Perception – Frame of Reference (FOR)

Dealing with the Slipperiness of Perceptions

Frame of reference (FOR) is the key to mind and body transformation. This mental record of reality represents our past experiences that help shape beliefs, behaviors, ideas, conditions or assumptions that will determine how we perceive, approach, understand and interpret life. Deepak Chopra is quoted as saying “To think is to practice brain chemistry.” Take a moment to think of all the things you perceive to be true on a daily basis. FOR is the roadmap you use to influence the way you address those daily interactions. And like a roadmap, FOR doesn’t show the potholes along the road to changing one’s perceptions but simply pulls out specific features such as the turn, split, or shifts on the roadway – similar to being plugged into your car’s GPS, which helps you to react to relatively invariable aspects along your journey. Yet, not everyone’s mental GPS gets him or her to the same place. The smart brain can listen, value, integrate with, and help others to apply a new perspective.

Researchers have long recognized that what we think exists, is not so much a static state as it is a way for the brain to expand and transform information. For example comparing frames of reference within the same classroom, seminar or boardroom can shed an influx of varied perceptions on just about any subject from sports to finance. The coach’s capacity to corral the perceptions and expectations of multiple realities when coaching in-group settings on a specific subject becomes a complex challenge. It is critical to understand the idea that a person’s perception of a situation determines whether a shift in thinking will occur. What one person sees as a small wrinkle in the status quo, another may regard as a complete transformation in thinking. As we confront new situations, this sense to understand the moment unfolds due to our brain’s ability to recognize familiar patterns. It’s like driving home, as soon as you hit a familiar road sign you turn, the brain shifts into auto drive, and further thinking becomes unnecessary. Or you hit a detour and the brain has to recalibrate how to get home. In many ways ones perceptions are the familiar road signs we rely on when engaged in making life’s decisions. Our capacity to assess and reframe beliefs, behaviors, or an assumption in life gives us the chance to remake our decisions, making a better choice.

Most operating behaviors take place as perceptions of our reality; this mental mirage is the brain’s unconscious pair of eyeglasses used to keep our fluctuating thinking in focus. Frame of reference and its relationship to thinking is no more than perceptions shaped by our personal belief systems. And since birth, those belief systems and patterns of thinking have been driven by our brain’s experiences, circumstance, context of life, and relationships. The moment another person’s viewpoint impinges on our personal FOR the brain processes and interprets all the information surrounding its private perception of this encounter, giving it meaning in terms of probable outcome, emotional values and attitudes. So when managing the thinking that affects differences in perception, one must learn to recognize and appreciate the distinction between there own world and that of those outside their world.

Research has found initial impressions create first perceptions, which are near impossible to erase from the human brain and that these first impressions of a person, place or idea becomes our brain’s default perception. If we later learn information that contradicts that perception, our brain categorizes it as an exception, rather than using the information to alter the rule. Specifically, we associate the exception with the context of that new information; all other contexts get the ‘default’ association. Say, for example, your first impression of an individual you meet through friends is negative, yet you end up having an energizing conversation when you run into him or her at the gym and change your mind. In the context of the gym, you’ll see the person more positively, but in any other environment whether it be a concert, bar, or restaurant, you’ll still be guided by your first impression

When addressing behavioral change, understanding an individual’s singular reality is extremely valuable if you hope to help that individual to reframe or rethink their belief system. These ideas of how our world should operate floats across the wide screen of our minds day-in-day-out. These perceptions represent patterns of interwoven mental activity and become the sum total of what we focus on in any given occurrence. The concepts of perception are portrayed in the Japanese film Rashomon, where four characters give a very different account of the same event. This film reinforces the notion that ones perceptions of reality are both subjective and malleable. It is the truth that each person focuses on different things while experiencing aspects of the same thing. Life’s variations are a guarantee because that which seems real from one person’s frame of reference is not complete and is not necessarily real from another’s person’s point of view. Another example of FOR can be found in the world of professional football. Player’s rigorously work out, have intense practice and go to work every Sunday to endure a level of physical pain that you or I would find intolerable. The crowd watches in amazement as players incur fractured ribs, concussions, broken limbs, or sprained ankles and yet they get patched up and run back out for the second half. From the FOR of a coach and the player, not going back in to the game would be irresponsible to the team’s owner, the team and the fans in the stadium.

Marriage and family therapists have also uncovered insight regarding research regarding FOR. Therapists discovered it was not uncommon for struggling couples to try to fix their problems by taking a trip, moving into a new home, or adopting a new pet or having a baby. It could be that by doing this, they’re trying to create a new context with a new dynamic, one that will stick. Yet it’s still the exception, not the rule. So to really change our brain’s thinking, we need to override and rewrite the default by dismantling or reframing it and replacing it with new thinking. It’s certainly possible, but it takes more time and patience than simply trying something new.

The above three examples validate the notion every person’s belief system has a hidden underlying set of behaviors and assumptions that influence whether the glass is half empty or half full. When it comes to interpreting life, human beings are prone to swaying the truth toward what he or she believes, or wants it to be assigning meaning based on perceptions of a past encounter, situation or event. Things are only good or bad because of the way we decide to look at them – meaning life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it. Generally speaking we don’t get what we deserve but what we expect. So what can a coach do to help a client re-frame reality?  An insightful coach knows our eyes see only what the mind is ready to comprehend, and can help the client to understand their readiness to change. While there are many theories and extensive research on the preconditions and processes surrounding behavioral change, the most important is the Transtheoretical Model (TTM), developed by Dr. James Prochaska. Most health and wellness coaches rely on the transtheoretical model to help prepare clients for self-changing behavioral shifts from exercise adherence to weight management. The coach uses the TTM as the framework to prepares the client’s mind to go from “I won’t” and “I can’t” to the next level of thinking which helps the client to assess their ability and willingness to suspend judgment, enabling the action of  “I might” to “I will.” At this stage the client agrees to accept the new premises on which he or she will act. The final states of behavioral change help the client to shape the “I am” and “I still am” behaviors necessary for transformational change.

