The Sleight of Mouth pattern of Change Frame Size applies this principle directly to our perceptions of some situation or experience. The pattern involves re-evaluating (or reinforcing) the implication of a particular action, generalization or judgment in the context of a longer (or shorter) time frame, a larger number of people (or from an individual point of view) or a bigger or smaller perspective. An event that seems unbearably painful when we consider it with respect to our own desires and expectations, for instance, may suddenly seem almost trivial when we compare it to the suffering of others.
Spectators at a sports event may end up in a frenzy if their team wins or loses a particular game, or a person makes an exceptionally good or exceptionally poor play. Years later, when considered with respect to the larger landscape of their lives, those same events may seem totally insignificant.
An action that seems acceptable if one person does it, can become destructive and harmful if a whole group does it.
Childbirth can be an intense and frightening experience for a person who is experiencing it for the first time. Being reminded that it is a process that has evolved over millions of years by millions of women, can help the person to have greater trust and less fear in what is happening within her body.
Notice that the process of changing frame size is distinct from that of shifting to another outcome. A person can maintain the same outcome, such as "healing" or "safety," but change the frame size in which he or she is evaluating progress towards that outcome. The specific symptoms of an illness, for example, may be viewed as not being "healthy" in the framework of their immediate consequences, but as a necessary process of "cleansing," or of immunizing a person with respect to their long term consequences. The field of homeopathy, for instance, is based on the premise that small amounts of a toxic substance produce immunity to its toxicity over the long term.
Similarly, what might seem like the "safe" thing to do in the short term could put a person at great risk in the longer term.
Changing frame size has to do with the breadth or width of the perspective we are taking, as distinct from the particular outcome we are considering with respect to that frame. A good literal illustration of changing frame size can be seen in the movie Cabaret. One scene in the film begins with a close up of the face of an angelic looking young boy who is singing in a beautiful voice. The image appears sweet and wholesome. As the camera begins to pan back, however, we see that the boy is wearing a military uniform. Next, we see that he is wearing an arm band containing a swastika. As the frame size gets larger and larger, we eventually see that the boy is singing at a huge Nazi rally. The meaning and feeling conveyed by the image is completely changed by the information coming from the changes in the frame size of the image.
Similar shifts can be made through the use of language. Phrases such as, "looking at the situation from the big picture," "considering the long term implications," or "for generations to come," can directly influence the frame size we are applying to perceive a situation, event or outcome. Frame size can also be changed by adding or including words that presuppose a larger frame. Saying something like "four score and ten years ago," or "for a hundred years to come," will naturally trigger people to think in terms of a particular time frame.
Consider the changes in frame size utilized in the following set of riddles, from a traditional Scottish lullaby:
I gave my love a cherry that had no stone.
I gave my love a chicken that had no bone.
I gave my love a baby that's not crying.
How can you have a cherry that has no stone?
How can you have a chicken that has no bone?
How can you have a baby that's not crying?
When a cherry is a blossom, it has no stone.
A chicken that's an egg, has no bone.
The solution to the first two riddles requires that we widen our frame of perception to the larger life cycle of a cherry or a chicken. The solution to the third riddle requires that we go the other direction, and narrow our perception to particular time periods in the baby's daily cycle. The terms "blossom." "egg" and "sleeping" bring us naturally to this shift in perception.
The size of the frame we are considering determines a great deal about the meaning and significance we are able to perceive, and can be an extremely important issue with respect to effective problem solving.
Try this pattern out for yourself using the following steps:
1. Think of a situation that you judge as difficult, disappointing or painful in some way.
2. What is the current frame from which you are viewing that situation? (i.e., immediate results, long term consequences, individual, group, community, past, future, specific event, whole system, as an adult, as a child, etc.)
3. Change the frame size by widening it and narrowing it to include more time, a larger number of people, a larger system, etc. Then, narrow it to focus on just a specific individual, a limited time frame, a single event, etc. Notice how this shifts the perceptions you have and evaluations you make with respect to that situation. Something that seems to be a failure in the short term often becomes seen as a necessary step to success in the longer term. (Realizing that your own struggles are something that everyone goes through at some time, for instance, can help make them feel less overwhelming.)
4. What is a longer (or shorter) time frame, a larger number or smaller number of people, or a bigger or smaller perspective that would change the judgment or generalization you are making about the situation to be something more positive?
The Sleight of Mouth patterns of Changing Frame Size and shifting to Another Outcome are examples of what are known as context and content reframing in NLP.
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