Most actors pour their focus into getting work. They struggle to get a great headshot, be seen by the right casting agents, find a prestigious acting class, and, eventually, get the best representation possible. They roll up their sleeves and do the work necessary to make their dream come true. That’s a great start, but that is just the beginning. If they’re lucky and happen to be in the right place at the right time and book a job, they will face the greatest struggle of all: proving they can do a great job.
Challenges are a normal part of life and especially work. It’s competitive out there and most people put their focus on getting the job, not developing tools to handle the job. For example, when you eventually cross paths with a difficult director, an unprofessional fellow actor, or script rewrites, how will you get through it all and come out smelling like a rose? When it comes down to it, that’s what everyone is going to remember. The people that hire you are not interested in the difficulties you had to face; they’re filled to the brim with their own difficulties. There is a way to not only get through challenges, but actually experience them as valuable events that have great benefit. It takes work, but oh how much better you’re going to feel when you come through your challenges stronger and wiser, not deflated and defeated.
Follow these steps to start creating the valuable tools needed to weather the storms of acting:
1. Self-awareness is necessary to create change.
We all have behaviors we’re not proud of. So what? It doesn’t mean anything. It just means that you’re like the rest of the human race. Welcome. Bad habits of blame keep you locked in shame. Accept your weaknesses, so that you can let them go. First own it, so you can begin to disown it. For example, if you tend to beat yourself up after a rough audition, acknowledge what you’re doing, to stop doing it. Catch yourself in the act of self-defeating talk and instead replace it with, “Wow, I just noticed how harsh I was with myself. I made an effort and that’s good enough.” Letting go of self-judgment is good practice for those times when you’re on set and they have to retake a scene because you’ve forgotten your lines three times. Fear and frustration does not help you to think clearly and access your memory. In fact, if you start to make matters worse by criticizing yourself, you will only feel more stressed and cause your body to go in fight or flight mode. That means your body will react as if there is something life threatening present. It will automatically send all your blood to the legs so that you can run from the threat. It’s the antithesis of what you need to handle the situation, namely calm, so that you can access your memory and focus. This is a good example of how self-defeating behaviors make your external circumstances more difficult than they need be.
Solution: When you’ve made a mistake, take three deep breaths, which lets your brain know that you are safe and secure. This will lower your blood pressure and your heart rate. Stop all self-criticism if it tries to sneak in, which it will, and replace it with kind, calming self-talk. You’ve just pulled yourself together, now you’re ready to proceed. You hit a bump in the road. This is what happens when you put yourself out there and live your life. Good for you. You’re a brave soul.
2. Know and be responsible for your view.
Your brain is built to change, but change only occurs when you create new experiences for yourself. Begin with your view. Are you aware of your views? Are they negative or positive? Do you see the cup half empty or half full? Remember, you’ve got to know yourself really well in order to let go of what is no longer serving you. Your view is just a habit. If you tend to have a negative view, it is not your fault. Your past is a map for your present behavior. For example, if you happen to have a parent who was fear based and saw the world as a dangerous place, you may have been told, “Be careful,” every time you set foot out the door. Those messages in childhood may have given you the view that things are a lot more dangerous out there than they really are. Those views make your life more difficult.
Solution: Be completely honest and assess your view so that you may let it go. Instead, catch yourself when you go to the fear-based place and say, “Oh, fear is here now.” (Notice there is no judgment in this observation, it’s just an observation, nothing more, nothing less.) Then, replace it with reality. “Right now, I am safe and secure, there is no danger present.” This is good practice for when you’re about to begin a job and your mind starts making you feel that the set is not a safe place. These are bubbameisters you are telling yourself. Instead, replace this negative thought with something positive. Create a delicious excitement of anticipation. You are about to have the opportunity to walk into an environment where you will get to do what you love! You’re making a conscious choice to create a state of excitement instead of anxiety. Congratulations, you are now practicing having more control over your mind. It feels better to empower yourself rather than stay a victim.
3. Trust that you are enough.
When my first grandchild was born and my daughter was worried that the baby wasn’t getting enough food the first 24 hours, a wise nurse told her, “Don’t worry, they come with a packed lunch.” Along those lines, you’re equipped to handle what comes your way. You’re not missing anything. It’s all there inside of you, trust that. You just need to work on your tools to access all the goodies inside you. When you find yourself in a challenging situation, stop, breathe, and find your way home within yourself. Whisper reassuring words of encouragement to yourself. “I’ve got a good track record.” Or “I’ve made it this far, haven’t I?” On set, you are bound to get criticism. No need to melt into a puddle when that happens.
Solution: Let the words wash through you, have your reaction, which will probably be an “ouch,” and then let it go. Never, never, never let someone else’s opinions define who you are. Only you hold that power, don’t give it away. Unfortunately, some people don’t have responsible mouths and toads fly out of them. There are ways of expressing a critique to an actor without being destructive to their spirit, but unfortunately not everyone has that finesse. That’s okay, because you’re going to get out of the way of those flying toads.
Begin your journey with these tidbits. Make it your business for the rest of your life to be interested in learning how to be a happier, more fulfilled person. You can find more resources for your journey here: http://bonniekatz.com/resources.
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.