Book Review

Frame Games
Persuasion Elegance/Winning the Game of Life
Reviewed By
Judith Pearson, Ph.D.

"To identify the things that truly drive and control our lives, we have to identify the fame and the frame-within-frames. Such frames actually control the games we live." (p. 7)

People play games. Our behaviors, roles, rituals, and states make for the games of life. We can play external games with each other, and internal games with ourselves. The question is "Do the games you play empower you and enhance your life?" In Frame Games, L. Michael Hall's newest self-help book, you can examine the games you play, choose new games, and develop the strategies for the games that are most worthwhile. 

We are the players on the playing field of life. The games we play, and how we play them, result from our frames of reference and meaning. Thus, all games are "frame" games. If you do not know the games at work in your life, or how to play them mindfully, the games will play you! With Frame Games, you can learn to:

Detect your own games and those of others 
Decide if you want to get hooked into playing others' games
Discard games that aren't much fun 
Choose new games that are more fun

Frame Game Theory

Our cognitive frames create virtual realities in which we live. According to Hall, our "governing frames" are our core understandings, beliefs, values, and identities. These frames result from cultural and social programming. Frames describe our internal evaluations. They are statements about what is good and bad, positive and negative, painful and pleasurable, etc. These evaluative frames of reference reside in more general frames such as attitude, mood, character, etc., that, in turn, reside in still larger frames such as cultural mores and beliefs, paradigms, personality, and reality structures. 

Organizations, groups, families, governments, and entire cultures can play games with themselves and each other. Most of us play our games not by conscious choice, but by default, because we think our frames are "reality" or "the truth." Not so. They are merely maps of the territory and they may not be accurate. When our frames don't support the kind of lives we want, we end up playing some pretty sick games. 

Frames are self-organizing in that they attract the very experiences, people, and situations that confirm their meanings and beliefs. Frames set up self-fulfilling prophecies. Frames govern everything we do. Therefore it is imperative to get executive power over our frames so that we can manage our thinking in effective ways. 

As managing your mind becomes your reference point it begins to cause all of your powers of thinking, emoting, speaking, behaving, and relating to self-organize in service of that idea. (p. 47)

Our frames determine the quality of our existence and the rules and structures of the games we play. When a game becomes painful or toxic, the frame is the source of the problem. When we attempt to treat dysfunction at the behavioral level, we are, Hall states, only addressing symptoms, without getting at the cause. True transformation comes from changing the frame. 

Would you like to "engineer" your life experience---and thus, the games you play? Would you like to take charge and change the rules and outcomes, and even opt for new games? The first step in getting to play the games you want lies in "catching" games in progress---yours and others'. By asking questions about frames of reference, belief, cause-effect, and meaning, we can detect the underlying frames that support the games we play. 

Although we are not always consciously aware of our frames, they structure our thinking and perceiving and establish the rules of our games. They are the basis of our states. Our first frames develop through associative (stimulus-response) learnings. With time, these learnings translate into meanings, truths, and beliefs. They seem "absolutely real and unquestionable." Yet, with awareness, we can become Frame Game Masters and change those frames that do not serve us. You are as free to choose your games as your frames allow you to be. 

Frame Game Mastery

The basic skill in Frame Game Mastery is to detect games and frames by using self-reflective consciousness; this means going "meta" to one's thoughts. We have to think about how we think. In this way, we can observe meta-frames (frames about frames), and define meta-states (states about states). We can ask questions concerning the "aboutness" of our thoughts, perceptions, meanings, and beliefs. 

Remember Eric Berne's book, Games People Play? Bern identified a few of life's most toxic games, such as "martyr," and "let's you and him fight." Hall invites us to name all our games; the good, the bad and the ugly. Naming a game makes it more tangible and leads us to articulate the frames that support it. When you read Frame Games, for example, you could play the "Getting to Dialog with an Author" game or the "Book Worship," game, or any game that you bring to the task of reading a book. Often the name you give to a game gives an insight into the frame of mind in which you are operating. Hall shows us how to detect games by asking questions, observing behavior, and listening to language. 

Even the game of detecting frames has certain rules. Frames induce mind-body states. Higher frames are accompanied by meta-states. Frame awareness permits frame analysis. Hall includes worksheets in Frame Games for diagnosing toxic games and for design engineering new games. 

Changing Toxic Games

Do you like the games you play? If not, Hall provides many ways to change those games. First, you can refuse toxic games, such as "learned helplessness," and "blame." You can run quality assurance checks on your frames and say "no" to games that do not serve you. In this way you can take full responsibility for your states and lay claim to your personal powers. 

