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Leadership Lessons #7: Psychological Scripts

Arvid Buit | 1 June 2020

If you want to change behaviour, it is important to understand how behaviour works. Today we talk about psychological scripts and the value of coaching.
Our behaviour is basically formed by the collective of programs we start every day.

Some people like to read spiritual magazines and books that help them to find ‘themselves’. Since the beginning of time, people are trying to find a deeper and true core of their personality. The real self. The true identity. A spirit, a soul.   Unfortunately for those of you that join this search, there is nothing like this at all. At least, from the point of view of the human psychology. We are, so to speak, a collection of psychological scripts.   The word Personality stems from the Latin word ‘persona’. It literally means ‘mask’. You have a collection of masks and decide which one to use depending on the triggers you receive.   Please try to visualise your mind as the desktop of your computer. On this desktop, you see little icons that represent pieces of software. Each of these icons are little scripts of code that will have consequences within the system. However, you have to decide which icon you click on in a specific situation.   Well it is a lot easier than you might think, because most of it is done by unconscious triggers. You are programmed in a way that automates reflexes. Like driving a car becomes an automaticity. Our behaviour is basically formed by the collective of programs we start every day. And we are what we do. So if you don’t like what you do, do something different.   But that is not as simple as it sounds. Because like I said, we trigger all kinds of scripts unconsciously. If your spouse asks you to put out the garbage, you might respond with irritation. Your mind programmed this because it served you before. Possibly because you need to protect yourself from being bullied or oppressed. In relation to the love of your life, this is quite dysfunctional. And that is why you might change this after having a fight.   What do we learn of order in this process? First of all there is the trigger. A trigger is planted mostly because you have experienced pain in the past and do not want to experience that again. In less cases the trigger is planted because of positieve gains you have received, and would like to receive again.   This trigger will start the little icon on your dashboard, we call the script. A script is basically the pre-programmed way you will behave when triggered. And then there is the result of your behaviour. Based upon the results you might be willing to change the scripts, or even do research on the effectiveness of your triggers. And that is where coaching comes in. Because changing behaviour is one of the hardest things in the world. Even worse: after your 18th birthday, you are not very likely to change your behaviour. Unless you experience a personal trauma or extreme brain damage.   And what is the magic of coaching you might ask yourself? Well there is no magic. Sorry for that. Coaching is about supporting others to measurably change behaviour. It is not a spiritual process, it is not about soul searching or finding your inner truth. But you actually need a few things in order for it to work. Let me explain.   I will try to talk you through the process with the example of losing weight. First of all you need to be loathed by your own image in the mirror. Or you need a heart attack. This gives you the fuel of any change-process: namely pain and urgency. When you lack these two things, the chance of you changing anything durably, is very close to zero percent. But if you do: congratulations, you might be able of evolving as a human being 🙂   Now you need to decide on your goals. When do you expect the pain and urgency to be gone? After losing 10 pounds? Or 30? So the ingredients we are working with right now, are pain and urgency as fuel, and the goal as our destination.   What else do we need? Like all human beings, chances of success are a lot higher when we tell others about our goals. Social securing of goals will make you feel extra pressure. In our analogy, you can see it as the turbo’s on the engine. But what is the actual engine?   That is very simple: you need a structural process with steps you can follow. This is the engine you need to bring you further. The crucial element that you can not do without. A process can be extremely simple by the way. Do not eat more than 2000 calories a day, and start walking 3 miles every day. Every month add an extra mile. And after 6 months you have lost 20 pounds.   Obviously this is a process that only works for changing your body weight. But why do you need anyone to help you then? Is a coach obsolete when your process is right and the pain fuels this motor with social security turbo’s to speed it up?   Well: if you have an iron will, and lots of discipline there is no doubt you can do this on your own. But remind the triggers we have talked about in the beginning? Well, these are stubborn little rascals.   You might have a trigger when feeling sad. The program you activate is eating. Because it makes you feel comfortable and relaxed. Even if you have the process we have talked about, every time you feel sad, this old program is triggered. So in order to let the process do its work, you need to clean the road ahead from obstacles.   However, life is full of obstacles and you can not avoid all of them. What a coach can do, is to help you find and define the triggers. He or she is able to evaluate and measure results continuously, and by doing that together you get a grip on change.   Also, you need to code new pieces of software. Different ways to cope with triggers. That coding process is complex and requires a lot of trial and error. And by talking about your inner emotions, triggers and software, it is good to have a friend. A critical friend that shares your goal and is fully committed in helping you reaching that goal.  

Leadership Lessons

For now let’s see what the main lessons are about Psychological scripts:
  • In your life you have build triggers that warn you mainly about avoiding pain
  • Every trigger will trigger a piece of brain-software, we call a psychological script
  • Changing these triggers and script will require a measurable process with pain and urgency as a fuel
  • You can share your goals in order to create social support and turbo- your engine of change
  A professional coach is able to support you in finding triggers, write new scripts and be there as a critical friend that shares your goals.   If you would like to know more about psychological scripts, feel free to send me an e-mail or add me as a connection on LinkedIn and ask your questions.   The next subject we will discuss in this series is: FeedForward.