From A Life Coach's Toolbox: Reframing A Challenge

As a life coach, I have a toolbox full of strategies to help clients gain perspective, understand themselves more deeply, and make intentional and empowered choices. No matter the challenge, there is always a new way to understand, break apart, and approach the situation. These are simple tools that can be applied with the support of a coach or even when we’re by ourselves grappling with how to approach a challenge. Over the coming months, I’ll be sharing tools from my coaching toolbox, along with tips on how you can apply them in your own life.

Reframing: Seeing a situation differently by viewing it from a new perspective.

Often, when we look at the situation at hand, we treat it as fact. We get stuck in one way of viewing what is happening. 

In truth, we are seeing the situation and telling ourselves a story about what it means. This story shapes our understanding and attitude towards the situation. 

We often forget that we have control over the stories that we tell ourselves, and that there are multiple ways to view any situation. We have the power to zoom out and reframe the challenge by considering a new perspective. 

Reframing can include redefining what something means to you, stepping into someone else’s shoes to understand the motivations, or seeking out the light in a dark situation.

Here is a recent example of how I’ve used reframing in my own life:

Reframing Responsibility

For the last year and a half, I've been juggling a few new, big responsibilities: motherhood, a promotion to a leadership position at work, and home ownership. I’ve taken on each of these new responsibilities like a weight that I’m carrying on my shoulders. I hear myself talking about Responsibilities like the word starts with a capital “R” and wondering aloud about how I can muster the strength and endurance required to carry them. I feel pressured to not only shoulder my Responsibilities, but to do it with grace and exceed everyone’s expectations - most of all my own.

It’s no wonder I’ve been feeling so run down and behind the ball - I’m walking around crumbling under an incredible burden of Responsibilities. 

Fast forward to a month ago. I’m in my car, driving to work, and listening to a podcast called Magic Lessons hosted by Liz Gilbert. Liz is talking with her guest about responsibilities, and my ears perk up. She asks her guest about the responsibilities she’s juggling and adds: “Let me remind you of the definition of the word responsibility: the ability to respond.” 

It was a huge aha moment at the wheel: What if I think about responsibility, not as Responsibilities that I shoulder day in and day out -- but instead define it as my response-ability, my ability to respond. 

This reframing broke me out of the burden I was carrying, and completely shifted my sense of what is important. In order to take care of my response-ability, I realized that I needed to prioritize taking care of myself and setting up my workflow, my schedule, and how I cultivate my health in a new way that allows me to be available and ready to respond. I feel lighter; I feel stronger, and I feel much more confident in my ability to respond to the situation at hand. 

Three steps to reframe:

1. Recognize when you’re stuck. 

When you find yourself going over and over a challenge in your head and not getting anywhere with it, it’s time to reframe. Pay attention for when you use limiting words like can’t, should, and have to - these are indications that you’re stuck in one way of viewing the situation.

2. Take a step back to gain perspective.

Shake up how you’re seeing the situation by getting yourself to a new space. Take a walk. Go to a new cafe. Get out in nature. Try thinking the challenge through in a way that isn’t your default - break out some colorful markers and map it out on paper. Write in a journal. Move your body. 

3. Brainstorm with a friend.

Sometimes it’s hard to see things in a new light when you’re in your own head. Ask a trusted friend to help you brainstorm: What is another way of defining the challenge? What is another way of understanding the motivations of the other person involved in the situation? There are no bad ideas, and it doesn’t matter what the “right one” is. Find the way of framing the situation that is empowering for you, the one that serves you in showing up to the challenge in the way that you want to show up, or in becoming the best version of yourself.  


Carole Ann is a life purpose coach, arts & culture administrator, quilter, and blogger based in Providence, Rhode Island. She works with women to uncover, articulate, and activate their life purpose so that they can craft an intentional life that embraces what matters to them most. When she is not coaching, she can be found blogging at www.caroleannpenney.com, or designing modern quilts in her studio.

Photo from Death To The Stock Photo