Are you capable of deep listening?
As actors, listening is key to being in the moment and reacting authentically while performing. Actors who are skilled listeners deliver exciting, alive performances. But, this essential quality may be difficult to access when you are caught up in the chatter of your own thoughts. When your mind is filled with worry about the future, fretting about the past or overanalyzing the present, you are not available to take in what’s happening in the present moment. Getting caught up in the stories you are telling yourself does not allow you to deal with reality accurately. If acting is reacting, exactly whom are you reacting to; yourself or your fellow actor? You’re getting cheated out of a great acting experience if you can’t listen deeply. And, you’re also cheating the audience. We are not built to connect to fakers. To connect to each other, we need the real deal to get our emotions stirred up.
Learning how to listen deeply will not only make you a better actor, it will also make you a happier person. How? When you stop the chatter in your mind, you make room for your truth to emerge. When you’ve got both feet planted in reality, you can deal with life more effectively. Here’s an example. Let’s say you just met with a new agent to talk about representation. The agent happened to take a call in the middle of your interview. Your mind starts racing with thoughts like, she’s not interested in me, I’m boring her, what’s wrong with me. Your mind is off and running into storylines that have no basis in truth. It just so happens that when the agent gets off the phone, she apologizes for interrupting the interview and dealing with a family emergency. Meanwhile, you were off and running into I’m not good enough land. How can you expect an agent or anyone for that matter to believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself?
You’re not alone, most people are so saturated in the stories they tell themselves that they’re not even aware of doing it. Storylines are automatic. They are bad habits that got developed long ago, usually from an environment where you may have not gotten enough of what you needed. As a result, you began to believe that you were not enough. Your storyline plays over and over in your head and causes self-doubt and unnecessary obstacles to get in the way of your passion. Learning how to deeply listen will relieve you of those ancient feelings and open you up to the most amazing possibilities.
Practice these steps everyday to develop deep listening.
- Stop thinking of how things should be and start dealing with how they are. Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda, is all about beating yourself up. The chatter in your head usually involves thoughts about how you’d like things to be. When you’ve got a parade of thoughts commenting about your take on the world, you’re not paying attention to how the world is. You need to see things as they actually are in order to make good decisions. I’ve seen people get stuck for years trying to make sense out of bad situations rather than accepting the reality of them and moving on.
- Observe don’t judge. When you’re observing life, you create the space for things to be just as they are. Judgment will shut you down. Observation will open you up. Here’s how it works: You’re out on an audition and it’s taking a lot longer than you expected. You start getting angry, feeling as most actors do, that your time is not valued by the casting agents. You start judging them for being disrespectful, feeling like they’re taking advantage of you. Your mind gets caught up in the way things ought to be. “Why can’t they be on time the way I am expected to be? They don’t care about anyone but themselves.” By the time you’re called in to audition, you’re so distracted that you can’t focus and all your preparation and hard work flies out the window. Instead of that frustrating scenario, maybe the next time this happens, and it will, try showing up with a different mindset. Arrive, notice they are running late, observe the frustration start to mount and choose to not go down that road. Instead, think okay, they are running late and there is not a single thing I can do about it, therefore I will just continue to focus on my preparation and let my frustration go. Watch your frustration float out of you like big beautiful puffy clouds and refocus your attention on the audition. This works! It takes practice, but it is a solution to getting caught up in all the stories going on in your head about how things ought to be, and it helps you deal more positively with the way things are.
- Mindfulness is a great tool that works. By simply learning to meditate on your breath and letting thoughts go, you are taking steps in embracing your experience as it is. You increase your capacity to deal with life as it is, not the way you would like it to be. But it takes practice to be effective. Here is the science behind mindfulness: According to Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation and co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, “ The ways we intentionally shape our internal focus of attention in mindfulness practice induces a state of brain activation during the practice. With repetition, an intentionally created state can become an enduring trait of the individual as reflected in long-term changes in brain function and structure. In a recent study by Norman Farb (research psychologist) and colleagues in Toronto, after just the eight-week MBSR(Mindful Based Stress Reduction) program, subjects were able to alter their brain function in a way that confirmed they could distinguish the “narrative chatter” of their baseline states from the ongoing sensory flow of here-and-now experience. This ability to develop discernment—to differentiate our unique streams of awareness—may be a crucial step for disentangling our minds from ruminative thoughts, repetitive destructive emotions, and impulsive and addictive behaviors.” If you’re living on this planet, you’re aware that “mindfulness,” is the new buzz -word. But, it’s not just hype. I have seen how effective it is with those patients of mine who begin to meditate. They learn to handle anxiety and the inherent ups and downs of life much better and with greater ease.
- Don’t leave your body behind. Many actors know that building body awareness, flexibility and strength are important to enhance stage presence, and a broader range of creative possibilities. You don’t act from the neck up. Don’t live life from the neck up either. Include the awareness of your body to ground you in the here and now. Next time your head starts to get busy with thoughts come back to reality by turning your attention to your senses. Scanning each part of your body, feeling it from the inside out. (try body scan) Feeling the temperature of the air as it touches your skin, smelling the aromas in the air, loosening up any tension you might be holding. will quiet your thoughts and bring you back into the present moment. Come home through the awareness of your body. It’s like a reliable friend who never lets you down.
Deep listening will improve your acting skills, help promote self-acceptance and happiness because you’re able to listen to your truth and make wiser decisions, and above all, it makes you a better human being because listening is the greatest gift you can give another person.
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.