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Reframing is the ability to illuminate a behavior or a situation from different perspectives. It makes our minds free and mobile. Train your ability to see meaning in a flexible way and thus significantly increase your choices in difficult situations.

A quote about Reframing

"If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now."
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

" …for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

" Always look at the bright side of everything - and if you do not have bright ones, rub the dark one until it shines."
Nikolaus Enkelmann

The Farmer and the Horse

A farmer once lived in a poor Chinese village. One day a wild stallion ran to him. The people in the village were very excited and said to the farmer: "Sell the horse and then you will be one of the richest in our village." But the farmer said only: "Who knows what that’s good for?" Shortly afterwards, the stallion ran away. The people in the village came back to the farmer and said: "You fool, now you are as poor as before." The farmer said only: "Who knows what that’s good for?" Two days later, the wild horse came back with three wild mares in tow. People in the village came back to the farmer and said, "You lucky guy. Sell the horses and you are a rich man." But the farmer kept the horses and said only: "Who knows what that’s good for?" The farmer had a son and he began to ride the wild horses. When he was riding the second horse, he fell and broke his leg. People in the village came back to the farmer and said, "Such a bad luck. It's harvest time. Since your son cannot help you, half the harvest will go to ruin." But the farmer just let people talk and only said, "Who knows what that’s good for?"

Shortly thereafter, the emperor's soldiers arrived and recruited all the young men for military service. The only one they did not want was our farmer’s son because he had a broken leg. Again, the people in the village came and said to the farmer: "So lucky! Our sons must go to war and we may never see them again. You can keep your son, and in a few months, he will be well again." The farmer let the people talk and said only: “Who knows what that is good for?"

Definition of Reframing

The terms "reframing / reframe” literally mean to give things a new frame.

The meaning of an event, a statement, a behavior, a belief, a trigger, a stimulus depends on the context we give it, the frame in which we place it. The frame is the context. Reframing means constructing a new framework, a new meaning. A picture can look and feel different in a new frame. When a problem is reframed, the same event takes on a new meaning: new reactions and new behavior become possible. Reframing is the process of reinterpreting, taking in a new perspective, a new way of perception, a new interpretation.


The following presuppositions apply to Reframing:

  • Every behavior makes sense in some context
  • Each behavior is given a meaning
  • Behind every behavior is a positive intention.

Examples of Reframes appear in...

... jokes, fables, stories, enabling inventions and should also play an important role in our lives.


Almost every joke works by putting events into a specific frame and then suddenly and drastically changing it. In jokes, you take an object or a situation and suddenly place it in a different context or give them a different meaning. Example: What do Alexander the Great and Smokey the Bear have in common?

Fables and stories:

For example, Pinocchio (his growing nose is at first negative because it betrays him when he lies - but in the whale, it allows him to escape because it holds the whale’s mouth open)

Creative processes:

An unusual event is seen in a new context and leads directly to a great invention: A man wakes up at night and feels the sharp end of a rusty spring in his old mattress boring into his back. What potential benefit could an old mattress spring have? (Except for robbing him of sleep.) He remade it into a stylish eggcup and founded a successful company based on that idea.

A friend of physicist Donald Glaser pointed to a glass of beer and joked, "Why don’t scientists use that to catch subatomic particles?" Glaser looked at the bubbles that formed in the beer and went back to his lab to invent the "bubble chamber," similar to Wilson's cloud chamber, for indicating the path of particles in highly charged physical experiments.

For a sawmill, sawdust is just waste - for a particle board factory it is a raw material. What sawdust is remains the same (rough wood dust produced when sawing boards and logs), but the context is different.

Anecdote about Henry Ford:

A young and talented employee had lost a few hundred thousand dollars due to a management error and now had to answer for it to Henry Ford. He feared that he would probably lose his job and said, "I'm so sorry, I guess you’ll fire me now." Henry Ford replied, "Are you kidding, I've just invested several hundred thousand dollars in your education, and I'm sure this investment will pay off."

Types of Reframes

We distinguish between two types of Reframes:

A. Context Reframe:

Assigning an unwanted behavior to a context appropriate to it and finding a new, appropriate behavior for the previous "problem context".

An example: A father describes his daughter as stubborn. The therapist says: “Imagine your daughter being harassed by a man. Would not it be very useful if she were stubborn in that situation?”
The therapeutic purpose of this intervention is to help the father to develop a positive feeling for the behavior he disliked.
Context Reframes are indicated when a comparison in the client's linguistic representation of the problem appears and which has the form: "I am too X" or "He / she is too X". In this case, a Generalization exists because the rejected trait is considered wrong in all conceivable contexts. By finding a context in which the trait is appropriate and useful, the therapist removes the generalization and replaces it with a contextual statement.

(from "The NLP Dictionary" by Ötsch/Stahl)

B. Meaning Reframe (= Content Reframe):

Finding a "more appropriate" meaning for the behavior experienced as problematic = different perspective on the same phenomenon. An example: A mother is annoyed about the footprints of her children leave on the carpet. "Footprints on the carpet" mean for her: "Nobody respects me." A new meaning could be: "footprints on the carpet" mean "people I love are in the house."
Meaning Reframing is used when the client's linguistic model expresses itself in the form of a complex equivalence: "I feel x when y happens" – which can be mapped to "x means that I must feel y".

(from "The NLP Dictionary" by Ötsch/Stahl)

Separating intention from behavior

This is an important NLP principle. Often an intention can be very positive and good, but not the behavior by which the intention is to be realized. We can appreciate the positive intention and replace the behavior.

The distinction between behavior and intention is very central to Reframing. It is about distinguishing between what one actually does (behavior) and what one actually tries to achieve (intention) with this behavior.


Example 1

  • Behavior:
    A woman is constantly expressing worry about her family.
  • Possible effect on others:
    Her family sees it as nagging and takes it badly.
  • Intention:
    This her way of showing that she loves and cares for her family.

Example 2

  • Behavior:
    A man is excessively preoccupied with work.
  • Possible effect on others:
    Family members get the impression that he does not care enough about them, and they wish that he would spend more time with them.
  • Intention:
    He loves his family and wants to earn more money for them.

The way to get rid of unwanted behavior is not to try to stop it with willpower. This guarantees that it will continue because you give it attention and energy. Find another, better way to realize your purposes: one that is more in tune with your overall personality. You do not destroy your gas lamps before you have electricity installed, unless you want to sit in the dark.

(from Introducing NLP: Psychological Skills for Understanding and Influencing People by Joseph O´Connor und John Seymour)

The Parts Model in NLP

For therapeutic purposes, it makes sense to assume that we are composed of several sub-personalities, which we also call “parts”. However, our parts do not always live in harmony with each other. Sometimes there are conflicts, and compromises have to be negotiated. We experience ourselves as torn.

Six-Step Reframing

The Six-Step Reframing method is one of the most well-known NLP intervention models. In six steps, behavioral habits can be illuminated and changed. Key active elements are the separating intention from behavior, the NLP Parts Model and the idea of creative parts for new behavior.

Negotiating between parts

This NLP model is used when two or more parts are following different paths, e.g., if on the one hand we want to pursue a career, but on the other hand, we also want to spend a lot of time with our family.