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Harvard Pro­fessor gives speech on work and anxiety  | Wiki­media Commons

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.”