The World As Our Mirror: How Frames of Reference Affect Everyday Life

Two identical looking people walk into a room. Everyone in the room turns to stare. The first person thinks that everyone is looking at her because she looks terrible. She wants the floor to swallow her whole. The second person believes that people are staring at her because she looks amazing. She walks with her head held high.

What’s the difference between these two people?

They have vastly different frames of reference. According to, a frame of reference is:

“a complex set of assumptions and attitudes which we use to filter perceptions to create meaning. The frame can include beliefs, schemas, preferences, values, culture and other ways in which we bias our understanding and judgment.”

We all have frames of reference, and they certainly alter what we believe to be reality, but we don’t always realize that we are looking at the world through “self” colored lenses. However, if you’ve ever heard each member of a couple tell their respective sides of the same argument, you know how differently two people can experience the same event.

Even the same person can view an event, or a group of people, differently depending on her frame of reference. A colleague of ours recently told us a story that wonderfully illustrates this point. Our colleague was out for ice cream with her family when a group of loud teenagers entered the place. Our colleague’s immediate thought was, “Ugh, teenagers. I hope they don’t cause trouble.” However, what happened next completely surprised her. An elderly woman entered the establishment and walked right up to the group of teenagers, and asked if any of them could help her with her new iPhone. Two teens immediately pulled up chairs next to her and proceeded to help her. Our colleagues’ perception changed drastically, and she felt a little bad for having prejudged the teens. (For the record, teens get a notoriously bad rap, but their decision making skills are better than we think)!

It’s true, our preconceived notions can affect everything from our relationships to our work and everything in-between. So, what can we do about this?

The first step is to be aware that we have a particular frame of reference. And yes, we all do. Where we come from, how we were raised, what age we are, whether we went to college or not, how many “Games of Thrones” episodes we’ve seen – these are just some of the factors that influence the way that we see things.

Next, we need to realize that not everyone sees things the way that we do. And that’s okay!

Finally, we can practice reframing, which is a way of expanding our thoughts to include alternative ideas. When we reframe a situation, we attach a new meaning to it, thus changing everything that we feel about it. As the saying goes, “Change your mind, change your life.”

If you would like to talk more about managing your perceptions of the world, contact us. We are here to help!