How a Simple Reframe Can Transform a Stressy Work Problem

Over the last months I’ve hit upon what feels like a useful question, and thought I’d share it with you here.

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When I find myself getting stressed out by a particular challenge or issue at work, I step back and ask myself this:

What’s the real problem here: the immediate situation that feels so all encompassing, or the way I’m thinking about it?

Take a situation I had a couple of weeks ago with a particular service supplier. Having shelled out a large amount of money, this guy vanished, not returning calls, emails or even Facebook messages (which, let’s face it, can normally be guaranteed to work if all else has failed).

I was furious. To my mind, he was holding up my plans. And the more I thought about, and indeed talked about it to anyone who’d listen, the more furious I became.

I wrote him a formal letter asking for my money back. When I got no reply, I began to ruminate on what my next move was going to be. Whether I’d get my lawyer to write a nasty letter.

I felt ashamed that I’d somehow let this happen to me.

And I felt helpless too. People talk about how at times we can all be victims of circumstances, and I was right there.


Then, it occurred to me that, the more I fixated on all of this, the more time and energy it was taking me to do anything else.

And I found myself asking that question I shared just now: is what’s stressing me out here the guy himself and his bad behavior? Or is it the way I’m thinking about it?

The effect this question has on me is to give me a feeling of choice, and that’s how it was in that moment.

I saw that I could choose to feel like I’d been ripped off and spend days feeling miserable. Or, I could accept that, much as I didn't like it, the situation had happened. It was in the past now, and didn't need to keep affecting me in the present.

Just having this insight make me breathe a sigh of relief.

I began to feel a whole lot better. My bounce and resourcefulness returned. I decided I’d achieve what I wanted irrespective.

And I’ve managed to do that. After the scales dropped from my eyes I saw that he wasn’t the only game in town, nor was I entirely dependent on him to provide solutions. I drew in other trusted support and even ended up with a better outcome than I’d imagined from the outset.

I can't imagine that that would have happened had I clung onto my original stressed out state.

Try it for yourself

Next time you’re finding something beyond stressful ask yourself: is it the situation that's bothering me here, or is it the way I’m thinking about it?

Then come back here and share with me how that changed things for you!

Christine Livingston

Coach, Catalyst, Change Artist

Writer, coach, inspiration junkie, partner, friend, coffee-drinker, paleo eater, world traveler and more.


Go to the profile of Dr. Mandy Lehto
over 7 years ago
Thanks Christine - what an important post! I read a great Robert Holden quote the other day: "Your ego will always try to sell you something that you already have." In this case, more frustration, more anxiety, more powerlessness. It's key that we all still have a choice. The challenge is creating the new habit to remember to try this when gripped by 'GRRRR!' Looking forward to your next post!