Being a productive human being is an important element of feeling successful and worthy; accomplishments are necessary for self-esteem to grow. However, social media can make it hard to keep everything in perspective when you begin comparing your accomplishments to everyone else. It is especially hazardous to an actor’s mental health. How can you go out there, be creative, take risks, be the best you can be when competitive pressure is looming over you? Here’s what you can do when the pressure gets turned up: nothing. You heard me. Do nothing.
Here’s why: Molly just posted on Facebook that she booked a national commercial, her third this month! You read this post and immediately begin to feel envy. As if that’s not torture enough, you start putting yourself down. Negative self-talk begins to creep in: “I guess I’m not young enough, pretty enough, talented enough. Oh, I’ll never be successful. I will never be able to get the right agent or manager. Aunt Harriet was right, I don’t have what it takes to be a successful actor. Who do I think I am anyway?” Exactly, who do you think you are? Because if you’re self-talk is anything like this, you’re not thinking very highly of yourself. With thoughts like these, what direction do you think you’re career is going to take?
That said, what are your options? A) Never look at Facebook again, B) take a magic potion called “Envy Be Gone,” or C) practice doing nothing. C works like this: read the post, feel your surge of envy, and then don’t add anything more to it with your negative thoughts. There is information to reinforce the success of this method. In brain scientist, Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, (BTW great Ted Talk) “My Stroke of Insight,” she explains that the natural life span of an emotion, the average time it takes for it to move through the nervous system and body, is only a minute and a half. In order to keep that emotion going, we need to feed it thoughts. So, when you read about someone else’s success on Facebook and you feel an “ouch,” if you would let it play out and not start the negative self-talk tape, it would last for a minute and a half. On the flip side, when you get stuck in painful emotional states like depression, anxiety or anger, it is because you are feeding yourself an endless stream of negative self-talk, which makes the bad feelings hang out longer. Neuroscience indicates that neurons that fire together, wire together. So when you keep repeating a set of thoughts and emotions, you are creating a powerful memory. As actors, when you want to memorize your lines what do you do? You keep repeating them over and over again until you know them by heart. Powerful bad memories kind of work the same way. The more you think about and rethink about your bad experiences, and associate them with self-judgment, the stronger the bad memory gets. If every time you see someone else experience success and you berate yourself, the more you’re going to believe your berated thoughts and feel horrible when someone else talks about their accomplishments. You’ve now created an ingrained pattern – someone else’s success equals your feelings of failure. Stop now!!! Unless you recognize and interrupt your negative self-talk, they will continue to get stronger over time.
The good news is that it is possible to stop this vicious cycle. Researcher Benjamin Libet discovered that the part of the brain responsible for movement activates a quarter-second before we become aware of our intention to move. There is then another quarter-second before the movement begins. This means that we have a choice to make a conscious decision before we react. So, if you’ve been yearning for a piece of that chocolate cake, during the space between the impulse, “I need that piece of cake,” and the action of eating it, there are two separate quarter seconds where there’s room for choice. Author Tara Bennett-Goleman in her book Mind Whispering: A New Map to Freedom from Self-Defeating Emotional Habits calls it , “The magic quarter-second.” Between the stimulus and the reaction there is a space. When you slow down and interrupt the cycle of reactivity, you make the time to respond from a calmer, wiser place.
The ability to slow down and not react takes practice; there is no quick fix. However, when you begin to change these ingrained bad habits of thinking, you can have more control over your moods and how you choose to meet difficult situations. Find more detailed instructions here on how to practice mindfulness of the breath.
- Recognize when you get into a trance of negativity through your self-talk.
- Follow the gentle rhythm of your breath to get anchored in your body and out of your head, where the negative thoughts are. Find more detailed instructions here on how to practice mindfulness of the breath.
- Name what it is you are feeling. For example, jealousy, anger, sadness, fear; putting a label on what you feel brings relief. Be sure not to insert any criticism.
- Befriend and tend. Practice being gentle with yourself. Replace negative self-talk with kindness. Say calming phrases like, “It’s okay,” “I’m alright,” “Forgiven.” Offer some kindness to yourself. You can also sit with your hand on your heart for 30 seconds; this gesture releases the feel-good chemical oxytocin.
You’re in training to retrain your reactions. Have patience. These small steps can have a big impact on your mood and how you meet each day. Remember, you have the quarter second miracle inside you. Just create some space to let it happen.
I’ve created The Conscious Actor Inspiration Journal to help actors develop awareness of what inspires them. It contains beautiful pages filled with inspirational quotes to help keep you strong minded. For New York actors, the journal is available at Drama Book Shop.
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.