What Are Mental Scripts?

What are mental scripts?  I’ve received questions asking for more clarification about what a mental script is.  I recently complimented a friend of mine on his positive outlook for the year.  He mentioned that success is all about positive thought and that thought influences your attitude, attitude influences your actions, and your actions influence your character.  This is all true and easy to agree with.  He wanted to start at the core of success by shaping his thoughts to be positive and optimistic.  While he didn’t realize it at the time, my friend was using mental scripts to lead to a new reality for himself.

Humans process reality through language.  We take information from the world which we acquire through our senses, and through learning, and we encode this information in the form of language.  All of our conscious thoughts occur through language, and once those thoughts and beliefs are encoded, they are played over and over to ourselves in a constant unconscious loop until new information is incorporated to change them.  When people ask, “What is a mental script?”, this is what they are referring to.  It is the linguistic representations of reality that we have encoded in our minds.

Another way to describe mental scripts is to consider them our internal dialog, both conscious and unconscious.  Everything we do has language associated with it.  Even as I pick up this coffee cup, I think, “I want some coffee, I am going to reach out and bring this cup up to my mouth” before I actually drink.  I may not exactly say this, but the thoughts are running through my head.  Beyond our everyday actions however, we have ingrained representations of ourselves and the way the world is.  Some of these are positive, such as “life is great” and some are negative such as “nobody likes me”.  All of our thoughts, beliefs and opinions are reflected in our mental scripts, and thus our realities are shaped by these scripts.

Knowing that these scripts vastly influence reality and your life, it is worthwhile to understand how to control these scripts.  They are built up over time and reinforced through repetition, and are shaped by many different sources.  They usually take time to change.  For example, as a young person you might have the mental script of “I am a boy”.  This is repeated and reinforced for most of your life and is a strong script that runs unconsciously through your mind.  As you get older, that script begins to change with some realizations that you are changing, and you receive inputs of “I am a man”.  The man script competes with the boy script, but the boy script remains dominant.  Eventually, enough inputs of “I am a man” are experienced so that it becomes the dominant script, though “I am a boy” still lingers as a small percentage of your beliefs (which is partially why even as adults we sometimes feel like children).  As enough time passes, the boy script fades and you are left with the belief/reality that you are a man, and act accordingly.  While this change is usually gradual, there are some things that may accelerate the change, such as a right of passage ceremony, or the death of a parent.

These scripts exist for everything from what you think is healthy, what your values are, who you like/dislike, your politics, your religion, and everything else.  I will continue to write more about mental scripts, but for now I leave you with this exercise:

Write down all of your beliefs that comes to mind about yourself, and be completely honest.  Seriously, take 5 minutes to do this and you will be amazed.  Write down what you think you are good at, what you are bad at, what your self image is, what you like, dont like, etc.  Some of this will be true, and some will not, but you have begun a vital exercise of identifying your own mental scripts.  The next step is change them or erase them and construct new ones based on your own will and intentions.