P is for Positive Scripting

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Some people develop positive scripts. They say things like:

“I can make things happen,” rather than, “Things happen to me.”

“I can tackle this challenge,” rather than, “This is too big a problem.”

“I can become the best I can be,” rather than, “I must always compare myself to others.”

The idea of scripting became popular in the 1960s. Eric Berne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, explained that individuals learn life scripts that act like an internal programme.

Parents and teachers play a strong part in the scripts that people internalise. Imagine if you grew up in a family where the messages were either:

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People can also choose to create their own script. They sometimes do this after encountering a difficult situation.

One tennis player often got to the final of events, for example, but then fell apart. He had two contradictory messages going through his head. These were:

“I must try to win, but I am bound to fail.”

Working with a sports psychologist, the player rewrote his script. During the matches he kept saying to himself:

“I will aim to flow, rather than freeze.”

This message spread through his whole body. He became more relaxed and began winning tournaments.

People who write their own script also affect their mental model – the way they perceive life. This shapes the running commentary they have inside their head.

Let’s explore some background to scripting.

Positive Messages
You Have Been Given

Looking back at your own life, what are the positive messages you have been given? People may not have said the actual words, but they communicated key messages by their actions. One person said:

“My parents always encouraged me. Even when I was in a wheelchair for a year, they concentrated on what I could do, rather than what I couldn’t do.

“When I began walking again, it was hard for me to do sports. So my parents spent time and money on us learning to sail together.

“This helped me to grow in confidence. Now I use my skills to create opportunities for others.”

Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindsets and Fixed Mindsets highlights how the messages we get can influence our attitudes to life.

Here is an overview of the two concepts. You can discover more via the following link.


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What have been the messages that people have given you? Sometimes these messages may have been given verbally, such as: “You can do it.”

Sometimes the messages may have been implicit. People may have made you feel welcome and shown that: “We will always be here for you.”

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the individuals who have given you positive messages – write their names.

Describe the positive messages that they each gave you – explicitly or implicitly.

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Positive Messages You
Want To Give Yourself

People sometimes choose to write their own scripting. They may then keep repeating this as a form of affirmation or guidance. Faced by a difficult situation, for example, a person can choose to say:

“I will do my best,” rather than, “I will give in.”

Different people develop positive scripts in different ways. Looking at my own life, for example, around the age of twenty I began carrying a journal to record the positive things I saw people doing. The message I gave myself was:

“Look at how people succeed.”

This helped to identify the specific things they did to be successful. Such an approach helped later when I began working with individuals, teams and organisations.

During the 1970s I also attended several workshops where people learned how to rewrite their own scripting.

People were encouraged to look at the main positive messages and negative messages they were given by key people in their lives.

One person wrote that the key messages given by their parents were:

“Keep working hard, but you will never be as good as your sister.”

As a result, the person had developed the habit of thinking:

“Whatever I do, it will never be good enough.”

On the workshop they learned that parents want to do the best for their children. Unfortunately, parents sometimes have good intentions but poor communication. This can confuse children.

Bearing this in mind, the person decided to rewrite the messages they had internalised. They chose to write:

“Keep working hard and become the best you can be.”

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following.

Describe the positive messages that you want to give yourself.

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Positive Messages You Would
Like To Give Other People

Imagine you are a parent, educator or leader. What are the key messages you would like to give people about life, themselves and the situations they will face?

It is also okay to give challenging messages, of course, providing these encourage people to do their best.

My own approach to giving positive messages had evolved over the years. During my early days running therapeutic communities the main messages I gave people were:

“You can take charge of your life. You can choose the route you want to take. Each choice does, of course, have consequence.”

Moving on to running workshops for individuals, teams and organisations, the main messages were:

“You can build on your strengths. You can build super teams. You can achieve your picture of success. Here are some tools you can use to make this happen.”

Later the approach became more organic. The main messages were:

“You already have the seeds of success within you. You have succeeded in the past and have also overcome challenges.

“You can follow similar principles again – plus maybe add other skills – to succeed in the future.”

Different people choose different ways to give encouraging messages to other people.

If you are going to highlight when a person has performed well, however, it can be useful to bring this to life by giving concrete examples that illustrate what they did well.

When I worked as a soccer coach, for instance, at half time it was important to tell an attacker:

“You were excellent when you raced down the wing, beat the defender and hit a low pass for the incoming forwards. I would like you to do that three more times in the second half.”

People can ultimately choose their own scripts. But sometimes these scripts are influenced by the messages they get from the key people around them.

If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the individuals you would like to give positive messages to – write their names.

Describe the positive messages that you would like to give each of these people.

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