Think about what you’re thinking in 2017.
2016 was rilled with an unusual amount of loss and change. We lost many deeply loved cultural greats and our political landscape changed dramatically. People may have mixed feelings about the New Year. On one hand, you may be happy that 2016 is over, but on the other, apprehensive about 2017 and what it will bring. Often, fear is handled by getting in the “doing” mode. For example, focusing on making lists or setting goals in order to feel more in control. But before you sharpen your pencil, ponder this thought: Goals are about the future, and your life happens in the here and now. A wise person once said, “When you’ve got one foot in the future and one in the past, you’re pissin’ on the present.”
It’s wonderful to take the time to set the course of your life, but while focusing on your future, be sure not to cheat yourself out of all the wonderful moments happening right now. The quality of your life will be reliant upon how well you can balance your focus between the two—tomorrow and today. When your mind wanders more towards the future than the present, you can unconsciously set yourself up for a lot of anxiety and disappointment over things that haven’t even happened yet. Remember, thoughts can be helpful or harmful, so start to become aware of what you’re putting in your head. If your mind is continuously like a checklist that must get finished, you’re leaning too much in the fast-forward mode and not living in the present moment. When operating on that level, you’re only half-living, unable to take in what is happening right before you. It’s like coming upon a tree of singing birds with earplugs. You’re going to miss out. Listening to songbirds will have a positive effect on your heart and soul, while crossing tasks off a list…meh.
It is especially important as actors to stay in the present moment in order to keep your performances fresh and alive. I’m sure you have experienced being so anxious about forgetting a line that your mind ends up over focusing and you miss your cue. Powerful performances require an actor’s mind and body to be fully present at all times. Creativity only flows when you are free from fear and focused on the present moment. That is why Improv can be such a great tool. You are forced to perform in the moment with no script, and must rely on your creative, intuitive intelligence.
An active step you can take right now to help you stay more present in your acting and in your life is to think about what you’re thinking. Right now your thinking is probably on autopilot. When you are not aware of your thinking, you cannot monitor when negative thoughts come into your mind. The average person has approximately 60,000 thoughts a day. If 80% of those thoughts are negative, it will be difficult to feel good no matter how many goals you accomplish. The idea is not that you need to get rid of all thoughts or that thinking is bad. You need to analyze and strategize and think; it’s just part of being alive. But fear based thoughts, which possess a lot of our moments, keeps you disconnected from reality. That’s when thoughts can be harmful. When you strategize before an audition and walk in prepared, you’re using thinking in a positive way. But thinking works against you on auditions when you tell yourself stories like, I’m not talented enough. I’ll never book this. Who do I think I am? Thoughts containing negative stories are not based in reality. Remember, thoughts are not facts. The chair you’re sitting on is a fact, but the thoughts floating in and out of your head 60,000 times a day are just weather coming and going.
So remember, when your narrative is all about tomorrow, you are leaning forward too much. Stay more balanced by hanging out in present time so you don’t miss out on life. How you handle this moment will determine your future. Like Diane Ackerman says, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find out that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it, as well.”
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.