The stories we tell in times of crisis; the power of a microscript
Last week I was having a coffee with a friend and they asked me “What do you think the new normal will be once this pandemic is over?” He then went on to talk about everybody working from home in the future, the death of live music and no one ever going on a cruise again.
In script writing “The new normal” is considered a microscript, a short easily repeatable sentence that points to a greater meaning or tells you what a story is about. For example;
“His whole life was million to one shot” – Rocky
“With great power comes great responsibility” – Spiderman
During times of crisis, these microscripts can have a critical impact in how we perceive our situation. In the media, there are five that typically play out:
- Be afraid, be very afraid
The first step is to raise the alarm and identify an imminent and dangerous threat. While the current pandemic is a very real threat, this microscript takes many forms like “a story no parent can afford to miss”.
- Can you believe ‘them’
Once the threat has been established the story then shifts to how people are reacting to the threat, usually in negative ways. In our current crisis it’s stockpiling and fighting over toilet paper.
- We are in this together
Next there is a call to arms to unite the people. In Australia, our Prime Minister talked about “Team Australia” and the “battle” we are in. He then identified our heroes of this battle, our doctors and nurses who are on the “frontline”.
- The new normal
As we work through the crisis, focus is placed on what we are doing differently and how this will be a “new normal”. We hear about the long lasting impacts of what we are experiencing and how it will “forever change us”.
- We did it, but…
Finally, once it is clear that we will get through the crisis, we celebrate together but, we must remain wary because a new threat may just be around the corner. In the current crisis this is the “second wave” and “the next pandemic”.
I am in no way trying to make light of the current crisis, but rather, pointing out the microscripts used to keep us engaged. Stories create meaning and shape the way we see the world. While it is important to remain informed, it is also critical to be wary of the stories you tell yourself especially as a leader.
During times of crisis, there are two empowering stories I encourage leaders to tell themselves and their people:
- We are going to be ok
Even though it can be difficult, keep reassuring yourself and others that we will get through this together. This microscript enables you to create a feeling of certainty when you are feeling uncertain and can help you to tune out the negative stories being shared.
- What can I do now?
Once you feel more certain, focus on what you can do for yourself and others. This could be focusing on your health, time with your family, supporting your colleagues or even checking in on a neighbor. This will ensure you can remain purposeful during a challenging time and potentially enable you to come out of the crisis quicker.
By being conscious of the stories you tell yourself during a crisis, you can not only effectively navigate your way through it, but you can help others, build your resilience and maybe even create your own “new normal”.