Psychological Framing: The Life-Changing Power of Seeing Differently

Ever seen the illusion that makes the same color look different when it’s surrounded by different colors?

Actually…it doesn’t matter if you’ve seen it.

Let me show you what I’m referring to.


Here’s a color blue (hex code: #246ee9 for the design geeks out there).

Displayed there 👆 it looks like…well, what it looks like!

Now check out what it looks like when that same color blue is framed by a different color.

Notice anything odd?

Here…let me make it a little more obvious by putting them side-by-side in the same image.

Looks like two different colors, eh?! One’s darker, the other’s lighter. Which is weird, because it’s the exact same color blue, being displayed on the same screen.

This is called “Simultaneous Contrast.” And it kinda blows my mind anytime I see it!

And it applies to more than just colors. I notice a similar phenomenon anytime I visit an art museum.

The frames that surround famous paintings are nearly as incredible as the paintings themselves! What you see when you look at a painting changes based on the frame it’s presented in.

Okay…so why am I talking about this?

Well, the same thing applies in our lives via a technique called Psychological Framing.

Basically, the “frame” of meaning we put around a given life experience can dramatically alter our experience of that event. (For better or for worse.)

Psychological Framing in Practice

Let’s say you get some critical feedback about a project you’re working on. Maybe a colleague, client, friend, or family member points out a whole laundry list of things that they aren’t pleased with as it relates to that project.

There are a bunch of different frames you can view this event through:

If we look through The Shame Frame, we process that experience as shameful. We might feel that we aren’t good enough to accomplish the goal of the project. Or we may feel hurt, upset, wounded and sad. We may want to give up on the project altogether. Or we may be filled with anxiety about how we’ll ever get it right.

Or if we look through The Blame Frame, we get defensive and blame the other person for being at-fault. “They don’t know what they’re talking about…” “They’re so mean…” “They’re an idiot…” Perfectionists don’t believe they can make mistakes and still be okay, so blaming others as being wrong protects our egos from taking the hit. 

Or, looking through The Game Frame, we can see the whole event as a game. How can we have fun doing the best we can to reach our goals? When we face a challenge, we say “bring it on!” After all, games are a lot more fun when we face a challenger who forces up to step up our game. Critical feedback is merely fuel for us to hone our craft and doesn’t say anything about our self-worth as a human.

Same exact event. But the level of consciousness—or the perspective—we bring to it dictates the way we experience it.

And that was just a couple of examples. There are TONS of frames we can apply to the events of our lives.

For instance:

  • The Abundance Frame helps us look at an experience from a place of opportunity and growth. By seeing that we live in a world of plenty, we give ourselves the opportunity to tap into the opportunities present in any situation.
  • The Challenge Frame is kinda like the Game Frame—it helps us see challenges as opportunities to get stronger. You might also call this the OMMS (Obstacles Make Me Stronger) Frame or the Antifragile Frame.
  • The Gratitude Frame turns us into a treasure hunter, encouraging us to find something to be grateful for, no matter how difficult of a challenge we’re facing. There’s always something positive we can take away from every situation.
  • The Learning Frame makes every experience into an opportunity to learn. The events are just data that we get to take in, as we would with words in a book.

I could go on and on…

How Are You Framing Your Life?

At the end of the day, these frames are all flavors of the same inquiry: 

Is the frame you’re holding up to the events of your life helping you move forward at your best? (In a strong, empowering, growth-oriented direction?)

Or is it doing the opposite, leaving you feeling stifled, contracted, and hopeless?

Psychological Framing is about embracing a few things head-on:

1 – Life is filled with challenges. And that’s a good thing!

2 – When challenges strike, we have a choice in how we respond. Only we get to choose which frame we apply to the event. (We can even go back-in-time to apply new frames to past situations.)

3 – The Frame we put around an event changes how we show up going forward. So if we’re interested in expressing the best version of ourselves, we want to choose our frames wisely. When we choose well, we feel better and perform better (which benefits everyone around us as well).


Got any challenges showing up in your life these days? (Of course you do! 😄)

What’s the frame you’re applying to that situation? And is it helping you show up at your best?

Here’s to filling the museums of our lives with one masterpiece after the next. Picking the most beautiful, enriching, and encouraging frames we can, moment-to-moment-to-moment.

Big hugs + high-fives + let’s do this!

More from Mindful Ambition

  1. The Power of Perception: Change Your Narrative, Change Your Life
  2. The Ladder of Consciousness: How Perspective Dictates Your Life Experience
  3. Desirable Difficulty: Learning, Growth, and Change Require Effort