The way we frame things mentally determines how powerfully we’ll be able to handle them.
I auditioned for Spamalot at a local theater last night. After checking in, they informed me that I was in the very last audition slot. That gave me the “opportunity” to listen to my competition as they sang their audition songs. One by one. While I waited with growing trepidation on the cold, unforgiving wooden bench outside. Trying very hard to smile. (It was an acting audition, after all.)
Each person came out complaining apologetically. “When I performed that aria at Madison Square Garden, I hit the high C with so much more resonance.” Or, “gosh, I forgot all the words, so I just improvised new, rhyming lyrics riffing off of a 13th century Olde English translation of the Song of Solomon.” By the time it was my turn, I was a nervous wreck.
But then, some part of my brain found The Answer. As I stepped through the curtains into the auditorium, the thought came to me: “Forget auditioning. Perform. You have two awesome minutes on stage. Give the audience your absolute best!”
One Thought Changes Everything
Suddenly my attitude changed completely. When it’s time to step on stage, there’s no time for practice or judgment. It’s commitment time. By framing this as a performance, rather than an audition, my nerves vanished. I was suddenly alert and happy (I love performing, after all).
I walked confidently to the pianist, gave him my sheet music, and proceeded to sing my song confidently, dramatically, and with full attention on the small audience that just happened to be the directoral staff for the show.
Nothing about the situation changed except my thinking. An “audition” was scary. A “performance” was exhilarating. The right thinking led to a mental and physical state that let me give my all. Last time, I “auditioned,” was a nervous wreck, and didn’t get the part. This time, I “performed,” gave it my all, and had a great time. My all still may not be good enough to get the part, but at least I had fun performing, which I love.
I tried this again during the dance audition. We got to dance twice. The first time, I was a total wreck. You’ve heard of two left feet? I have seven left feet. And they’re all superglued together. It isn’t pretty. But right before the second dance, I thought to myself, “this is performance, not audition! You may suck, but give the audience the best you have to give.” With that change of attitude, I remembered the entire routine and made it through with all the grace and artistry I could bring to the combination.
We Can Choose Our Frames
How you think about situations before you deal with them will affect the options you find, the actions you’ll take, and how resourceful your mental state will be when you start to deal with them.
Next time you find yourself nervous, sad, angry, apprehensive, or anxious, try a new framing.
If you’re going in to a “critical negotiation,” try a “new, mutually profitable relationship” instead. You’ll stop concentrating on the risk and instead you’ll start finding ways you can both benefit from the relationship.
If you’re on a “failing project,” start thinking about “a chance to rescue something good.” You just may find a way to use what you’ve learned and built in a new way that makes the project successful.
If you’re dealing with an “obnoxious, unreasonable person,” try connecting with “a good-hearted person who has really poor social skills.” Seriously. You’ll find your attitude changes.
Try explicitly reframing stressful situations. Are you fooling yourself? Maybe. But maybe you’ll fool yourself right into finding better, more resourceful ways to handle your challenges.