“That was a train wreck.”
“I sucked so bad.”
“…..” The actor struggles internally, but the words “I’m a horrible actor and I’ve just embarrassed myself in front of all my peers and/or casting. I should just give up and go back to being an accountant in Arkansas,” read clearly in his expression.
It’s the curse of the actor: after not doing your best work, you punish yourself for it, either in your head or out loud. The problem is, those verbal punches hurt just as much as knuckles to the jaw. (That old “sticks and stones” bit about words never hurting you? Totally false.)
Those words can be deflating, discouraging, even abusive…in fact, they can stir up fear, solidify insecurities and make you throw your headshots in the trash and pack your bags for Little Rock.
Which is why actors need to cease and desist this self-abusive behavior:
Stop beating yourself up.
Look, there are plenty of bitter bullies, jealous competitors and attention-hungry critics who will throw unconstructive barbs at you to make themselves feel better. You don’t need to buy into any of it and you certainly don’t need to be the one leading the charge.
You must be your own advocate. You must be your own cheerleader. No, not everything you do is going to be Oscar-worthy, but so what? Did you get up there and dare to try? Then you dared greatly with great courage.
So if you can’t verbally slap yourself in the face, what the heck do you do instead?
It’s time to start practicing self-love. Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher, has these three suggestions:
Be kind to yourself when you’re in pain or feel like a failure. What would you say to your best friend if they were kicking themselves? “Stop that! You’re awesome.” Or you’d help them constructively: “What worked well? What would you do differently?” You can do this for yourself, too.
Recognize your common humanity. Setbacks and struggles are a normal part of life and are to be expected. Falling on your face is how we grow, folks.
Practice mindfulness. Hold those thoughts/feelings in a place of awareness, rather than over identifying with them. You are not your art. Your art is an expression of yourself, but it is not your self. So just because you think your performance was shit, doesn’t mean you are shit, too.
I like those. I like these too:
Remember you’re not alone. Every actor on the planet since the beginning of time has felt like a loser. Knowing that other people are struggling to be kind to themselves helps you feel less isolated.
Aim for fun, not perfection. When you strive to be perfect, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Plus, our emotional messiness is what makes us human. So consider every room you get to act in as a playground and enjoy your imperfect self.
No more disclaimers. If you say, “This was a train wreck,” right before we watch playback, you’re asking us to participate in your self-destructive behavior. It takes courage to stay quiet and allow your audience to have their own experience. And guess what? You might be surprised at how much they – and you – like it.
So will self-compassion make me a famous, rich, powerful movie star?
Well, not necessarily. But it will help you in more important ways:
Improve your relationship to yourself. Do you generally feel worthy of love or shameful about failures? When we treat ourselves with compassion, rather than abuse, our self-confidence and self-worth increases. And that, my friends, means improved mental health.
Decrease stress and increase calm. Guess what? In the same way that words can feel like punches, they can also feel like hugs. When you treat yourself with kindness, you let your body and mind know physiologically that you are safe and loved. Ahhhh….
Strengthen relationships. As we treat ourselves more kindly, we find more compassion for others as well. We begin to understand both our own and other people’s struggles and joys on a deeper level. (That includes characters.)
Allows you to take more risks in your craft and enjoy the experiences, no matter what they are. If you approach your artistry with fear, try to be perfect and then berate yourself when you’ve “failed,” what kind of journey are you creating for yourself? Every time you walk into class, an audition or onto a set you’ll have a big old barf ball in your throat.
But if you create a safe internal world – one where you are praised for your courage, given constructive feedback, encouraged to dare greatly, and loved no matter what – then you create more freely, smile more often and keep those barf balls at bay.