Are unconscious, repetitive, internal scripts ruining your chances of achieving your dreams?

GothIs your past holding you back?  Do you keep running into the same brick walls and dead ends as you did 10 years ago?  Is your life moving into a very decisive standstill?  Only you can break these habitual cycles of repetitive negative thoughts.  It’s not the end of the world to have negative thoughts, but then again it doesn’t bring you any closer to fulfilling your dreams. 

If, by going home to visit your parents in your childhood home, you suddenly regress into a bawling kid whose toys have been chucked out of his pram and you can’t seem to break out of it, then you need to read on. 

It is strange, but true, the familiar can be comforting and provide us with a sense of security but it can also hold us to ransom when it comes to moving forwards and upwards.  A sign of madness, it has been said, is to attempt the exact same thing a hundred times and to expect a hundred different outcomes. 

New approaches to the same old problems are your way out: your way to liberation!  Pay attention to what negatively impacts you and work on changing it.  Do something different about it!


Rewrite your Groundhog Life

Red magazine | Life Coach
December 2009
Anna Magee

Many of us fall into the trap of what therapists call Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs): the (internal) scripts we repeatedly run through our heads in certain situations, which inevitably lead us to the same upsets, rows and frustrations.  According to psychologists, while negative scripts underpin most of the reasons people seek therapy, we can learn to edit, challenge or change them.  The result is more happiness, success and better relationships – like winning the emotional lottery.

‘It’s nice to think that we learn fro past experience,’ says psychotherapist Christine Webber.  ‘But, psychologically, most of us see things in an ingrained way, and that influences the things we tell ourselves – our internal scripts – which inevitably influence our thoughts and behaviour.’  Webber says it’s usually between the ages of 35 and 40 that her female clients notice they repeat certain scripts that have led them to the same feelings, behaviours and outcomes.  ‘By their late thirties, some women have realised they are always going for the unavailable man, trying to please others, shying away from promotion or feeling worthless in certain family situations,’ says Webber.  ‘They come to me wanting to change.  We identify the repetitive internal script that is holding them back and set out to rewrite it.’

What’s the evidence that your script will not change?

The object of asking for evidence says Webber, is to help you identify your internal script and pose questions you can later ask yourself in relevant situations.  This technique can be liberating.  E.g. concerned about leaving the security of her teaching post to write a novel, Sally and her life coach came up with eight different ways to make money while Sally wrote the book.  Sally set up an eBay business selling retro memorabilia (her hobby) within a week of leaving her teaching job.

‘Our script is written as a result of the core beliefs we have about ourselves,’ says Helen Whiten, a psychotherapist and author of Cognitive Behavioural Coaching Techniques For Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, £15.99).  ‘The brain is designed to build habits, so emotional habits and repetitive thought patterns become automatic, meaning your script becomes virtually unconscious.’

So, how can we change our scripts?

First, recognise the situations or people that repeatedly have a negative impact on you.  ‘Then, plan something different,’ advises Whitten.  ‘You can’t just tell yourself you will change – you need to accept the script is there and actively rewrite it.  Changing habitual thinking is like relearning to drive a car.  If it doesn’t feel awkward at first, it’s probably not working.’

Identifying your script patterns with other people can help in situations where the same person keeps winding you up in the same way.  E.g. Heather’s rows with her mother resulted from Heather always springing news on her mum at the last minute.  This usually happened at Christmas when Heather only tells her mother at the last minute she is unable to spend Christmas with her.  So, to change the script Heather sat down with her mother and explained that she’d be unable to spend Christmas Day with her, because she would be spending the day with her new partner’s family and his two daughters; but she’d be with her on Boxing Day.  Heather’s mother was fine with this and it was the first time in years they didn’t have a row about Christmas.

By changing your internal script from “Women like you don’t do that kind of thing” to “What’s the evidence we don’t” you can fulfil your dreams sooner than you might think.

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How to change your script

by Leonora Brosan, consultant clinical psychologist and author of Overcoming Stress: A Self-Help Guide to Cognitive Behavioural Techniques (Robinson, £10.99)

  1. Recognise it : keep a diary

    Keep a journal and note situations that make you feel bad.  For each one, take these three steps.
    1. Describe the situation
    2. Make a note of how you feel.  For example, are you crippled by nerves or sad about the future?
    3. Ask yourself, ‘What was going through my mind at the point where I was feeling so miserable?’
  2. Challenge it : be your own therapist
    One of the first ways a psychologist will try to help you change your script, once it’s identified, will be by challenging it.
    You can do this for yourself whenever a familiar old script comes up.  For example, if it’s ‘No-one will ever love me’, ask yourself, ‘What’s the evidence for that?’ or quite simply, ‘Why not?’
  3. Edit it
    Changing your internal script takes time, as you replace habitual thought patterns with positive new ones.  In the meantime, use the following tricks to help shift your script:
    1. Long, calm, deep breathing will help – especially if your script involves the way you communicate.  Breathe quietly and calmly, in for four and out for four.
    2. Imagine you had a twin who didn’t have this repetitive way of thinking.  How would she feel in this situation?  How would she react?  Would she react?
    3. Think about the way you behave that keeps getting you the same results.  Then create a plan B.  Write down an alternative way of feeling or behaving next time that situation arises.  For example, if your script is, ‘My sister and I always row’, try saying to yourself, ‘When she does this thing that always winds me up, I will try not to respond in the usual way’.  It can be tough, but it works.
  4. Change it : rewrite the script
    After a few weeks, look back at your emotional diary and identify the situations that lead to repetitive script patterns.  Then rewrite your belief into something succinct, realistic and positive.  Keep that thought on hand and replace the negative script with it when next you’re in that situation.

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