The Question That Instantly Reframed My TED Talk.

February 6, 2022

The Question That Instantly Reframed My TED Talk.

May 29, 2023

I was sitting in the Green Room with filmmaker James Cameron ("The Terminator," "Titanic," "Aliens," etc.…), who was about to go on stage before me. He seemed calm and light-hearted. I was anything but.

While we were in my hometown of Long Beach, I wasn't giving a speech to my family and friends. I was about to completely screw up my first TED talk in front of Al Gore, Bill Gates, and 6,000 other luminaries who I was certain were going to throw tomatoes at me. I also felt certain that I would wet my pants on stage (just like I did at my elementary school Christmas pageant, not far from where I was now sitting).

As I was anxiously sweating in my black sweater, James leaned over to me and, in a fatherly way, said, "What if you judged your talk based only upon how much fun you're going to have on stage?" He winked at me, then rushed onto the stage to talk about how he and his film team created the lush scenery for "Avatar." I had 18 minutes to reflect on his question, which not only boosted my mood but, thankfully, shifted my energy and focus from fear to fun.

I've come to realize that this reframing is what social psychologists now call a "wise intervention." Stanford professor Gregory Walton (and others) has taken a lead role in helping us see that when someone is stuck—often feeling like the system is against them—a reframing question (or other intervention) that stimulates their curiosity can help them get out of their rut.

So what are some examples of “wise intervention?” Citizens complete a survey the day before a major election; a change in the survey items’ grammatical structure increases turnout by 11 percentage points. People answer a single question; their romantic relationships improve over several weeks. At-risk students complete a 1-hour reading-and-writing exercise; their grades rise and their health improves for the next 3 years. Each statement may sound outlandish—more science fiction than science. Yet each represents the results of this recent study by Walton.

At MEA, we have a name for this re-framing. We call it Appreciative Inquiry exercises, which can be miraculous in helping people see they have more options than they thought. If you’d like to learn more, here’s the Wise Interventions website and a recent white paper. And if you want to find out more about Appreciative Inquiry, check out one of our upcoming MEA workshops.

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