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Positive Reframing, Gratitude and Managing Motivation

This article contains some strategies for you or your staff to help manage the ongoing challenges and pressures in your roles. They assume that you are taking your own self-care seriously and will ask for support and help if you need it. To ask for help shows vulnerability, and to show vulnerability requires courage and trust in your peers, colleagues, family, or counsellor.  

Positive reframing  

When you are stuck with ever-repeating negative self-talk, constantly critical rumination or are struggling to appreciate any positive aspects of your work, consider these options:  

  • Consciously STOP the ruminations or negative self-talk. Examine what you have learnt: What went well? What did not go well? What could work better or be different next time? What help or support do I need to make that happen?  
  • CHECK: Am I making assumptions? What evidence do I have? What did I see, hear or read that let me know this is true? Our brains will fill in gaps in knowledge rather than have a vacuum, have you done this?  
  • Physically MOVE your chair to another part of the room, change chairs, go for a walk and ‘view’ the situation from another space, i.e. literally gain a new perspective. What is different now?  
  • Try putting your ‘perspectacles’ on (or send a text with a spectacle emoji to remind someone they might need to try a different view). 

We can get stuck in a pattern of thinking:  

A difficult communication/situation happens and we respond from our perception of past experience, for example:  

My colleague did not send me her report in time. 

We first chose the explanation that is the worst possible choice by default:   

That means she thinks other people are more important than me. 

We do not actually choose that response as it is based in memory and is an assumption: What actually happened was that the colleague got her diary muddled up/ has been ill / has trouble with organization / has ADHD etc.  

Positive reframing can help with that pattern of thinking as you are trying to look at the scenario from a different perspective and challenging those assumptions. 

Here is an example of how you can put positive reframing into practice.  

Fill in the table below to assess what might be different from your first assumption and create some alternatives that might also be true.  

Situation:       
What did I see?   What did I hear? 
What did I feel? 
 
What was I assuming i.e. what was not based on evidence?    
What do I need to do or know to gain that evidence?    
Situation reappraisal 1 (What could be the actual situation?) 
Situation reappraisal 2 
Situation reappraisal 3  
Based on Positive Reframing exercise from Harvard University Stress and Development Lab. 

Focusing forward 

Hitting a brick wall? Are you finding it is hard to move forward with thoughts or ideas? Are you spending a lot of time focusing on memories and recollections? This practice can lead us to becoming more reactive than creative.  

When we are driving, of course we need to pay attention to what’s happening around us including what is behind, however we should be spending more time looking through the front windscreen than either the wing mirrors or the rear-view mirror so that we can anticipate what is happening on the road ahead.  

When you notice yourself paying most of your attention to memories, consciously focus on the road ahead and leave them in the rear-view mirror. They won’t disappear yet could become less prominent in your consciousness allowing space to be more creative.   

Gratitude and journaling  

Dr Robert Eammons is the founder of The Positive Psychology movement and Professor of Psychology at UCA. He conducted an initial study (2003) into the effects of recording gratitude involving 1,000 participants writing 5 things they were grateful for once a week for 10 weeks. The research showed: 

  • They felt 25% happier. 
  • There was a 10% increase in sleep duration and of waking up refreshed. 
  • There was a 10 % average reduction in blood pressure.  

The outcomes from the exercise have been researched further and practising gratitude and journaling is now ‘prescribed’ as a self-managed method of building positivity including for those with depression.  

How to practise gratitude and journaling 

  • Choose what works for you: a daily or weekly practice, buy a specific journaling record book, create a collage, use a beautiful exercise book. 
  • Set up a reminder to keep the practice going: in the evening works well as it has been shown to influence how quickly you fall asleep.  
  • Write a minimum of three things to be grateful for, one for each of the following categories: psychological, physical and social. 
  • Be specific e.g. ‘I heard Dave tell me that he had really appreciated the call as he had been feeling a bit low. I’m grateful he shared that with me as it reminded me how important it is to keep in touch’ or ‘When we were out walking tonight the sky was a brilliant pink with grey clouds creating lines across it, I felt grateful for its beauty’ or ‘I am grateful that I could do that 30-minute Pilates class this evening without more than a mild twinge in my back’.  
  • Save the records and look back at them every few months to reinforce the gratitude. 
  • If you miss a session don’t be hard on yourself but check what the barrier was. People have reported benefits if they take a break and then pick it up again when they feel it would be helpful.  

Keeping motivated  

If you are ‘stuck’ or lack motivation, the process below can be helpful. It works through 5 different steps of motivation for wellbeing by exploring questions you could be asking in each step. You could try this on your own or with a colleague too. 

Motivation for wellbeing – 5 steps 

The 5 steps of Motivation for Wellbeing as a series of blocks described in the text.
The 5 steps for Motivation for wellbeing

Step 1 – Show empathy and appreciation of the current situation.  

Any engagement should be a curious and non-judgemental exploration of what you are feeling right now. 

If you are working with a colleague, remember you are not there to fix the problem or come up with answers on their behalf. 

Questions:  

  • What is important to you for your wellbeing?  
  • If working with a colleague, reflect what’s been said back to them using their words if possible. This shows empathy and respect, for example: ‘From what I’m hearing you’re finding it hard to find time to exercise at the moment?  Is there anything else about that? 
  • What would you like to have happen?’ 
  •  Or: ‘That sounds particularly challenging for you what do you think needs to happen to make a difference?’ 

Step 2 – Work on internal motivation  

Motivation works best on internal motivation for change not external motivation from others.  

  • How would things be different for you if you made time for more exercise?  
  • Why is this change important for you?  
  • If you made this change what would you see and hear (what evidence would you have) that would let you know things had improved/changed for the better? 

Step 3 – Build confidence to change  

Confidence needs to be 7+ on a scale of 1-10 to make lasting change. Aim to build it through evidence of success. Focus on past successes i.e. through appreciative inquiry. 

  • Imposter syndrome, poor mood, anxiety, and perceived lack of ability can affect confidence. 
  • Where is your confidence today on a scale from 1-10?  
  • What has worked well for you in the past?  This doesn’t have to be related to the current issue.   
  • Focus on strong points and past triumphs. A visual representation can be powerful to build confidence.   

Step 4 – Set a SMART goal  

And build in micro steps. Making a realistic cycle of change sets the stage for larger less certain ones. 

Achieving a target leads to self-efficacy and translates into more energy and interest. Self-worth and confidence will build for more change. 

  • What are your goals? (Write them down as this helps make them more real.)  
  • What will you see and hear (what evidence will you have) that will let you know that target has been met? 

Step 5 – Create monitoring and accountability plan 

Identify how to monitor successes and be held to account. Who else will be involved?  

This can happen in person, by text, a post card, in micro conversations or diarised meetings.  

Research has shown that more change is made in groups than by individuals alone especially if there is non-judgemental encouragement rather than competition.   

When it is clear someone else really cares about us achieving a goal and wanting to hear how progress is being made, change is more likely. Compassion for the person and the effort they’re making and empathy for challenges, setbacks or successes build trust and more positivity – it’s a growth cycle. 

  • What’s worked well? 
  • What could be even better?  
  • What have you seen and heard (what evidence would you have) that will let you know things have improved/changed? 
  • What do you know now?  

References  

Eammons R & McCullough ME (2003) Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84(2) 377-389  

Frates EP, Moore MA, Lopez GT (2011) Coaching for behaviour change in psychiatry. American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 0894-9115/11/9012-1074/0 

Harvard University Stress and Development Lab ‘Positive Reframing and Examining Evidence’ Positive Reframing and Examining the Evidence | Stress & Development Lab (harvard.edu) (accessed March 2021)