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Colleenby Colleen Wainwright | The Communicatrix

The ends starts with the beginning

If you want to succeed, breakfast isn’t the only thing you should consider starting your day with.

I like to think of my life as a series of experiments and myself as the chief lab rat. I find something that’s not working, dream up some possibilities for improving it, and test out my theories on myself.

Sometimes the experiments are successful (“yes” on pre-heating the omelet pan); sometimes they’re not (“no” on any cut that leaves my hair too short for a ponytail). But one of the smallest changes I’ve made that’s given me the biggest bang for my buck where creating good habits is concerned is putting first things first.

What’s #1 in your life?

If you’re an actor, the answer to what you want most–after “good health” and “the love of my friends/family/partner”–is “to succeed as an actor.” (And if it isn’t, you should seriously consider whether you’re cut out for it.)

If you’re a smart actor (which we know you are, since you read this column!), you also spend some significant portion of your time honing your craft: taking classes, adding to your skill set, reading plays and scripts, actually acting in productions, maybe even making your own magic. (And again, if you’re not doing this in an age where you can so readily own the means of production AND distribute the product, you should seriously consider whether this is the profession for you.)

So what extra thing can you do, without adding to what is, I’m sure, an already hectic life, to go one step further?

Rearrange your priorities. Literally.

How I increased my reading by 3,000%

As a writer (and sometime talker), I knew I needed to be reading more books. While I was already reading a great deal, most of it was magazine articles and stuff on the Internet; good stuff, but my brain needed longer and more focused engagement to keep it sharp.

Until late last year, I did all my book reading at night. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Reading anytime is fantastic. But too often, I’d find myself drifting off after just a few pages–not the extended kind of reading I wanted for my brain, and not enough reading, period, to add to my body of knowledge at an acceptable rate.

After reading an article (yes, on the Internet!) about one author’s struggle to read more books and how he finally accomplished it, I decided to implement his two-step strategy: commit to reading a certain number of pages per day (40, in my case), and commit to doing it first thing in the morning.

Within a week, I had read two books. (Okay–it was the holiday season, and I went a little nutty.) That was exciting enough in and of itself. But what was more thrilling to me was the feeling of control I got from it: I was finally master of my own destiny! I could shape my future, day by day.

Or more specifically, morning by morning.

Defining who you are, right up front.

Your entire reel has to be good, but if the opening doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter how good the rest is. Ditto your choices in a scene: make a strong one out of the gate, and while it’s not a great idea to coast through the rest, you have a much easier go of it than slogging uphill.

The same is true, as it turns out, for your day. Start out your day owning it, and you’re more likely to continue that momentum. Start out surfing the Internet or hitting the snooze button (*cough* *cough* and again, *cough*) and the day is likely to devolve from there.

No one is asking you to roll out of bed and perform Hamlet. Well, maybe someone is, but it’s not me. But what might happen if the first thing you did upon waking was to read a few pages from it? Or to write out a list of the things you intended to accomplish that day? What if, after your coffee but before you got on Facebook, you did 15 minutes of vocal warmups? Or of memorizing a new monologue? Or of reading a book about screenwriting?

Hang onto your power.

Over and over, I see actors yearning to be recognized: If only so-and-so would see me for this part!

If only I could find an agent who really believed in me. If only…if only…

What if you started out every day declaring your power–really owning it? What kind of momentum would that give you throughout the day, whether it was a day full of acting work or a day full of day job?

What could you start creating for yourself if you put not only your mind to it, but your body?

What kind of momentum would you have then?

What comes first often winds up being the thing that makes the most lasting impression. Think about the kind of life and career you want to end up with. Then find the first, smallest way to start with that.

Book of the Month: Paying yourself first, 8 hours at a time.

Author Robert Pagliarini is an investment adviser, but he understands the life of the self-directed artist better than many artists themselves do. His latest book, The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose, outlines a sturdy framework for pursuing your dreams while you (responsibly and sanely) live your life. It’s filled with actionable ideas for avoiding time sucks, becoming more focused and productive, uncovering your passion, and everything else you need to shift your mindset–and your life–from consumer to, as he calls it, “cre8tor.” And while he didn’t write it expressly for actors, Pagliarini’s style is light and humorous, turning what could be tedious, business-y material into a fun and breezy read. (Buy The Other 8 Hours on Amazon.)

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BOOK(s) OF THE MONTH: With multiple demands on your attention (not to mention the stress of family gatherings, crowded stores, and Mass Holiday Fever), this time of the year can be tricky for reading. My suggestion is not to stop, but to adapt: enjoy a collection of engrossing (no pun intended!) interviews with actors and other artists; pick up a  book of short stories; or re-read an old inspiring or engrossing favorite you haven’t picked up in a while. Just don’t give up—reading makes you smarter and keeps you saner!

Want more ideas? Sign up for my (free) newsletter! Almost every month I send out useful (and specific, and nice) information about how to promote yourself without being a tool, and connect with people in a way that makes them love you. It’s not about acting explicitly, but since you’re a smart actor, that shouldn’t scare you.

Colleen Wainwright is a writerspeaker-layabout who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.