Do you remember the first time you saw this picture?
Who did you see first – the young lady or the old woman? Was it difficult to see the other figure until it was pointed out to you?
The earliest example of this optical illusion appeared in 1888 and was later highlighted in an advertising piece for the Anchor Buggy Company in 1890.
Optical illusions allow the eye to trick the brain into seeing one pattern instead of another.
Mental frames work in much the same way. Instead of pictures, frames form the context for our beliefs.
And just like the optical illusion, sometimes we can’t see - or feel - anything else until we replace our current frame with another to take its place.
It happens all the time. We’re just not always aware of it.
Can you tell me more?
One of the most famous examples of reframing took place during the presidential campaign of 1984.
Walter Mondale, a former Vice President, handily captured the nomination of his party and was gaining rapidly in the polls against the then current President, Ronald Reagan.Those same polls indicated that Reagan was perceived by many to be past his prime.
Mondale’s organization made the most of that point and he was photographed often chopping firewood for his cabin while wearing clothing which looked like it might have once belonged to Paul Bunyan.
In contrast, Reagan was portrayed as weak and ineffectual; the whispers around the beltway were that he was physically damaged and just too old to represent the most powerful nation in the world.
Expectations were high going into the televised debates. It would be the first time the candidates would meet the reporters, TV cameras, and the public together.Mondale was ready to pounce when Reagan made his winning move.
Reagan began by saying that although the question of age was sure to come up in the debate, he wanted to make it clear to everyone that he would not make an issue of his opponent’s youth and inexperience.
Mondale later said that he laughed right along with everyone else, but in his heart he knew that the election was lost at that very moment.
His perceived advantage was gone. No one would ever again think of Reagan as elderly and feeble. Instead, they would only remember that Mondale was young and lacked the experience needed to lead the country.
It’s All About Our Words
Words can indeed be powerful tools to reframe our beliefs, thoughts, and ideas.
As leaders, we need to think carefully before we speak. It’s our job to lead our teams to a “better” frame (point of view) as well as a more useful one. A frame that allows them to see the bigger picture and their part in it.
Sometimes just changing what we say and how we say it is enough to bring about the changes we desire.
Take a look for yourself.(Remember to click the right hand bottom corner for a full screen view).
*First published in Front Facing Solutions by Reba Chunn