Three Mental Hacks for Actors
No matter what any of us do, this generation will be remembered for the technology we create. Computers have completely reshaped the world we live in. When I started acting, self-tapes were barely a thing, let alone commonplace. YouTube, Podcasts, and streaming platforms like Hulu and Netflix had not even dipped their toes yet.
Today, we are in a Golden Age of TV ushered in by a well-educated audience demanding more content. While content like TikTok and Quibi come and go, nothing captures an audience more than great stories.
Not only did the tech boom change our viewing habits, but it reshaped our language. "Hacker" became a catch-all word that can apply across mediums: LifeHacker, BioHacker, or every blogger's favorite topic "[noun] Hacks."
Thinking of our brain in terms of a system is a brilliant way of looking at our minds. On the positive side, studies show that our brains are elastic and that with training and habits, we can change the way we view the world.
Of course, the flip side is that we can also be programmed, that a bug can be dropped into our system, and propaganda short-circuits our minds with fake news, clickbait, and rage bait.
Human beings are a product of stories. Whether its religion, patriotism, or identity, we are the stories we tell ourselves. Therefore, if you want new results, then you have to say to yourself new stories.
Name it to Tame it.
What are you afraid of? What belief do you have that no longer serves you? Simply naming a fear gives us power. Rather than experiencing the emotion, if we give it a name, we immediately diminish its power.
Think of the negative thought loops we can find ourselves in before an audition. Those recurring thoughts make you doubt yourself before a performance. "What am I doing here?" "I didn't memorize these lines well enough." "What if they ask for something else, and I don't have it?" In other words, our good ole friend anxiety.
By acknowledging them and observing them, we immediately weaken the strength of their impact.
If you want to debug your system, if you're going to break that chain of negative thoughts, whether it is your mother telling you you will never amount to anything or some grudge you hold against your high school bully, you have to acknowledge that impulse, observe it, name it, and tame it.
The Power of Positive Bullshit
Self-help and positive thinking circles seem like a good idea. They present a pleasant view of the world and appear to help people, plus, without them, Instagram wouldn't be full of pretty pictures with inspirational quotes in nice fonts in front of scantily clad "fitstagrammers." However, everyone inevitably learns that all the mantras in the world and the Tony Robbins courses do not change life.
Instead, we must learn to look out stress differently. Obstacles are a part of life. The devil is not someone to defeat, but something to be overcome again and again.
Challenges are what make life worth living. When presented with hard times, the emotion we feel is nothing more than our body sending us a signal. The thoughts associated with that signal (see #1) dictate how we react to it.
Rather than try and avoid it, we must learn to adapt to it. After all, we are born with powerful engines to run on, we are not the descendants of fearful men. Why stoke down a V12 to a V8? As Phil Brickma said, "Let the big dog eat!"
A better way to approach these emotions is to ask ourselves, "If this happens, then what?" If/then thinking is classical rhetoric. Shakespeare's heroes and villains are full of If/then speeches, and the reason is that it immediately engages our imagination. The "If" deposits a question to the audience, while the "then" seeks to solve the initial problem. It directly implicates the listener by asking them what they would do and, at the same time, answering the query.
While fortune-telling can get us into trouble, we can look at things without experiencing their direct outcomes. The next time your mind wants to play out scenarios in which you fail or succeed, give it the "If/then" language of the Bard and allow your literary muscles to fly.
Reclaim and Retrain
We live in the Matrix. No, this is not a "Space is Fake" moment layered into an article about acting. If we look at the Matrix as a metaphor, we live in a world constructed by corporations and marketing. Even America is, perhaps, the most significant marketing campaign ever run--thank you, Alan Moore.
Since we were born, our minds have been bombarded with images of success, failure, liberty, capitalism, democracy, and a million other nudges. And today, we are now facing a stream of ads, unlike anything man has ever experienced before. Remember, behind that little screen you are looking at are thousands of people on the other side trying to keep you hooked.
Therefore, we must reclaim our minds. We must unplug from the system, just like Neo, to reclaim our freedom. The news is an easy example. If we continuously fill our brain with every update from CNN, FOX, or whoever the new kid on the block is, we will become Pavlov's dog, always looking for that next hit of dopamine. Every ding, every red circle becomes a signal for our next hit. We've replaced cigarettes with updates, alcohol with email.
Once we disconnect from the network, we must retrain our thinking. There are countless myths about this exact moment, think Master Yoda, "You must unlearn what you have learned" or your English 101 professor trying to blow your mind with Alan Ginsberg.
While the archetype might be played out, it rings more true than ever, and no, you don't have to go on a spiritual journey to Tibet to find yourself, unless, of course, you want to.
Focus is the artist's greatest gift. The simplest thing we can do to make better art, tel better stories, and live a better life is learn to focus. We may not be trying to "Keep up with the Jonses" anymore because that white picket fence is chipped and the house has been for sale for years, however, we now try and get fit for abs instead of health, buy headphones because of style not sound, and lust after lives that are not real. Let's get back to real. Let's get back to art. Let's get back to living.
Brock D. Vickers
This is the beginning of a new part of life: a habit: an idea: a routine to dig at what makes a man great.