you into a wall, murmurs an insult instead of apologizing and storms off.

Now, the natural reaction for you would be to feel angry and offended.

But imagine that you could instead see into the person’s past. Maybe they were only irritable because they hadn’t had much sleep for several nights because of noisy neighbours. Maybe they were upset because they just recently broke up with a long-time partner.

In any case, there’s a good chance you would find something unusual that changed this person’s behaviour. Most people aren’t rude twats, given the chance.

And once you considered all those possibilities, you would find that you were no longer upset. You wouldn’t feel angry about the injustice and rudeness of the person. You would more likely feel sorry for them, for whatever happened to make them behave like that.

And that’s the essence of pre-framing. Considering a situation not as an isolated event, but in terms of what happened before, to cause it.

Why pre-framing works

Pre-framing works for the same reason that all reframing techniques work. It helps you consider a different perspective on a situation and enter a more resourceful state of mind.

In the example above, feeling angry and upset about the situation wouldn’t make any difference. So considering what made the person be rude to you would let you enter a different state of mind. Sure, feeling sorry for them might not be a super-resourceful state of mind either, but it’s still better than being angry about something you cannot change.

The general reason why pre-framing specifically works is that it helps you understand the motivation behind people’s actions. And I find that even just understanding the reasoning behind people’s actions often helps you be more open-minded and accepting, again entering more resourceful states of mind.

As a slightly silly example of this, years back, when I was still a teenager and lived with my mum, I tended to get irrationally upset about the fact that she placed the toilet paper roll in the holder facing the wrong way. And, being a teenager, instead of talking to her about it, I simply shook my head in exasperation and changed the paper orientation every time I saw it. (Which would last until the next roll was put in, when the cycle started again.)

Well, a while later, I learned that cat owners tend to place their toilet paper rolls facing the wrong way, as it stops cats from drawing out a whole roll by tapping it with their paws. And my mum used to own cats when she was younger, so it’s entirely possible that she simply kept the behaviour from then.

And suddenly, understanding the situation, I no longer felt annoyed. Sure, I still changed the paper orientation every time she put it in the wrong way, but I no longer felt any negative emotions about it. (And then we moved to a new place where we didn’t use a toilet paper holder, so the whole point became moot.)

So, to pre-frame a situation, simply think about what occurred beforehand to cause it. This will often help you enter a more resourceful state of mind.

And that’s all for today. In the next part of this series, I will talk about post-framing, which I personally find way more fascinating than pre-framing. But all in due time…

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

John June 11, 2011 at 12:59

Very interesting post Vlad. Personally most of the times I get really grumpy when people do that sort of stuff to me without a reason (and even times I get mad and start swearing out loud!), but it seems I was just being a little obtuse in my way of thinking… Thx for the enlightenment


Vlad Dolezal June 19, 2011 at 15:30

There usually is a reason, you just can’t immediately see it. Which is the whole point here 🙂


Matt June 15, 2011 at 22:38

This is one of those things that would have to be built up into a habit; most of us blame first and reason never.
Matt´s last post ..Video Games as Art


Vlad Dolezal June 19, 2011 at 15:31

Sure, most personal development takes a while. It’s totally worth it, though!


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