Every operator on our team brought their paperwork to my workstation at the end of a job. Every operator in the plant brought their paperwork to those respective workstations. Except for Mike — and since it was my job to collect all the paperwork and turn it in to production control, I had to make the 30-yard walk to the head of the line six or eight times a day.

And it irritated the (crap) out of me. One day I was grumbling to another operator. “I don’t know why Mike can’t walk his paperwork down like everyone else,” I said. He shook his head. “Why do you care?” he said. “You walk up that way four or five times a day anyway. Just grab whatever’s there on your way by.” He was right.

I wanted Mike’s paperwork at the end of the job, because it satisfied my need for order and consistency, but I certainly didn’t need it. The urgency I felt was self-imposed. So I just decided I would grab his paperwork whenever I went by.  And my frustration instantly disappeared.

Reduce Your Frustration

That’s a perfect example of cognitive reframing, In simple terms, reframing means viewing a situation or a problem from a different perspective. In my case, all it took was to look at the situation from Mike’s perspective.  He saw me walk by four or five times a day. Why should he take time away from a job changeover to bring me his paperwork? His time was better spent getting us up and running on the next job.

In fact, every operator’s time on our crew was better spent that way. So I started collecting everyone’s paperwork, which ultimately saved us about a minute per job changeover. (Saving a minute doesn’t sound like much, but we were already so efficient that one simple change reduced our changeover time by nearly 8 percent.)

That’s why at least one therapist calls reframing “therapy’s most effective tool,” and science agrees. A study published in Emotion found that reinterpreting a stimulus (viewing a situation or an event differently) can significantly reduce feelings of fear. A study published in Journal of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies (interesting title; shouldn’t every technique be evidence-based?) found that reframing can increase pain tolerance and decrease pain intensity.

A 2012 study published in Journal of Clinical Psychology found that reframing can significantly reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. The key is to make your emotions work for you, not against you, by viewing a frustrating situation from a different angle. As Inc. colleague Justin Bariso recommends, when you’re frustrated, take a step back and ask yourself a few basic questions:

  • How serious is this problem? Am I getting worked up over nothing? In my case, Mike’s paperwork was definitely a non-issue.
  • Can I change something about how I view the problem that would completely change how I feel about it? Viewing the problem from a different perspective — not as an irritating behavior, but as a way to improve productivity — eliminated my frustration.
  • How can I handle this problem differently so I can direct my emotional energy to bigger, more important issues? I sought compliance with “this is how we do things around here,”  so I wanted Mike to change. But I didn’t need him to change. What I needed, what we all needed, was to be more productive, and that’s where I needed to direct my energy.

Try it. Instead of dwelling on what you want, focus on what you need. Maybe that will mean picking up someone else’s slack in the service of greater good. Maybe that will mean overlooking an otherwise outstanding employee’s occasional quirks.

Reduce Your Anxiety

Or maybe, if you need to feel less stressed and more confident — and who doesn’t? — that will mean viewing the world a little differently. A few years ago, I was talking to Duff McKagan (OK, I’m name-dropping, but in my defense the Guns ‘N Roses bass player is a pretty great name to drop) about an upcoming TEDx Talk.

“I’m comfortable speaking to crowds,” I said, “but something about the TED style, format, and audience makes me nervous.” “Remember,” he said, “people want to see you do well. They want to see you kick ass.”Reframing the situation by realizing the audience would be on my side? I instantly felt more confident.

Say you’re anxious about a pitch meeting. You’re afraid potential investors will tear your presentation apart. That perspective — that fear — makes you see the people in the room as potential enemies. In fact, the opposite is true. Investors constantly search for great ideas, great ventures, or great companies. They need to invest in great people.

That means they’re on your side — not just out of the goodness of their hearts, but because your success could be their success. Which is why realizing that we’re all in this together, in almost every way, could be the best reframing approach of all.