What’s really stopping you?
Blame is dangerous. While it may feel good to rant, rave and, complain about how unfair life is, ultimately it turns you into a victim. Yes, I agree, life is unfair. But the question is, what do you want to do about it? After you express your unhappy feelings to a compassionate ear, then what?
There are many things in life that are out of your control. As actors, you deal with this dilemma on a daily basis. Your future is based on people saying yes to you. “Yes, you’re right for the part.” “Yes, I would love to be your agent.” “Yes, you’re exactly what I’m looking for.” Given these facts, it’s important that you build strength to handle the no’s. You can build skills to handle difficulties so they don’t have a negative effect on your self-esteem. Begin by making a firm decision that no one will ever determine how you think and feel about yourself. That power is in your hands alone.
Here are some ways to take control of the reins and steer yourself in a healthy, happy, productive direction.
Tip 1: Your thinking influences how happy you are.
Have you noticed that negative memories feel more powerful and stick around longer than positive ones? I bet you can remember every detail of that horrifying audition you had, but have to work hard to remember the great ones where you left feeling really good about yourself. Science believes we have a built-in negativity bias in our brains (Baumeister et al. 2001; Rozin and Royzman 2001). Our brains are like Velcro to negative experiences and Teflon to positive ones. Part of that system helps us to survive as a species by keeping us safe. We remember what caused us pain so we don’t repeat the process again. But that mechanism can also give us a distorted view of our lives by not remembering the good stuff. The reality is that most of your life is probably positive or at least neutral. So, in order to level the playing field, you’ve got to make an effort to remember the good.
– Before going to bed remember five good things that happened in your day. As you say them to yourself, let yourself feel good about them.
– When something good happens to you, take a deep breath and let it fill your mind and body. Allow yourself to be absorbed in the positive experience. By doing this, you are emotionally stimulating the brain and the neurons are wiring and firing together, creating positive memories. When you take in the good, you feel better inside and less fragile or needy. This is a wonderful way to base your happiness on something that you initiate internally rather than solely on external conditions.
-When you find yourself complaining, add, “And I am blessed.” It’s a simple reminder to not forget the good that also exists.
Tip 2: Be aware of how your past influences your current view.
Past setbacks profoundly influence how satisfied you are in your current life. Most unhappy people view setbacks as occurrences that spoiled their ability to be happy. “That divorce ruined my life.” “If only I had taken that job.” Happy people are able to find the treasure in their unhappy circumstances. “That divorce was the most painful thing ever, but I never would’ve found this wonderful relationship.” “That missed opportunity was difficult, but it prepared me well for the next opportunity that came my way.” Negative past experiences may have made you more self-critical today. Be aware of belief systems you constructed from negative past circumstances. “Oh, I’m not very lucky.” “Things don’t come easy for me.” You are feeding yourself negative stories that have nothing to do with the truth.
In order to stay with what is real and not with the stories you’re telling yourself, ask these three questions:
Is it true?
When someone hits a bump, they want to feel a sense of security so they switch to black or white thinking. But nothing is all one way or all another way. Understanding this at the time helps you to take a distant view of what is happening so you can stay with what is absolutely true. You don’t need to add anything to your circumstances by “catastrophizing.” For example, a rough audition can turn into, “I’ll never work again.” No, you just had a rough audition and that’s all! You have no idea whether you will work again or not. Most likely, you probably will.
Who would you be without that thought?
If you didn’t add the negative comments that make you feel panicked, what would you be feeling at the end of the audition? Perhaps you would just be an actor that didn’t have a good audition and not a bad actor who will never work again. Can you imagine letting go of the negative self-talk and allowing the experience to just be as it is, in its purest form? You are adding to your suffering and prolonging your difficult experience with your negative thoughts.
Is this personal?
You are doing yourself an injustice if you decide that the casting director hates you or thinks you’re a lousy actor based on your audition. If you didn’t get a callback, it means that they had a different vision for the role. You have a whole lot more to you than what they see in 10 minutes or less. In fact, the majority of interactions you have with people on a daily basis are impersonal. Remember, most people are caught up in their own inner battles, trying to survive.
Tip 3: You are capable of change right now.
If you are waiting for something on the outside to change before feeling happy, my question to you is, “Why are you putting your happiness on hold?” The breaking news coming out of neuroscience today is that the brain has the capacity to change throughout your lifespan. That means you are not doomed to feel a certain way because of your past circumstances. No more excuses. Stop waiting for your lucky break. Go out there and learn how to create your own luck.
Rewrite your script. There is scientific research on the benefits of expressive writing. Studies show that mood disorders improve, symptoms among cancer patients were reduced, health improved quicker after heart attacks simply by writing about one’s personal experiences. Researchers are now studying the positive effects of writing and then rewriting your personal story. They found that it actually leads to behavioral changes and improves happiness. The idea behind all this exciting research is that we all have our personal takes on what has happened to us and that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But, by writing and editing your own story, you are able to change your perceptions and identify the obstacles that stand in your way more easily. What a great way to take your power back! “These writing interventions can really nudge people from a self-defeating way of thinking into a more optimistic cycle that reinforces itself,” said Timothy D. Wilson, a University of Virginia psychology professor. “Writing helps people cope better by finding new meaning in what has happened to them.” In one experiment by psychology professor at the University of Texas, James Pennebaker, students were asked to write for 15 minutes a day about anything. Those students who wrote about personal issues had fewer illnesses and visits to the student health center. If you’re interested in learning how this works, the book, Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By, by Dr. Wilson is out in paperback.
Most of the time our minds are playing tricks on us. We get fooled into thinking that the stories we’re telling ourselves are true, when in fact they are just perceptions. Life will get easier when you become aware of the filter you are seeing things through. Holding on too tightly to your views may be causing you unnecessary difficulty. Practice having an open heart and mind, stay in the wonder and mystery of the unknown, and you will weather the ups and downs more easily. Remember, you can’t stop the waves, but you can certainly learn to surf.
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.