You can shift frames by assigning new meanings to observations and experiences. Thus, a "problem" can become an "opportunity." You can bring productive meta-states to bear on primary states. Thus, you could feel calm about your anger, or accepting of frustration. Sometimes just detecting a frame can shift it, making it seem trivial, silly, or contrived. You can diffuse toxic games with meta-model questions or sleight of mouth patterns. In this way, you become a "word magician." 

Hall goes further than eliminating the bad games. He teaches us how to install new frames and make them solid and lasting. The methods include modeling, enhancing submodalities, saying "yes" to a new frame, asking "what if" possibility questions, mental rehearsal, and by anchoring strong emotions into a new context. As word magicians, we can covertly shift or install new frames in others by presuppositional questions, storytelling, and metaphor. Hall gives several methods for dismantling toxic frames. One method is to exaggerate a frame until it seems absurd. 

Games People Should Play

The second half of Frame Games consists of guidelines for installing frames that create personal excellence and mastery. Hall characterizes this part of the book as a "thesaurus" of frame games. It includes games for personal power, excellence and personal genius, great relationships, health and vitality, and persuasion elegance. For example, in the Great Relationships game, your and your significant other can learn to play games such as playfulness, appreciation, responsibility to/for, commitment and loyalty, and win/win. Sounds like fun to me!

You cannot not play games. Your mind cannot not operate on frames. Given these two precepts, Hall encourages us and gives us the means to evaluate and question our games and frames, to eliminate those that are toxic, and install those that are empowering and worthwhile. 

The Author

In creating this book, L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. has drawn on his background in Transactional Analysis, Cognitive Psychology, NLP, and Neuro-Semantics. He is one of the leading trainers and authors on the NLP scene today, having authored over two dozen books on NLP. He studied NLP with Richard Bandler in the late 80s and became a Master Practitioner and Trainer. He holds a doctorate in Cognitive-Behavioral Psychology with an emphasis on psycho-linguistics. In 1994 he developed the Meta-States Model while modeling resilience and presenting the findings at the International NLP Conference in Denver. He has published hundreds of articles in Anchor Point, NLP World, Rapport, Connection, and Meta-States Journal. With Dr. Bob Bodenhamer, L. Michael Hall has co-developed the field of Neuro-Semantics. Together they founded the Society of Neuro-Semantics. Hall spends his time writing and conducting international training seminars that help people maximize their potentials, using the principles found in Frame Games. 


L. Michael Hall continues to eloquently drive home the message that the key to happiness and success lies in how we use our minds. This is not a new idea. Philosophers have been saying it for centuries. Self-help experts have been saying it for decades. What distinguishes Hall's work is that his is a practical, toolkit approach to the how of managing cognition. It makes sense, even to people who aren't well-schooled in psychology. 

Frame Games is a book devoid of fluff or sentimentality. It is a simple, straightforward (albeit at times, redundant), how-to primer for getting the most out of your thoughts and feelings, in ways that work best for you. Intellectually, I suppose, most people agree that we "choose" our thoughts, and thereby, our states. However, in actual practice, we usually don't apply that theory to ourselves. How many times have you played the "I can't help it" game, or the "my past made me this way" game, or the "it's someone else's fault" game? Frame Games is must reading for anyone who wants more control over and responsibility for their states. For many of us, this is a formidable undertaking! Would you be willing to play the "living happily and joyfully" game? Would you be willing to play the "I am gloriously fallible and I love myself anyway" game? The way to get the most from Frame Games is to copy the worksheets and collect them into a "frame game journal," documenting each game you detect, each toxic game you dismantle, and each new game you install. 

Throughout Frame Games, Hall compares his ideas to the theme in the action thriller, "The Matrix." In that movie, the hero, Neo Anderson, finds out that all of human experience is really just a mass computer- programmed dream, engineered by an evil alien race. Neo emerges from the dream when he takes "the red pill," and eventually learns that he can go beyond the limitations (rules) of the dream, taking on super-human powers. 

If you take Frame Games seriously (or better still, attend one of Hall's Frame Game workshops), you will recognize the dispiriting games you and others play. Like Neo Anderson, you may be led to question the assumptions that guide your life. You may find that your concepts of what is "real" and "true" are forever changed. 

Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. is a Master Practitioner and Certified Trainer of NLP. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in Springfield, Virginia.

To contact Judith:

E-mail: judy @
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2001 Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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