Mastering the Frame Game

Words are more powerful than you think…

From school playgrounds to business offices, a game goes on that determines success. It determines debate outcomes, diplomacy, but most saliently: in the context of sport and self-improvement, whether you feel motivated to continue, or if you suddenly feel like the effort you have put in is a waste of time and that crawling back to the confines of comfort is the better option.

What’s a frame?

The frame concerns the primary meaning that emerges from a conversation through the implied intent of the participants involved. It is what hangs like a cloud above all interactions: from a frenzied altercation with one’s enemy to a calm courting beneath a seaside sunset.

Note what the frame is in this extract from the exhilarating Drama Top Boy. Sully, reeling from a comeback on his friend Mike, goes to see his old friend Dushane, seeking vengeance. Sully thought Dushane gave assurances that Mike would not be killed:

Sully: You said there weren’t gonna be no comebacks on Mike…You know what, I’m going after Raif, you’re coming with me.

Dushane: I ain’t goin’ nowhere

Sully: What?

Dushane: I told you about Mike already. Come on man that guy probably spent most of his life in prison. Now what does that tell you about him? What that he’s going to make paper on the roads or something?

Sully: What you set this whole shit up? Plotted it all out so Mike gets killed?

Dushane: When I went to see Raif, my main concern was that you were safe, that there were no comebacks on you. Mike’s gone. That was the price. 

Sully is subsequently silenced. At the start of the scene Sully seeks justification for his anger, wanting to transfer guilt on Dushane and persuade him to seek vengeance. But Dushane reframes this anger, successfully altering Sully’s intent. Dushane holds his frame that there was no option for both Sully and Mike to stay alive and that Mike was a liability anyway. Subsequently Sully is left agreeing to help Dushane pull off a heist.

The frame is as dependent on subtext as much as context, and it is through how we shape the subjective implications that emerge during our conversations that molds both the thought of others, and our own.

The Frame of Self-Improvement

From gang violence to dietary wrangling. Picture a hypothetical situation. Squad meet up. Spoons. Fast food sesh beforehand. Everyone’s vibing. But out of the squad Savannah opted for Itsu instead, seeking ‘that cheeky summer shred’. As the drinks are running free and the banters flows smooth, Tarquin notes this.

Tarquin: Yeah, Savannah is such a salad scrub nowadays.

Now, how does Savannah respond? Well first, what does Savannah’s intent entail? She has just started a diet so evidently would desire to stick to it. Moreover, this is a social situation, so we assume she wants to stay friends with Tarquin.  Two desires thus emerge: 1. Health 2. Friendship. Listed are three possible responses, which do you think would entail the best reframing of the conversation?

  1. Nah I’m not, I still dabble in the occasional delight, just not tonight.
  2. It’s not being a scrub, it’s choosing the right options and not having rubbish to eat.
  3. Admit it boi, we’re all partial to a bit of green…

Notice the disparity of outcomes within each interaction. Which is the the sole interaction that entails both intents are furthered?  If you answered 3 you would be correct. 1 and 2 hamper Savannah’s self-improvement path. Why? Both frames entail a negative subconscious shift within Savannah’s mindset. Such shifts, however slightly and incrementally, lead us with less motivation to pursue our goals.

The world Savannah allows in 1 is one of submission to the prevailing fast food orthodoxy. Tarquin controls the frame. His goals: 1. The Roast and 2. Fast food patriotism, are furthered. Now, every time Savannah goes to buy a healthy option, the thought of scrubbiness will germinate in her mind’s periphery. Thoughts have a tendency to grow, branch out, till a sapling becomes a towering oak of negativity. Maybe I am being a scrub. Maybe this ‘live natural’ vibe I’m giving off is kinda scrubby, who am I kidding with my yoga routine anyways? I’ll never be that stretchy… and so on.

Two is just as bad, if not worse. Both Tarquin and Savannah lose. This response results in negativity and conflict. The World Savannah now creates is one of food friction: every time she enters an Itsu or snacks on an iceberg lettuce, her mind ever so slightly turns towards the angry thought that no what she’s doing is the way, and what’s really scrubby is deciding to go munchin’ away on…and so forth.

An L is better than a Lie

How do we reframe successfully? The first step along this journey entails an awareness of what has happened in conversations like 1 and 2. We must take the L. This is a noble gesture. But, most importantly, a positive one; to improve one needs to understand what they need to improve on, and this requires an awareness of shortcomings.

If we don’t take the blame we lie to ourselves, and as 1 and 2 has shown, a lie has a tendency to grow out of all proportion, till our very worldview is shaped to the detriment of our goals.

Reframe to win the game.

This is why 3 is the best outcome. Savannah defends her goals, turning the roast into banter.

The frame of humour is unstoppable. Try staying mad at someone who’s constantly making you crack up. You can’t.

Beneath the banter lies the implicit assumption the right way is one where Savannah pursues her goals, while Tarquin and co do the same, albeit differently. From 3 we can extract a wider truth: when our words and intent are most in alignment do we most see success.

From gangs to gains, our goals remain greatly tied to the game of frames.




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