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Reframing is one of the core concepts found in OptimalWork. Reframing is the process of deliberately discovering how a perceived threat is actually an opportunity.

The major claims of OptimalWork pertaining to reframing, and their basis in the neuroscientific literature, can be found below.

Preliminary Topic Outline

Reframing Within Second-Wave Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

  • Concept of cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Idea of seeing something through a different conceptual lens, from a different perspective, or with a different emotional valence
  • Used to identify common unhelpful habits of thought identified by CBT: identifies and "pokes holes in" unnecessarily negative appraisals
    • Cognitive distortions
    • "Always-style" thinking about self and others
    • Catastrophizing
    • Limiting self-concepts
    • Anything that causes patients to view themselves or circumstances as inflexibly negative, which causes them to approach them in a self-defeating way
  • In psychological research, can also be used to view things neutrally, rather than with any emotional valence, negative or positive
    • [Several studies use this; citations]

Criticisms of Second-Wave Reframing; Third-Wave Approaches

  • One of the key criticisms of many of these reframing strategies is the perception of challenge reduction, and the perception that CBT does not always take the magnitude of peoples' challenges seriously
  • Another criticism is that challenge itself is a potentially good thing if properly viewed, and reducing someone's perception of a challenge can minimize the growth involved, or otherwise leave a patient not fully prepared to handle the circumstance
  • Thus, a more robust conception of reframing can be found rooted in Acceptance and Commitment therapy:
    • ACT [cite future article] is a CBT-based therapy that is focused on radical acceptance of one’s own thoughts and feelings, and the commitment to live in accord with ideals regardless of those thoughts and feelings
    • ACT's definition of reframing: "What is making me most reluctant about facing this challenge, and how is this the perfect opportunity for me to grow?"

OptimalWork's Approach to Reframing

  • Finding the most difficult part about the challenge facing us in the here-and-now, and correctly appraising this challenge as the very raw material for our upcoming growth
  • 3 levels to reframing:
    • Developing a SKILL – turning a perceived weakness into an area of strength
    • Developing a VIRTUE – a generalizable skill of character
      • Exercising a virtue in one area of life makes it easier to exercise it in other areas
      • E.g. generosity, humility, fortitude, and patience
    • Seeing your work as a way to LOVE AND SERVE those around you
      • Ask yourself: how will fully embracing this challenge, better enable me to love and serve others?
      • How can I serve others most effectively in this very task?
      • Connected with love and specific intentions
  • Some more concepts:
    • “Bring it on!” — If you can see an upcoming challenge in this light, you’ve done your part
    • Kairos: A Greek term from ancient philosophy referring to the perfect time and place for something to happen
      • A good reframe is all about PRACTICE (see our entry on process vs. outcome and a treatment of the Practicing Mind)
      • Seeing every situation as “exactly the practice that I need, right now”
      • Reframing is about recognizing that every moment is in fact the kairos
    • About seeing things in the widest possible context
      • Understanding that outcomes are fleeting, for the most part, and will be forgotten, but that the growth in character and learning that we accrue over the course of a well-embraced challenge will be what stays with us the longest
      • Way to approach each circumstance with our very best selves while not getting bogged down in the results
      • [Connect with left-right neuroscience]

Neuroscience of Reframing

  • Already treated in depth below

The Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex

First, it is our claim that a definite structure within the brain increases activity whenever reframing is performed, and that this structure is the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). We often call this the "appraisal center" of the brain. The vmPFC is a structure deep within the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that controls executive function.

Per the scientific literature, the vmPFC is a multifaceted structure with two primary functions: the weighing of the emotional consequences of a choice, and the conditioning and extinction of negative emotions.

The vmPFC and Emotional Expectation

First, the vmPFC is the brain structure through which we make emotionally-laden decisions.[1]

When we consider a potential action, the vmPFC enables us to "simulate" the emotional consequences of that action, both good and bad.[2] Using the vmPFC, we register emotional expectations, calculating the "amount" of expected reward and expected penalty that a given action would provide.[3] Thus, the vmPFC is where we deliberately weigh in our minds whether an action will be worth it. We can then make the decision either to welcome that action and the reward it will bring, or to reject that action and the threat it represents. The decision we make here will determine our level of physiological arousal and the branch(es) of the autonomic nervous system that are activated. [Citation Needed]

It appears that this capacity to weigh and "feel" consequences is necessary for the accuracy of decisions that have emotional valence. For example, the vmPFC is well established as the seat of our moral, ideal-based choices.[4][5][6] For the vmPFC, virtue is its own reward, in a very literal sense! The vmPFC also allows us to simulate the minds of others,[7] particularly others' emotional states,[8] which is important in our ability to develop empathy.[9] Economic decision-making occurs primarily with the vmPFC, as expected rewards and punishments are involved.[10][11] In fact, vmPFC activity is chronically reduced in gamblers and addicts, indicating a certain "myopia for the future" that prevents the addict from feeling the full consequences of a choice.[12][13][14]

The neuroscientific literature has several examples of patients who have lost the above capabilities through vmPFC damage,[15][16] although their intelligence and reasoning remains intact. Such patients are perfectly capable of describing the decisions they know they should make, but when actually faced with an emotionally charged decision, the inability to "feel" the good choice makes them incapable of executing it.[17]

Conditioning and Extinction of Negative Emotions

The vmPFC's second primary function is the generation and regulation of negative emotion, primarily through its interactions with the amygdala.[1]

The vmPFC is extensively and reciprocally connected to the amygdala,[18] which is the brain's automated detector of threats. The amygdala responds both to innate and to conditioned [19][20] threats with fear. Conditioned fear in particular — fear that is learned through negative appraisal and avoidance behaviors — occurs through substantial interactions between the vmPFC and the amygdala.[21]

Through interactions with the amygdala, however, the vmPFC can reverse the very sensitization it helped facilitate. It has a very well established role as the brain's nidus for extinction learning, in which conditioned threat responses are progressively muted and eventually eliminated.[22][23] The vmPFC does this in the present moment through "cognitive reappraisal" or "reversal learning," in which the negative appraisal of a situation is turned into a positive one.[24][25] The vmPFC also facilitates recall of extinction: it suppresses amygdalar activity and subdues the fear response when faced with a previously-aversive stimulus that has been reversed.[26][27][28][29]

The vmPFC's Role in Reframing

  • Fear Thou Not (see below)

Reframing and the Autonomic Nervous System

vmPFC can be “taken offline” and suppressed when someone views a situation as a threat (Thayer 2009, Arnsten 1998, ____________ )

vmPFC is active in the regulatory control of emotions (Etkin 2011); its activation suppresses conditioned fear expression by the amygdala (Quirk 2003, Rosenkranz 2003, Likhtik 2005).

vmPFC has substantial projections into the amygdala (Quirk 2003, Rosenkranz 2003, Likhtik 2005, Oschner 2002, Ghashghaei 2007).

Reframing and Left-Right Neuroscience

Reframing is the ability to see a challenge in its broadest (therefore truest) possible context, which touches on left-right neuroscience.

[To be continued]


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