You may not realise it, but you are a script writer.
Every day, you are writing the script of your life. And just like in the movies, what you write into the script today will influence the eventual outcome of the story.
As Susan David writes in ‘Emotional Agility’, ‘We may not drive convertibles past palm trees or take meetings with movie stars, but each of us, in our own way, is a Hollywood screenwriter. That’s because, every minute of every day, we’re writing the scripts that get screened at the cinema inside our heads.’
Language is powerful
The old saying tells us that talking to yourself is the ‘first sign of madness’ but self-talk is important. It’s a major part of our experience of consciousness, can act as a form of self-regulation, and helps us to learn. You may even talk out loud to yourself when you’re trying to do something complex for the first time. Children are great at doing this. But typically as we get older, we graduate from doing all of our self-directed speech or ‘private talk’ out loud to doing all or most of it inside our heads.
Our experiences swirl around us in a cohesive narrative: I’m Sarah, I’m waking up. I’m in a bed. This helps us organise our experiences and stay sane. But our scripts can be divorced from reality.
As David explains, ‘while most of us may never hear voices or have delusions of grandeur, in scripting our own stories we all take liberties with the truth. Sometimes we don’t even realise we’re doing it’.
Think of the ‘typical’ person from our last post. It’s easy to get trapped in the story that you have to do what is ‘normal’. It’s easy to tell yourself that you ‘need’ this or that to feel better or look better or do better. Likewise, we might compare ourselves to some ‘ideal’, no matter how far from ideal it might be, and trap ourselves in negative comparisons.
We can all get trapped in self-defeating cycles, including when it comes to money: ‘Money’s tight. I’ll never earn much more than this. Why bother saving when I’ll never get anywhere. I might as well buy that expensive shampoo/bottle of Coke/takeaway coffee/holiday ticket/other unnecessary pleasure since I’ll never come close to saving enough for a home deposit/paying off my debt anyway.’
Or maybe in relation to health: ‘I need to exercise more and eat better. But I’m never going to have a good physique. I’ll never be a model or a runner, who am I kidding? I may as well stay here on the couch. This icecream will make me feel better’.
Or creative endeavours: ‘I really want to learn how to write/paint/sing/play a musical instrument. But I should have started years ago. At my age, I’ll never amount to anything. And what will everyone think? It’s safer to just watch TV.’
Do any of these running scripts sound familiar? They sure do to me.
Living someone else’s script
Then there is the other kind of script, the script we think we should follow, based on what others say, or what we think is ‘typical’. It usually goes a little something like this:
For some people, having a life that doesn’t fit this formulaic plot for whatever reason – choice or circumstance – can lead to a sense of great discomfort.
Being ‘normal’ is surprisingly abnormal
But living an enriched life means doing what YOU want, even if it isn’t what everyone else does, or what everyone else thinks you should do.
And often times, you’ll find that what you think is ‘typical’ isn’t really that normal after all.
It’s thankfully true that almost everyone on the planet receives some level of education today. But between that, and our inevitable death, there are many different paths in life, and discovering the one that fits you best is guaranteed to be more rewarding than trying to fit into a box labelled ‘normal’ that really, doesn’t even exist.
What normal really looks like…
Take marriage, for example. Last year, there were 118,401 marriages in Australia – but there were also 46,604 divorces, and almost a fifth of the marriages that took place were second marriages. Of the marriages that take place, almost half do not work out, and at any rate, not everyone gets married. More than a third of people in the UK for instance have never been married.
Or building a home. By the end of this year, it is predicted that fewer than half of Australian adults will own their own home. And fewer than 40% of 25-34 year olds own their own home in what is one of the worst countries for home ownership in the world. And this is for ALL home ownership, not just the three bedders with a white picket fence. The statistic includes even little apartments (like mine) some people don’t think count as a ‘house’.
Or take children. Almost half of females 15-44 in the US have never had children, and as the media is slowly coming to recognise, while there are some who struggle with infertility while desiring a child, there are also many women (and men) who lead happily child-free lives (or as I prefer to call them, lives. I don’t have a Lamborghini, but I wouldn’t call mine a Lamborghini-free life…!)
This is not to say that a partner, a home, or a child cannot be significant sources of happiness. In fact, a loving spouse or children, or a beautiful home, are often some of the greatest joys in the lives of many people. But none is a precondition for happiness. Having a spouse or a house or a child will not magically make an unhappy person happy.
There’s no single recipe for happiness
Ken Mogi, the author of ‘Ikigai’, describes the problem of the ‘focusing illusion’:
‘People tend to regard certain things in life as necessary for happiness, while in fact they aren’t. The term ‘focusing illusion’ comes from the idea that you can be so focused on a particular aspect of life, so much so that you can believe that your whole happiness depends on. it Some have the focusing illusion on, say, marriage, as a prerequisite condition for happiness. In that case they will feel unhappy so long as they remain single. Some will complain that they cannot be happy because they don’t have enough money, while others will be convinced they are unhappy because they don’t have a proper job.’
Essentially, the focusing illusion refers to a script you tell yourself in which ‘you create your own reason for feeling unhappy’.
However, as Mogi concludes, ‘there is no absolute formula for happiness’.
Silence your inner critic and write the story you want to live
If you need to silence your inner critic, try these nine tips from the HuffPost.
Simply removing negative adjectives in favour of more objective descriptions (e.g. changing ‘My middle is fat and disgusting’ to ‘My middle is large’, or ‘I have a terrible mountain of debt’ vs. ‘I have $5000 of debt’) can make a difference. Once you identify what you want to change rather than how negatively you feel about it, you can work on it.
Or, if you find yourself comparing your life to some ‘ideal’ or ‘norm’ and coming up short, don’t forget to question it:
- Do I really want this? Or have I just been told by society and the media that I do? (Check out this post on keeping up with the Joneses vs. the Kardashians)
- Is this really what ‘everybody’ does? And even if it is, why should I care? (Check out this post on being financially ‘typical’)
- Am I writing the kind of script today that will get me what I really want in the future? (Check out this post on finding your dream home, not someone else’s)
Write your own script, and make sure it’s working towards the kind of ending you want!
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Today’s featured image is of a blank page – it’s a bit crumpled, but it’s ready for a new story!