Any challenge can be reframed into an opportunity for faith, according to Harvard Medical School professor and practicing psychiatrist Dr. Kevin Majeres.
“Reframing is the primary way to exercise faith because every task becomes an opportunity to please God,” he said.
Majeres’ Oct.18 talk “Study as Prayer: The Science of Faith and Work” was the latest in a series of Christ Chapel Drummond Lectures that address matters of faith, learning, and related current issues.
Majeres combines psychology and neuroscience with Christianity to help reframe the challenges that people face in their daily lives. He argued in his talk that humans have a remarkable ability to turn any perceived threat into an opportunity for growth. On a more basic level, Majeres said it is our view of adrenaline that often determines how we respond to stressful situations. Those who view adrenaline as a performance-enhancer will reach new levels of success, while those who fear rising adrenaline will find themselves unable to function. Anxiety is simply adrenaline seen in a negative light, Majeres said.
The key to changing our view of adrenaline and our perception of threats is what Majeres calls “reframing.”
“Reframing is the essence of overcoming any psychological disorder,” Majeres said.
Contrary to most self-help advice, he emphasized that reframing does not consist of reassuring yourself or engaging in positive self-talk.
“In your mind, it’s still a threat,” Majeres said. “To reframe, you must actually change how you think about the threat itself.”
First, Majeres argued, people must be willing to feel their emotions — even the negative ones.
“We only act on emotions to make them go away, because we’re afraid to feel them,” he said.
Another way people often avoid facing their negative emotions, especially anxiety, is by complaining, he said.
Complaining trains people to focus on the negative aspects of a situation, increases avoidance, and perpetuates toxic cycles in their lives, he said. Majeres called complaining “practical atheism” because it shows a lack of faith in God’s plan for one’s life. However, he also pointed out that complaining reveals a possibility for growth.
Senior Sarah Haught, a psychology major who attended the lecture, said that her main takeaway was Majeres’ point about trusting in God’s plan through difficult seasons of life.
“Faith allows us to perceive present difficulties as providential challenges, and this contributes to stabilizing the habit of reframing as a continual practice of exercising faith,” she said. “In this way, God is present in our attention to the current moment, and we can practice working in his presence even when it seems that he is not there.”
Hadiah Ritchey, Career Services’ project manager, said she was also impacted by Majeres’ strong view of complaining.
“It can be easy to complain when something doesn’t go your way or if something seems like an inconvenience, but as Dr. Majeres mentioned, complaining is essentially practical atheism,” she said.
On the flip side of complaining, Majeres said reframing is the key to developing virtue and that it allows people to overcome any shame or comparison that might be holding them back from growth.
One method that Majeres uses to accomplish reframing is what he calls a “Golden Hour” — essentially a tech-free time that is set aside for the purpose of settling the mind and contemplating the challenge ahead. He recommended focusing on a particular skill or virtue that would be helpful for completing the challenge.
Another way to accomplish reframing is through mindfulness. According to Majeres, mindfulness frees the will to focus on a certain task and allows the mind to attain a state of flow. Majeres also said that he encourages his clients to complete any tasks they have within the standard 9 – 5 workday because the brain is able to do its best work during that time, and also to ensure that evenings are free for socializing and leisure activities.
Haught said Majeres’ recommendations for reframing were applicable to her own life.
“It’s fascinating how responsive our brains are to the habits and patterns of thinking that we establish, and that is why mindfulness and positive framing takes practice,” she said. “It requires intentionality to look beyond present discomforts to appreciate the hope of what is yet to be.”
Looking beyond current challenges with hope and faith in God’s plan is the essential aspect of reframing, according to Majeres.
“With faith, the present challenge becomes the providential challenge,” he said. “Faith makes complaining illogical.”
If people chose to approach challenges with faith and hope, and viewed them as an opportunity to strengthen their trust in God, the potential for growth would be limitless.
“Psychology can help us live in faith, hope, and charity,” Majeres said. “Just remember, our success does not depend upon our own efforts.”