Mental Agility

Master the Art of Reframing to Augment Mental Agility

Mastering Reframing

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The transformation journey is entirely dependent on people’s ability to mentally adapt to change. As change agents we’re constantly faced with scenarios where we require a toolbox from which we can pick the right tool for the situation at hand. When influencing change within an organization we often encounter resistance to change, and this resistance comes in various quantities depending on where the person finds themselves on the change pyramid.

Mental Agility equips us with techniques to get past these roadblocks so that we can accelerate the change within our organisation when faced with an exponential scenario (such as market shifts, pandemics and disruptors). “Mental Agility requires us to reframe challenges to find new solutions even during stressful times” is how Erich Buhler, Director of Enterprise Agility University puts it.

To be future ready in the exponential world, Mental Agility requires us to temporarily onboard the other person’s perspective and values so that we can observe the world from their perspective. As we observe the problem from this person’s stance, we’re put into a great position to reframe the problem. Reframing help us get a clearer viewpoint of the other person’s reality. Why is reframing important? Because it allows us to consider different viewpoints which results in reaching different conclusions. 

From the neuroscience point of view, neuroplasticity (the plasticity of the brain to change and adapt itself based on learning and experience) is increased by practicing reframing which allow neurons to connect in a different way[1]. Reframing is a technique used to leverage the brain’s neuroplasticity to increase mental agility. New ways of reasoning shapes our present behaviors and decisions. It’s like recording over your favorite season of Friends in the VHS days.

The Advantages of Mental Agility

  • Individuals are able to cope with unpredictable events and ambiguity;
  • We are able to reframe negative thoughts and emotions into positive ones (also known as thought monitoring – a technique used to change automatic thoughts from negative to positive[2])
  • Reframing impacts the way we collaborate and interact with our peers;
  • Increased innovation due to less stress on the amygdala which causes increased oxygen consumption (and diminished ability to adapt to change which consumes a lot of oxygen), allowing one to focus on what needs to be done;
  • Leaders exude a sense of confidence and calmness which permeates the people around them;
  • Adopting a different frame has direct physical and psychological effects (people start using different words, move differently and leaders can even use different voice style to connect to the groups of people better;
  • On the enterprise level the resistance to change decreases as we view the world from our new-found lenses.

In previous iterations of Agile thinking, a favorite saying for Agile practitioners was that companies that aren’t Agile won’t be able to adapt to changes in the market quick enough to adapt strategy and capitalize on the change. In the current time that we find ourselves, it feels more appropriate to raise the importance of companies to exercise their Mental Agility muscle so that they can rapidly adapt to the dynamic and unpredictable markets of today.

Reframing is also used in design thinking when we generate personas, needs, and requirements from the perspective of our customers. We’re able to immerse ourselves in their shoes through a process called empathizing to generate ideas from their viewpoints.

Let’s look at three methods we can start with to implement this exciting reframing tool.

Robinson Crusoe Reframing Technique

This technique is named after the lead character, Robinson Crusoe, in the book Robinson Crusoe published in 1719, by Daniel Defoe’s. Their ship wrecked and so Robinson Crusoe finds himself on a remote tropical island. To survive he has to make the best of a desperate situation. This method requires you to identify the silver linings in problems. The outcome is that you can smoothly change a negative situation to something more positive. Here is an example from Steve Klein’s book, The Science of Happiness.  Start by creating a simple template with Con’s and Pro’s in tabular format.  

ConsPros
I am stuck on a remote tropical island and no-one knows we’re here.BUT at least I am alive while others perished.
I don’t like this new way-of-working!BUT The old way also has it’s downfalls. Let’s experiment with the new way.
I can’t see myself working in a team.BUT I want to learn new skills from the other team members.

Perceptual Positioning Technique

To increase Mental Agility, the Perceptual Position technique is used to nudge people to face problem events or situations and to solve them by using different perspectives. Typically this type of reframing requires more practice to master and very useful to establish lasting change. The technique is valuable when there are no obvious answers to the problem at hand. This is also a technique that we already practice, so adding a little structure to it will increase the results from this technique. There are three positions in this technique:

  1. Your situation. Review the situation and think about exactly what happened, your feelings on the matter, the points of discussion and the perspective you had at the time (or still have).
  2. The other person’s perspective. Take on the other person’s perspective and values and investigate the situation as if you were them. Off course there is guesswork involved here. Use empathy to examine how we arrived at this point. Try establish what you are absolutely certain of.
  3. The observer. Here we want to be akin to the fly on the wall. What did a third person think of the situation?

Stepping into these perspectives provides us with a rounded view of the various perspectives, and prepares the mind to possibly assume a different mental image.

Powerful Questions

By asking powerful questions we’re able to nudge a different perspective. Powerful questions such as “How might we achieve that future state of continuous integration and deployment” would get the technical teams thinking about the possibility of an automated pain-free world of deployments, which is the perfect nurturing ground for conversations relating to tactical items we need to get in place to achieve that future state.

In Conclusion

When facilitating reframing remember that giving advice directly is seldom right because people need to feel competently persuaded to feel they’ve arrived at the conclusion on their own, not deceived even with the best of intentions. The new frame needs to be more emotionally compelling than the old one if it is to be accepted. We do need to calm our client’s off course, but we also need to know how to sometimes raise their emotional pitch in order to embed a new, more productive way of seeing the world.

References

[1] Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley, The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of
Mental Force (New York: Harper Perennial, 2003).

[2] ‘Reframing Your Thinking’, University of the Sunshine Coast, http://www.usc.edu.au/media/3850/Reframingyourthinking.pdf

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