June 5 Blog PostAn old Chinese story goes something like this. . .

There was a farmer who tilled his fields with a single horse, until that horse escaped. This would seem to be a very difficult situation, yet when asked about his misfortune, the farmer replies, “bad luck or good luck, who knows?”

His son went to the mountains to find a new horse and returned with several strong, but wild horses. When asked about his good fortune, the farmer replies, “bad luck or good luck, who knows?”

Then his son, while breaking one of the horses to work in the field, gets trampled and breaks his leg. Again, he is asked about his misfortune, and he replies, “bad luck or good luck, who knows?”

The following day, the military comes to enlist able bodied young men to serve in an upcoming battle. The son is spared because of his broken leg.


Most everyone would have framed the lost horse as a negative situation, and who could blame them. It would be a major problem. Yet the wise farmer looked at the world differently, and in retrospect, with the benefit of time, that escaped horse doesn’t seem so bad after all does it?

If you are like me and anyone else I’ve ever talked to about this, you have situations in your life that initially looked grim (or worse), and while there were negative things about the situation, in retrospect, much like the farmer, we found great things came from the negative starting point.

It is that experience that “proves” the value of positive framing.

Positive framing, as I am using it here (this phrase has other meaning related to the framing effect – you can learn more here), is a positive perspective on any event, especially one that appears on the surface and at the present to be negative.

Positive framing isn’t spin or a denial of a negative event. It is a perspective that says there may be more to the outcome than just the current negative. Call it perspective, call it wisdom, call it patience – in reality, it is a combination of all of those things. And in the positive frame, good things can happen. What kinds of good things you ask?

Positive framing . . .

Changes your outlook now. When you recognize that more will flow from the immediate problem, even if you don’t know what it is yet, it is easier to take a deep breath and realize it may not be as bad as it seems.

Changes your energy now. With a positive frame, your energy level will be higher, and so will that of others involved. Problems only get worse when a negative attitude hangs like a shroud around them. Once the energy starts to change, good things can begin to happen.

Helps you see opportunities. We see what we look for. If all we see is despair, it might be very hard to notice the nearby door of opportunity that is opening. Once you have a positive frame, and have reset your expectations, you are more likely to seek and find the value in the rubble of the situation.

That is all well and good, you might be thinking, but how do you actually do it? How can you practice positive framing? Let’s close with three ways you can use a positive mental frame more frequently and consistently.

  1. Look for your personal examples. Mine your own experience for examples. Think of negative events that were the precursor for positive things. Once you have personal examples, this isn’t an academic exercise, but something real to you.
  2. Have a reminder process. Something undesirable has just happened. You want to shift your focus and your energy; you want to practice positive framing. Start by reminding yourself of your examples of positive flowing from negative. In the heat of the negative moments, you will need a trigger or a way to remind you of the positive possibilities. Create that reminder process and you will improve your ability to frame things more positively.
  3. Get some accountability help. If you want to practice positive framing, find someone you trust to help you. Explain the idea to them (you could have them read this article) and ask them for their help. Ask them to make sure you consider a positive frame, especially if you begin to be more negative to others, impacting them too. This informal coach might be the best thing you can do to make this change in thinking and perspective.

There is no question about the power of positive framing; now it is your role to transfer these ideas into action with your team members.

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