Psychological studies have found that people can become so wedded to their particular view of how things should work that they ignore all evidence that suggests that a change in thinking is necessary. For example why do so many of us fail to do what we are supposed to be doing regarding diet and exercise. Our actions prove we understand what to do when purchasing gym memberships, trainers, and nutritional advice yet most of the time we are out of control as seen in the global epidemics of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Is it our biological makeup that inclines us to consume what we should eat, or is it our frame of reference and cultural traditions that need reshaping? Regardless, when making health decisions, an error in perception can have you focusing on the wrong thing, which can definitely mess up your choices about how best to live your life. The coach’s task is to help deliver an emotional kick-start to the client’s non-conscious mind. But for a change in thinking to take root, you must be willing to reassess your beliefs, behaviors and assumptions of reality. The motivation to exchange old ineffective behaviors with new effective thinking starts with a compelling vision.


The first step to promote a change in thinking is a compelling vision of your desired self.  A positive vision gives one a blueprint to work from and the foundation for preparing and planning for effective change. A compelling vision of the future provides one with the motivation, energy and inspiration to start the process of alternative thinking.


Paradoxical thinking is simply holding two seemingly opposite or mutually exclusive ideas in mind at once. This idea promotes thinking in ways that seem contradictory, unbelievable, or absurd yet in fact may be true allowing the exploration of creative alternatives. You’re able to entertain the positive and negative ideas while suspending judgment until you fully look into all aspects of the change strategy. Now we are ready to design a plan.


The plan and its details are a critical step towards mapping out newness in thinking. The implementation process is the time to think through things like scheduling, preparation, tracking of performance. The plan needs to identify and investigating the challenges associated with the shift in new thinking. For instance, the barriers that could surface, competing priorities, lack of time, degree of readiness, willingness, and confidence to move forward. Clearly defined action steps are next.


This is the time for ritualized skill building. Action is all about the “doing” part of the change strategy. Remind yourself that this is a commitment to the mastery of a new behavior or skills. To reinforce your motivation and confidence, it is important to experience manageable successes that lead to extrinsic rewards, and an intrinsic value for the new behaviors. One way to transpose the hurdles of new thinking would be the intense conscious rehearsal of required actions and a strategy to reinforce each behavioral goal.


Pick one goal that you really want to achieve. Now figure out what it would take to achieve that goal. Effective goals are Specific, Measurable, Action-based, Realistic, and Time-lined (SMART GOALS). SMART[M1]  goals raise your awareness of how this change in thinking challenges your thoughts and emotions. This thinking/feeling work will help you in the development of realistic first steps in moving forward.

Ask yourself “do I possess the readiness, ability, and willingness to achieve this goal?” If you’re not ready, ask yourself what would it take to get ready. If you feel you lack ability, then search out training and if it is a willingness issue take a look at your belief system, negative thought patterns and perceptions that perpetuated resistance to the desired outcome.


You can’t change the old brain behavior without new information and new associations. Einstein once said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” The successful adaptation of new behaviors and the absolute confidence that it can be sustained is an amazing feeling. One’s ability to absorb new information requires commitment, patience, allotted time and a diligent continuous effort.


Lasting change expands our sense of self, which allows us to get closer to becoming our best self. Our new self is buried under an old belief system riddled with extra-physical and emotional baggage. Newness is your source of inspiration and motivation.

Reference[M2] : Dr. James Prochaska, Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change. This model is a blueprint for self-change in health behaviors and can be applied in health, fitness, and wellness coaching (Prochaskaetal, 1994).

A primary cause so few individuals achieve what they really want is that they lack the capacity (ability and willingness) to reassess their fundamental beliefs. Or perhaps people find themselves in a more strange and lonely place in their thoughts, thinking they might not be able to share with other people to the degree they’d like to because it’s beyond other people’s perceptions.  Our Frame of Reference consists of an effort to get the maps in our heads to conform to the ground on which we walk. FOR determines our expectations, which influence what we perceive and how we process all knowledge about specific subjects or situation. The information and learning we’ve acquired since birth drives our unwavering firmness of character and actions. This self-perpetuating cycle is often a major source of our biases to newness and the resistance we unconsciously harbor when the map doesn’t agree with the ground we walk. This unconscious automatic thinking creates and reinforces our concept of reality shaping our social space, conversations and rules of engagement. These beliefs create the mental narratives we use when we talk about art, music, religion, politics, sexuality, and more importantly the plots of our favorite TV shows. Positive or negative, it seems that our reality and morality is no more than the brain’s record of multiple consequences of past interaction. And on a daily basis we act on these multiple faded memories using past knowledge of comparable situations, similar to the one we perceive to be experiencing.

Shifts in one’s thinking occur through conversation that encourages that person to entertain new thinking changes in perception or behavior. This requires the person to do more listening and less talk, more inquiring than telling, and more reflection than commenting. Substantive brain change is a collaborative and co-creative partnership to transformative change. Many times we are actually held back in our lives when we worry too much about how others perceive us. Through the process of coaching, clients broaden their thinking, deepen their learning, and enhance their quality of life. Questioning one’s FOR challenges what they believe to be true and how it affects their life’s story. We tend to view our FOR as a “measurement device” that helps us elicit information that will give us answers. Who we are, what we think and feel not to mention what we do represents the sum total of what we believe to be true effecting every decision and action taken. Anthony Robbins said, “Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy.” The human species has been given the ability to take any experience and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.


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