Reframing is the process of putting a new definition, a new “frame” around an event. How we define an event it tremendously important. It predicts how the event will affect us.

Alia Crum, Peter Salovey, and Shawn Achor have a new article out, “Rethinking Stress: The role of mindsets in determining the stress response.” The article appears in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013, Vol. 104, No. 4, 716–733. They report on three studies that explore how mindset affects our reaction to stress.

Their first study is validating a new measure, the 8-item Stress Mindset Measure. They created two versions, a general version and a specific version. They use a Likert-style five point scale, with some reverse scored items. The items ask how strongly a person agrees with statements like “The effects of stress are negative and should be avoided” or “Experiencing stress enhances my performance and productivity.”

The second study indicated that people’s mindset about stress can be changed by watching videos that slant people towards thinking stress is harmful or towards thinking that stress can be quite constructive and is healthy. While the videos were only ten minutes, they did influence how people think about stress for the next two weeks. This indicates that mindset can be changed. Indeed, it suggests that mindset is quite open to change, given a fairly persuasive video.

In the third study, the subjects were encouraged to think on one end or the other of this continuum, namely one group received the “stress is debilitating” information, and one was taught “stress is enhancing.” The people who were encouraged to think of stress as enhancing secreted less cortisol and were much more interested in learning and in gaining feedback, under conditions of stress. The stress condition was assigning the subjects to give a speech, something that, for some reason or other, many people find stressful.

(I think speaking in public is great fun, so I have always had a hard time with thinking of that as a stressor.)

The finding that people who are encouraged to see stress as enhancing sought out feedback is most interesting. That means that they had adopted a “growth” mindset, the belief that learning is always possible and that it is desirable. The growth mindset predicts greater success in conditions of high stress.

What does this say to you?

First, it is clearly to your advantage to see stress as a way of growth and mastery. There simply is some value in saying , “No pain, no gain.”

Second, these attitudes can be changed. If you are a coach or a counselor, part of your mission is to help people see the painful aspects of their life as calls to growth.

Third, stress doesn’t exist “out there” but is always in how we look at a situation. A terrible environment to one person might be an exciting place to another. A good example of this is a report by Robert Biswas-Diener. He surveyed trash pickers. These are people who survive at garbage dumps, picking through the trash for usable items, edible food, and so on. You’d think they’d all be very unhappy, but some are quite happy and other are not. Robert reported that the trash pickers with the richest social connections rated their lives as happier. As Chris Peterson used to say, “Other people matter.”

See the article here: http://positiveacorn.com/blog/happiness-in-a-wasteland.htm

If you’d enjoy learning more about Robert’s work, go to his website, positiveacorn.com. In the mean time, life is all about how we see it. Look for the good in the world. Leave a comment below.

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