How To Use Your Neural WiFi
I managed to survive the NY subway ride during morning rush hour on my way to the yearly International Group Psychotherapy Conference held uptown. I realized what a strange predicament this was, being packed nose-to-nose with strangers completely ignoring yet affecting one another. All together but yet so disconnected from each other. In contrast, 24 hours earlier, I was in sunny Los Angeles inhaling the intoxicating fragrance from the pink jasmine blooming in my garden. To distract myself from feeling like Alice in Wonderland, stuck in the rabbit hole, I let my mind drift off to thoughts of what it must be like to be an actor in New York City. The obstacle courses on CBS’s “Survivor,” are a piece of cake compared to the challenges of getting around here. I pondered how helpful it would be if actors could learn to cope with everyday challenges, no matter where they lived, and have enough energy and focus to devote to their careers. How could they feel more connected in environments that feel so disconnected and lonely at times?
Fortunately, the workshop I was attending that morning addressed this issue. It was entitled, “Mindfulness, Interpersonal Neurobiology, and Process Group Psychotherapy.” That’s a mouthful! To summarize, it was about the current developments in the field of neurobiology which are impacted by the practice ofmindfulness (paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.) Somewhere in the middle of this workshop, I realized not only was this important information beneficial for the general public, but it was also a key component in becoming a better actor.
Stella Adler in her wisdom said, “The actor has to develop his body. The actor has to work on his voice. But the most important thing the actor has to work on is his mind.” What does that mean exactly to work on your mind? It means using it to its full capacity so that you can have every advantage possible to be creative and successful. I don’t mean success as in fame and fortune. Although these are definitely welcome side effects, I’m talking about something much more long lasting and solid. I mean success as in feeling good about what you do and most importantly who you are. There shouldn’t be a disconnection between your inner feelings about yourself and your outer success. After all, how much fun is it to be rich and famous only to come home and not like the reflection staring back at you in the mirror?
Happiness, success, healthy relationships, confidence and self-esteem have one important component attached to them: the ability to connect with others and most importantly, to yourself. This is especially important for actors because you can be drop-dead gorgeous and sexy like Penelope Cruz, have elocution like Sir John Gielgud, be technically perfect in every way, but if the audience cannot connect to you when you perform, you will not last five minutes. The audience must find a piece of themselves in your character, someone or something that they recognize, that they can relate to, or your performance has no meaning for them. Meryl Streep said, “Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.” She is talking about human connection, finding a piece of herself within the character. Her performances are flawless because her connections to her characters are real and the audience feels it; you can’t fake that. Therefore, the most essential question an actor must continually ask herself/himself is, “How can I promote deeper connection within myself and with others?”
In order to answer that question, you need to understand how your brain works and how “neural wifi” fits into this picture. We have a part of our brain that is a social brain for the purpose of interpersonal experiences. In other words, we are hard-wired at birth to be social and connect. We need relationships. Neuroscientists found that part of the “social brain,” is made up of neural networks that keep us attuned to our interpersonal experiences. With these neural systems we are able to be influenced biologically, cognitively, and emotionally by people near us and during interactions with them. Whenever people interact, their social brains interlock. What this looks like is, you meet a friend on the street, you start talking to them and your mirror neurons automatically create within you the experiences that mirrors the other person’s intentions and emotions. If they are telling you a story about a heartbreaking situation, your mirror neurons will track them and activate similar neurons in your brain and you will feel heartbreak. In other words, we are able to understand the other’s experience by creating a template of it in our own brain using our mirror neurons. This exchange puts us on the same wavelength as the other person and it does it automatically, instantaneously and unconsciously. This is how empathy is created.
This interaction is so powerful that it has an effect on our bodies. According toDaniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, “During these neural linkups, our brains engage in an emotional tango, a dance of feelings. Our social interactions operate as modulators, something like interpersonal thermostats that continually reset key aspects of our brain function as they orchestrate our emotions.
The resulting feelings have far-reaching consequences, in turn rippling throughout our body, sending out cascades of hormones that regulate biological systems from our heart to immune cells. Perhaps most astonishing, science now tracks connections between the most stressful relationships and the very operation of specific genes that regulate the immune system.”
What does all this mean? Authentic connection is at the core of everyone’s well-being. If we do not experience relationships that are mutually empowering, authentic and empathically attuned, we suffer. It is also an essential component, as an actor, to authentically connect to your character which in turn allows the audience to connect to you. You see the photo to the right? There is some serious “neural wifi,” happening. All those people are effected and connected to whatever it is that happened on stage. It’s contagious. And I could tell you that this kind of response couldn’t happen if that person or persons performing were not authentically connected to themselves. You will benefit both professionally and personally if you work at having a deeper understanding of your emotional life so that you can harness it to create better relationships.
Three ways to promote connection:
- Clear the clutter in your mind. Stop the self-criticism. Giving weight to self-criticism just weighs you down. Be aware of the disempowering stories you attach to your thoughts that block you from a sense of well-being and transform them. For example, if you didn’t get a callback on the last audition and you have self-criticizing thoughts such as , “I’m not a good enough actor, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good looking enough,” transform those negative, go nowhere statements into, “ What can I learn from the experience I just had? What can I do differently on the next audition? What areas can I focus on to get different results?” These statements create a positive road you can go down, not a dead end that just leads to anxiety.
- Practice mindfulness to connect deeply and authentically to yourself. Even if you create a 10 minute practice in the morning, you will notice a difference in how you feel. When you practice mindfulness of your interpersonal experiences, you are automatically deepening connections to yourself and others. Connection can be the object of mindfulness. Observe non-judgmentally with acceptance the moment-to-moment changes in both your inner experience and, using “neural wifi,” the inner experience of the other. Bring awareness of when you feel connection or disconnection between yourself and others. The more you practice mindfulness of yourself, the more deeply you can be mindful of and attuned to others. As the “mindful brain,” improves in ability to be attuned to itself bodily, cognitively, and emotionally, it strengthens the same neuronal mechanisms used in interpersonal awareness, empathy and authentic connections.
- Don’t Isolate. Acting is a lonely business. Now that you understand the human brain and its need for connection, work on creating healthy relationships where you feel heard and understood. Balance your life with social contact, and I don’t mean Facebook. Screen-to-screen doesn’t replace face-to-face. Connection is important to your sense of well being, so fit it into your schedule. If there aren’t any groups you’d like to join, be imaginative and create one yourself. Feed your need for connection and you will benefit greatly from it.
You have received a lot of useful information to help you understand how vital connection is in your personal and professional life. Taking steps in becoming more proactive in creating a happier life and a more fulfilling career is empowering. For more information to support your journey, visit my website. I am happy to answer any questions you have regarding personal and professional growth, you may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also excited to share with you the publishing of “The Conscious Actor Inspiration Journal.” A beautiful journal filled with inspirational sayings and instructions on how to stay connected to your passion during difficult times. Now available at the Drama Book Shop in New York and on my website. If you were in front of me right now, my “neural wifi” would be telling you to have a journey filled with strength and ease.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. One of her specialties is working with artists in the Entertainment Industry. Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice,visit her website.Follow her on Twitter and Facebook
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.