Saturday, December 26, 2020

Solid Clear Examples

...of perceptual framing.

Some readers complain that I keep touting the benefits of reframing without ever pinning down the actual phenomenon. But I've offered hundreds of examples. In fact, this entire Slog is nothing but reframings (that's my secret crappy little trick for coughing up fresh "takes" and surprising conclusions. I'm not particularly smart, but I reframe like a mo-fo). But, happy new year, I'll offer some rock solid examples of everyday reframing that anyone can relate to.

Bathroom Floor

I tore a ligament in my foot in June and, over these months, have had more ice on my foot than a glacier-preserved woolly mammoth. At first, I used a dish towel to separate my delicate flesh from the frigid ice, and would count the seconds. By September, I was slapping the ice bag directly over my foot and drowsing comfortably until the timer rang. And now, in December, when I venture barefoot into the perilous downstairs bathroom with the unbearably cold tiled floor, I stride in like it's absolutely nothing. It feels like strolling the beach on Maui. I can't imagine how it ever tormented me; I giggle at the memory of my suffering. My foot's the same foot, and the floor’s just as cold, but, mentally, I have reframed.

Thing is, I could have done so without months of ice. All that's required is an imperceptible mental shift...and an infinity of shifts is available in every situation at any moment. We falsely assume the world forces our reactions, so our habitual responses feel predetermined. They're not. They're volitional. We're free.

Similarly, years ago when I'd get a parking ticket, I'd curse, have my day ruined, and send a check. Now that I'm no longer scraping pennies as a freelance musician, when I get parking tickets, I don't curse, I don't have my day ruined, and I send a check. Same outcome, less histrionic suffering...which, I now see, was always optional. My bank balance didn't relieve the suffering, my reframing did, and framing can shift in any direction at any time. The world can't trigger you. You're free. To recognize this is to experience the liberation folks used to whisper about in awestruck reverence.

Michael Jordan

In the great basketball documentary "The Last Dance" (watch on Netflix here), Michael Jordan is seen doing the same mental maneuver again and again. The film doesn't analyze it, but it's a constant throughout his extraordinary career. And one would be foolish to ignore it, as it's clearly Jordan's secret sauce:

Whenever an opposing player says something negative, or cocky, Jordan marinates in it. Stews in it. And draws from that gurgling pot whenever he finds himself up against that opponent.

You might say he "holds a grudge", but that's not quite it. It's not about the other guy, or the thing the other guy said. This is entirely propogated inside of Jordan's head. A shift of perspective. In fact, when Jordan didn't have anything to latch on to, he'd make up a story, and suck on that fiction like a nourishing lozenge.

There are many words one could assign to this maneuver. "Emotionality". "Psyching up". "Grudging". But no. What it is is reframing. Every other player would come to work and try to sink baskets. That's the universe they're in. Jordan is in another universe entirely; fighting holy wars and smiting evil. That explains how he played like someone in another universe  Reframing unlocks extraordinary results.

You needn't wait for the world to present an excuse. You can shift perspective at will, by simply remembering that you can. And once you do, you'll find yourself in a different universe, as Jordan did.

Most of us have shifted into a universe of grim wearisome flatness. That's where we stew and marinate; that's the lozenge we suck. It's clearly not productive, but we assume the world has forced this perspective upon us. Uh-uh. That's backwards. By relinquishing our shift-ability, we allow perspective to freeze - and a monochromatic world of drudging boredom ensues. This is especially common in a wealthy, comfortable, non-perilous society, where shifts are rarely compelled by existential threats. Here in paradise, we must reclaim our natural shifting litheness or else be lost to depression.

Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes

There was a great (but inconsistent) TV series a couple of years ago on Comedy Central called "Review". The show's host, Forrest MacNeil, (played by comedian Andy Daly) would review "real life experiences" - whatever the audience threw at him. Problem: his quietly sadistic producer (played, naturally, by James Urbaniak) used the opportunity to torture MacNeil.

And Forrest MacNeil was really really really committed to earnestly going through with each and every challenge. In fact, the show was a satire about the perils of over-commitment.
Yes, one of the prime tenets of this Slog is that loopy mega-commitment is responsible for all transcendence. It's the thing that separates us from livestock. But, duh, you mustn't commit mindlessly. Capriciously, yes. Playfully, sure. But never mindlessly. Mindless commitment is what makes people count every Toyota they ever pass, which isn't actually good for anything.

The third show of season one was "Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes", and it's a great work of art (watch for free here if you subscribe to AppleTV, or scroll down this page and buy the episode from Amazon for $1.99, or watch for free online by signing in with your cable provider). It clearly and persuasively illustrates the power of shifted perspective (i.e. reframing).

In the show's first segment, MacNeil is asked to review the experience of eating 15 pancakes. He groans and whines and slogs through the task and vomits in the parking lot. It's an ordeal.

In the second segment, MacNeil is asked to review the experience of divorce. With great trepidation, he goes home and informs his beloved wife that her services are no longer required. It doesn't go well.

The third segment starts with MacNeil prone on the studio floor, cursing himself for actually consenting to divorce his wife just for a stupid TV show. Then, for his third challenge, MacNeil is asked (because his producer is a dick) to review the experience of eating 30 pancakes.

MacNeil heads back to the diner under this voiceover:
"It would be challenging to find meaning in any life experience, now that my life had no meaning. The idea of eating twice the number of pancakes that laid me so low last time should have filled me with a sense of dread or fear. But I felt nothing. I greeted the prospect of all this pan-fried dough with only a vast empty numbness."
He sits down in the diner booth, and, with nothing left to live for, numbly and mechanically rams down all 30 without pausing.


The Astronaut

I linked to this excerpt from a not-great movie a bunch of times before I went on my tear about perceptual framing. I didn't have words at the time to explain the move being described, but it was a sort of mental judo I'd been using all my life in order to cope, to advance, to conjure creativity and epiphany, and to escape from sticky wickets of every type. And more!

People hate this damned video. The woman's sappy and annoying, and the vibe is a nauseating amalgam of smugness and potpourri. Yet what she's saying is the key to life. It's Truth. And I'm not surprised it irritates people, because if humans were attracted to Truth (or even just slightly less repulsed by it), this would be a very different world. So try to overcome your aversion and check it out.

It describes the only bona fide magic trick in this world, and nearly everyone's missed it in plain sight. Reframing cures depression, unfickles the muses of inspiration, and helps you recognize you're residing in Heaven.

When I was a freshman in college, I discovered (via the metaphor of ironing) that dicking around with the universe isn't worth much, but full-out flips can transform. You can't do much to change the world, but you can always shift your perspective. And from reclaiming that pliancy, anything's possible. It's backwards to wait for the world to coax a shift. You’re the shifter. You frame the world, not the other way around, though few of us ever notice (even the incomparable Michael Jordan needlessly rooted around for external snippets to prompt internal shifts of framing).

Jordan was "something else". An astronaut could go from torture chamber to bliss in the blink of an eye. A cold tile floor feels like a tropical beach. And Forrest MacNeil effortlessly gobbles up 30 pancakes. It's all about how you frame things.

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