Why we need to change our toxic scripts

By Heather Campbell

This week I enjoyed a glass of wine and the movie ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’. I loved the movie because it showcases the beauty of my homeland 😊. I also loved it because it has an unusual storyline – I’m not giving away any secrets if I tell you that it’s about Colm who suddenly ends a life-long friendship with Pádraic, much to Pádraic’s bemusement. And I loved it because it isn’t one of those movies where you know the ending even as the opening credits role.

Too often, I find that most films are all too predictable. It’s essentially the same script, simply with different actors in the lead roles.

But repeated plots and familiar scripts aren’t found only in the movies. They’re found in everyday life too. How often do you start a conversation where you already know exactly what the script will be?

I have one client where, each time we start a conversation, I begin with:

‘Hi, how are you?’ He replies ‘Living the dream, Heather, living the dream.’ And I respond with ‘Of course, aren’t we all?’ Then we both laugh as if it’s the first time we’ve ever said it. Every time! You’ll have these kind of scripts too. Most of them are harmless and simply oil the wheels of daily interactions.

But scripts aren’t always so short or so harmless. They can be long, draining exchanges. They can take up whole meetings. I’ve one friend who says that she goes to meetings where she knows exactly who will say what about the subject and who will say what in response. The same drama, played out time after time, with everyone knowing their roles. And nothing ever changes.

Some of the scripts we play out can damage us because they shape our lives. They drive how we think, feel and behave.

One of these damaging scripts looms large in pretty much every organisation. In fact, it’s a script that’s played out in society at large – in the UK, at least.

It’s the ‘I’ve just got so much to do’ script. There are different versions of it – we might have the ‘overwhelmed’ script or the ‘rushed of my feet’ script or the ‘can’t get on top of things’ script. There’s also the competitively toxic script that champions how late we finished work last night or how early we started this morning. I used to work in an organisation where we all played out the ‘How early I was up to catch my flight’ script. It was exhausting.

I believe this script is driving up stress, increasing mental ill-health and leading us to burnout. I think it’s a script that we need to change – and quickly!

I’ve even been experimenting recently with changing the script – when people say something like: ‘Busy as ever?’ I reply with ‘Just nicely busy, thank you.’

It’s interesting to see what happens – you see, I’m breaking the script. People don’t know what line should come next. Our whole drama is about overwork, stress, pressure, overwhelm and we all know the scripts that keep us caught up in this drama.

I even found myself caught up in this script with a LinkedIn post recently – I wrote about ‘my jam-packed week of meetings’. Why? Because that’s the script that’s expected. In fact, my diary isn’t jam-packed – it’s well-managed by my fantastic colleague Emma, and it’s well-managed because we’ve worked hard to make it that way. And yet, I played out the script because – let’s face it – a post that starts with ‘Following a nicely managed week of meetings….’ just doesn’t sound like the start of a great story, does it? Plus, it’s not a narrative that we know so it doesn’t feel comfortable. This is the part of the problem. The stories we tell ourselves, the scripts we repeat time after time, become familiar and therefore comfortable, even if they are destructive.

But my diary isn’t the point of this email. The point of this email is to encourage you to notice the scripts that you keep repeating and ask yourself how they are shaping how you think, how you feel and how you behave. Notice the scripts that are repeated in your team every day. Are they keeping people in a place of lack, of worry, or pressure? Or are your scripts ones that create a place of confidence, of positivity, of empowerment?

How might you change the script? What’s the best script you can create this week?

Keep me posted! I’d love to hear.

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