Like Is Not Love
My heart is aching. I just put my sister on a plane headed back to New York after a wonderful 10-day visit with me. It’s tough when 3,000 miles separates you from your family. Actors understand this heartache very well. They often find themselves in cities far away from family and friends, while pursuing their careers. Kudos to you for having the bravery to pack your bags, leave your home behind and venture out into the big unknown.
An actor’s life can look like an emotional obstacle course. Up one day, down the next. One door may close and in the next moment another opens. It’s rarely a smooth ride. You’re juggling auditions, classes, agents, headshots, and a myriad of other demands while working another job to keep food on the table. One commercial can put enough money in your bank account to buy a house or you could go months without an audition. This is what actors sign up for when they decide to pursue an acting career. Keeping your spirits intact while you deal with all of this is essential to survival. To ensure a successful journey, don’t leave the care of your emotional life behind. Get a plan to survive the tough emotional circumstances that will inevitably cross your path. If you don’t, you won’t last. Many actors have given up and packed their bags before they reached their full potential because they couldn’t handle their difficult emotions. So, what will it take to give it your best shot?
I’m sure most of you are on the path to finding the best agents, teachers, coaches, photographers, etc., in order to get things rolling. If you’ve figured out a plan to get your acting career launched, good for you! And, if you’re reading this article, or the other wonderful articles written by The Networker writers, you’re interested in learning more and getting better. That’s a good start. But, during this process, don’t leave your mind behind. If you don’t know how to handle the setbacks as well as the successes, all of your time and effort in the other areas will be wasted. It’s like investing in a fantastic car that looks sexy, gets great mileage, promises a smooth ride, but, oops, you neglected to look under the hood and check out the engine. Your mind is like the engine. You want it in tip-top shape so it can take your fine car where it needs to go.
Developing coping skills, managing stress, nurturing your happiness and having good relationship skills will give you stamina to hang in there when the going gets tough. Once you develop these skills, they will last a lifetime. You’re making an investment in your personal growth and that sticks with you no matter where you go and whomever you’re with. Mind-care is the gift that keeps giving. Are you basing your life on what you think will make you happy, what looks good on paper, or what is expected of you? Quiet the noise in your mind long enough to do what makes you happy so that you can live the life you want. As Diane Ackerman says, “You don’t want to get to the end of your life and feel like you’ve just lived the length of it and not the width.”
Lucky you! The breaking news in the field of psychology is that neuroscientists have discovered the mind is capable of change. Nothing about the brain is set in stone. Consider this information from Wall Street Journal science writer, Sharon Begley in her book “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain,”
“For decades, the conventional wisdom of neuroscience held that the hardware of the brain is fixed and immutable — that we are stuck with what we were born with. As Begley shows, however, recent pioneering experiments in neuroplasticity, a new science that investigates whether and how the brain can undergo wholesale change, reveal that the brain is capable not only of altering its structure but also of generating new neurons, even into old age. The brain can adapt, heal, renew itself after trauma, and compensate for disability. These breakthroughs show that it is possible to reset our happiness meter, regain the use of limbs disabled by stroke, train the mind to break cycles of depression and OCD, and reverse age-related changes in the brain.”
This is encouraging news for those who have been stuck in negative patterns of behavior and didn’t think change was possible. If you’d like to get started incorporating mind-care into your routine of personal and professional success, and plant the seeds towards your transformation, here is a good beginning:
- LIKE IS NOT LOVE. If you’re putting more energy into getting “liked” on Facebook, than you are being loved by a real human being, you will come up short. Good, solid relationships will help buffer your disappointments and enhance your wins. No amount of virtual relationships can replace the human touch. We’re hardwired in our brains to connect person to person. If you have difficulty forming healthy relationships, don’t give up on something that is key to your happiness. Get some help. I have recently joined the Board of Directors of the Group Psychotherapy Association of Los Angeles and would be happy to give you some referrals for groups. For those of you outside of the L.A. area, AGPA (American Group Psychotherapy Association) has a ton of useful info on their website. Group therapy is an economical and effective laboratory to figure out what is getting in the way of forming healthy, strong, satisfying relationships within a safe environment.
- HANDLE YOUR STRESS. Stress is sneaky. You may not be aware that you’re walking around with your shoulders pinned to your ears, and your jaw clenched tight. Learning how to reduce your stress levels can not only make you feel better right now, but may also protect your health long-term. In one study, researchers examined the association between “positive affect” — feelings like happiness, joy, contentment, and enthusiasm — and the development of coronary heart disease over a decade.They found that for every one-point increase in positive affect on a five-point scale, the rate of heart disease dropped by 22 percent. Learn to walk away when you’re angry. Before you react, take time to regroup by thinking of the acronym S.T.O.P – Stop, Take three full breaths, Observe what you’re feeling, then Proceed. Walking or other physical activities can also help you work off steam. Plus, exercise increases the production of endorphins, your body’s natural mood-booster. Commit to a daily walk or other forms of exercise — a small step that can make a big difference in reducing stress levels.
- LEARN TO LET GO of things that don’t serve you. Check in when your mind is stuck on repetitive thoughts and ask yourself , “Is this helping me, or hurting me?” You’ve made a mistake, things didn’t go the way you planned, give it some thought about how you could’ve done it better and then let it go. You will feel lighter when you stop beating yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s part of being human. Don’t mistake the movies of your mind for reality. It’s probably not as bad as you’re making it out to be, but the body responds to your frightening fantasies as if they were real. You need to get some perspective, calm your mind, and come back to earth.
Meditation can help you with all three of these important items on the checklist. You will create a good relationship with yourself, thereby creating good relationships with others, it will calm you down, improve your physical health and it will give you practice letting go. And, the greatest part of all — it’s FREE!!!! Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master, poet, scholar, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., states simply that, “To meditate means to go home to yourself. Then you know how to take care of the things that are happening inside you, and you know how to take care of the things that happen around you.”
With this checklist, you will cope better with the obstacles thrown on your path as you pursue your dreams. In celebration of Valentines Day, I have created a special meditation straight from the heart. Enjoy!
Bonnie Katz 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 Paper Chase Press.
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.