The new year is a great opportunity to wipe the slate clean and begin again. Forge ahead in 2015, fearlessly trying new things. Let go of old patterns that no longer serve you and view your life as an adventure to be savored every step of the way. Begin with cutting-edge research to help transform your dream of becoming a successful actor into a reality. To help set you in the right direction, I’ve compiled three important tips that are proven to help you become more efficient in attaining your goals.
Tip #1: Overworking makes you less productive. In fact, research shows that relaxing, socializing and kindness is key to productivity. Most people think the key to success is to work more, but that leads to feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and lonely. According to former Harvard Psychology professor, Dan Wegner, “Too much concentration on set goals can lead to the exact opposite of the desired goal. In other words, you cannot have a positive mental state when working under conditions of stress.”
Actors can fall into this trap during the audition process. Intending to do a great job can lead to hours of over-preparation, which includes stressing over line memorization. The day of the audition, actors can work themselves up into such a state of anxiety that upon entering the room, they experience “blank mind syndrome.” All your preparation from the day before slips away and you can’t remember a single line. Leaving your audition, you run through the list of possible causes for your meltdown—distracting noises, scary casting director, the jitters. I bet “over-preparation,” never makes your list. Yet, “Blank Mind Syndrome,” is directly related to emotional stress caused by overwork. You simply may have overdone it. Your intentions were good, but you lacked some basic neuroscience. Stress over-activates the prefrontal cortex, which is our executive functioning, and causes it to be blocked off. It’s like having the philharmonic playing wildly making noise instead of music because there isn’t a conductor leading it. Your mind is your best friend, but it can also be your worst enemy when stressed and not in control of your thoughts. When you get an audition, your mind tells you that you should prepare for it. It’s helping you to take positive action, great! But, if you wake up at 3AM anxious and stressed about the audition and compulsively running the lines over and over again in your head, your mind is acting as your enemy and causing you to self-sabotage. Actors can learn to meet any work or life challenge without getting worked up about it when they know how to calm themselves down and stay in control. Overworking is not the solution to giving a great performance, but slowing down, achieving balance and having the skills necessary to focus are.
Easy Solution: The key here is to find balance. Prepare, but don’t overdo it. Creativity needs a calm, uncluttered mind to emerge. When you are stressed, it not only robs you of enjoying your performance, but it makes your audience feel uncomfortable as well. Do your homework and then let go and have fun! Moments of insight and creativity come when you are in a relaxed state. Brain-imaging research shows that relaxation, not compulsive control, is not only restorative, but actually leads to enhanced memory. Learning to intentionally focus, with mindfulness meditation, creates specific pathways in the brain that makes you calm, slows your racing thoughts, and gives you greater insight into yourself. Mindfulness is magic for actors. It gives you the calm you need for performances and the creativity necessary to develop your characters. And, it’s free!! Learn more about it here. Other activities like reading, writing, and physical exercise also promotes calmness and overall wellbeing. There is even research showing that “lucky” people are characterized by greater relaxation, which leads to much quicker ability to see opportunities that might arise.
Tip #2: Socialize more. Research by Wharton’s most popular professor, Adam Grant has shown (in his book “Give and Take,” which is a great read filled with useful information) that, “Connection is at the heart of productivity and enhanced chances for professional success. Other people can help you find information faster, give you advice to solve problems beyond your current scope, send you opportunities that never come through formal job postings, and introduce you to others who can help you.”
Learning how to ask for help also takes you out of the lonely realm that actors easily slip into. Isolation can trick you into thinking that you are all alone in this uphill battle and no one else is going through what you are. That kind of isolation can leave you with the belief that everyone else is doing much better than you. But the truth is that you have no idea, because it’s just a feeling and not a fact. Here’s a fact: we are hardwired to connect. Researchers say social connections contribute to overall wellbeing. We need it the way we need food and air to survive. According to Amy Banks, M.D., director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women; instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “Being pushed out of social relationships and into isolation has health ramifications. People in our culture need to understand that healthy connection can reduce pain on all levels. Our greatest gift is to connect, and we function better in connection as individuals and as a society.” Successful actors are champions in the art of connection. They know how to connect with their audience and make them feel something deep within themselves.
Easy Solution: When you have a bad day or even when you have a good day get out of the habit of isolating by sharing it with someone else. If you have difficulty connecting with others, get some professional help. You are missing out on an essential human need. Learn how to have better relationships through group therapy. Visit my website or give me a call, I’d be happy to talk to you about how group therapy is economical and helpful. If you’re not ready for that, start small by creating positive habits like smiling more often. There’s magic in your smile, it can transform you and the world around you. Research shows that a smile is contagious. It makes you appear more attractive to others, lifts your mood and those around us. Science says that smiling releases neuropeptides in the brain that fight stress. The feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin get released, which relaxes you, lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. It gives a signal to others that you are open and willing to connect.
TIP #3: Do something helpful for someone else.
Volunteer, listen, extend a helping hand. Research shows that you will be healthier, happier and live longer. It also helps your professional life, according to Adam Grant’s research, “the most successful business people are those who proactively give to others without expecting anything in return… and yet, those “winner givers” are actually growing their own network of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who may be of benefit in the future.”
Kindness contributes to feelings of happiness. Here’s the proof. Studies have shown that the psychological rewards of kindness are reflected in the neural circuitry of the brain. In a study published last year, University of Oregon researchers showed that charitable giving made the “feel-good” parts of people’s brains light up, particularly when the giving was totally voluntary. The authors believe this is almost literal evidence of a “warm glow,” that pleasant feeling we get from doing something nice for someone else.
Another study, published in 2006, proved that giving feels just as good as receiving. When researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes looked at participants’ brain activity, they found that charitable giving produced the same signs of pleasure and reward as receiving a monetary gift.
Thinking about others not only physically feels good but allows you to have a positive effect in the world. When you ease someone else’s way with your generosity, you are making a difference in the world. You are literally changing the world one person at a time.
Easy Solution: Practice five-minute favors. Start small. If there is some small thing that you can say to help someone, go for it. If you could practice politeness, by opening a door, letting someone else go ahead of you, or helping a driver switch lanes by slowing down, do it. Share what you have with others and compliment rather than criticize more often. I used to make beaded bracelets for fun and when I would wear them, and someone admired them, I would take them off my arm and gift them to the other person. I felt more joy giving away the bracelet then keeping the bracelet for myself.
As you begin the New Year, remember that everything that happens to you, good or bad can be used for growth and wisdom. Don’t overwork yourself, be social, strengthen your relationships and most of all have compassion and kindness readily available for others and most of all, for yourself. When you smile, the world smiles back.
“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal – that is your success.”
-Henry David Thoreau
Bonnie Katz, MFT is a licensed therapist in private practice. Her goal as a therapist is to help clients reach “optimal mental wellness”, so that they can feel happiness, fulfillment and joy in their everyday lives. For more information on Bonnie’s therapy practice, visit her website. Like The Conscious Actor on Facebook
I’ve created The Conscious Actor Inspiration Journal; to help actors develop awareness of what inspires them. Beautiful pages filled with inspirational quotes to help keep you strong minded. For New York actors, the journal is available at Drama Book Shop Los Angeles actors may pick up the journal at Samuel French Bookshop
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.