March Series: Uncovering Your Authentic Self
Define Your Frame of Reference
Any police officer will tell you that two people who saw the same event will describe it in vastly different ways. That’s because the information that we take in and the information that we send out must go through our Frame of Reference. It’s important to know the things that affect how we look at the world.
Our Frame of Reference is made up of four parts: values, priorities, experiences, and beliefs. To know ourselves, we must be familiar with our Frame of Reference. Is yours shiny, sleek silver or red with sparkly pink glitter? Perhaps it’s a coarse wood frame or a simple black one. I picture everyone peering out at the world through their Frames of Reference.
Let’s begin with values. Picture your own memorial service in your head. You’ve led a full and meaningful life with which you are satisfied. What three things are you sure that people will say about you? Would they say that you were compassionate, determined, honest, or logical? What one thing would you be crushed to find that no one mentioned? I work very hard to be kind, and I would be devastated if no one mentioned that I was kind. Spend some time thinking about how you want to be known and remembered.
The list that you come up with is your values. For the most part, our values stay the same throughout our lives. In my leadership workshops, people often list integrity, faith, fairness, and compassion as values that they want to embody.
We judge ourselves and the world around us using our values as a ruler. When we look out through our Frame of Reference and it includes “fairness” as a value, we are always looking to be sure that things are fair. We tend to notice things that conflict or align with our values. If something isn’t fair, it irritates us. If “fairness” is not one of my values, then I won’t tend to notice or act on instances of inequality.
Priorities are the second part of our Frame of Reference. Priorities are a snapshot of what is important to us right now. In workshops, I call out a list of priorities, and the group writes each one on a small sticky note. They place the sticky notes in order of importance as I say each one. The list is below. Put them in order of importance from most important to least important to you right now. Feel free to add any categories that apply to you.
- Significant Other
- Leisure Time
- Personal Development
Putting a priority at the bottom of the list doesn’t mean that it’s not important to you at all; it’s just not something you focus on right now. Remember, this is a snapshot. When my children were young, “family” was at the top of my list. Now my children are grown, and I’m making up for lost time on my career. “Family” is at the bottom of my list, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love them or think they are important. I’m just not spending a ton of time or energy on them right now.
Our top priorities influence what we see through our Frame of Reference. If career and money are my current focus, then I am searching the world for opportunities to make money and further my career. I’m not reading Family Fun Magazine the way that I did a couple of decades ago. If friends and community are priorities, then I am looking for opportunities to connect with others. We notice what is important to us. A person looking for a significant other would see a completely different world.
The third part of our Frame of Reference is experience. What we experience in our lives has a profound effect on how we view the world and experience life in the future. For example, I tell the story of wanting to be the Fire Marshall in elementary school during my workshops. The Fire Marshall made sure that the windows were closed, left the room last, and turned the lights out. I wanted to be Fire Marshall!
At first, the principal told me that I couldn’t be the Fire Marshall because my long hair was a fire hazard; if the room was on fire and I was the last one to leave, then my shoulder-length hair was more likely to catch fire than a boy’s shorter hair. Fire Marshalls were always boys. Back then, all boys had short hair cut over their ears and cropped close up the back.
I told the principal that I would cut my hair like a boy so that I could be the Fire Marshall. At that point, he mumbled something like, “Don’t be a problem, Kathy. You can’t be the Fire Marshall.” Then, he told me to leave his office.
That experience coupled with several others about what I wasn’t allowed to do because I was female made me very sensitive to chauvinism and any sort of discrimination. When I look at the world through my Frame of Reference, assumptions based on gender appear to be surrounded by fire with a big neon arrow pointing at them. I don’t miss one, and I’m indignant and angry about all of them.
I’ve learned not to react and overreact over the years, but the noticing and the feeling is still there. I see a different world than a person who isn’t fussed about stereotypes and equality.
Over time, our experiences create our beliefs about ourselves and life in general. Beliefs are the final part of our Frame of Reference. Many of them are the foundations of our lives – personal rules that we don’t realize exist. For example, I see many people who are hesitant to draw, sculpt, or write. Somewhere along the way, someone criticized one of their creations and they created the belief that “I can’t draw. When I do draw, it’s embarrassing.”
It could have been a jealous, third-grade classmate who made the comment, but we internalized the message and created the belief anyway. Beliefs are often created when we are children, and they deserve to be questioned from an adult perspective.
Relationship break-ups are common, and a lot people that I talk with hold the “I am unlovable” belief. When we are young, we mess up and don’t do things perfectly, which results in the “I can’t do anything right” belief. A series of disappointments at the hands of others can create the victim belief that “Bad things always happen to me.”
Beliefs can be positive as well. I took drama lessons for eight years starting in first grade. I had a lot of positive experiences being up in front of people. My belief is that “I do a good job in front of a group.” I also believe that “I am not less capable or intelligent because I am female.” That belief is interesting because it’s the opposite of what I often heard when growing up. If I’d just taken my experiences to heart, then I’d be convinced that being female made you less capable and intelligent.
I think that my saving grace was my father who told me that I could do anything that I set my mind to. I believed him over the experiences that I had out in the world. Perhaps, I just have an ornery, disbelieving way of looking at the world.
As adults, we get to examine our beliefs and decide if they are serving us well or not. Beliefs can be so limiting! I am frustrated by the small lives that some people lead because of the beliefs that guide their actions. They believe that they can’t draw or speak in front of a group. They believe that happiness and success are out of their reach.
Uncovering and examining your beliefs can be difficult on your own. Enlisting a life coach can help you to see them clearly. A coach also can help you make decisions about whether or not you want to keep them or create new ones.
It’s important to be aware of everything that makes up your Frame of Reference. Usually, an initial discovery session with a coach will include an examination of your values, priorities, beliefs, and the significant experiences that have influenced you. If you don’t have a coach, then ask a good friend to help you examine your Frame of Reference.
Our Frames of Reference create the world that we live in. If we believe good comes to us and we have values and priorities that foster positivity, then we might have a sparkly bright Frame of Reference that helps us to see the good in the world. Intentionally examining and creating our Frame of Reference can make all the difference in the life that we experience.
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