Acting is reacting. But you want to be more proactive.
I still consider my acting conservatory training one of the best investments in my life. Acting has tremendously improved my mental health, changed my life, and changed my being.
Almost all of the acting lessons I learned can be applied to life. What benefits me most are active listening, being present, and self-awareness.
However, there is one notion that I find not to be best applicable to life: Acting is reacting.
What it really means is that you, the actor, respond to a situation with your instincts, as if this is your first time experiencing it.
Why does it not serve you in your day-to-day life?
What are instincts?
Let’s take a look at the definition first. According to dictionary.com, “Instinct” means:
1) an inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action common to a given biological species;
2) a natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency;
3) a natural aptitude or gift;
4) natural intuitive power
Instincts are considered to be the “raw talent” of an actor. They are the sparks and fire in a performance. They are the magical captivating power.
Instincts Help us Survive, not Thrive
The human instinct to survive is our most powerful drive. We are hardwired to think thoughts and feel emotions that are conducive to our survival.
Unfortunately, the “fight-or-flight” mode that has worked for many millennia no longer works in the 21st Century.
Without the threats of potential wild animals, we divert our attention to other threats such as failing an exam or getting rejected. Every time when things don’t go our way, we become reactive, as if our survival is threatened.
Living in a survival mode in the 21st Century is undermining your potential and depriving you of happiness and wellbeing.
To be a thriving human being requires you to take conscious efforts to move from reactivity to proactivity, and take constant measures to work for your long-term goals.
Know When You Are Reacting
Are you stress eating? Stress drinking? Addicted to caffeine, sugar, alcohol?
Are you compulsively cleaning, working out?
Are you mindlessly scrolling social media when you are supposed to be working on a project?
Most of the time, we respond to distractions because we are not comfortable with what’s going on inside. We want to avoid reality because it’s not pretty.
Our survival thoughts give us doubt, fear, and anger, and we distract ourselves from feeling them by responding to stimuli.
We are always “fixing”. We are not “creating”. And even if we are creating, we fall off the wagon because that pull is so strong.
Awareness is the first step towards change. You might not even know you are reacting! I strongly recommend these two books: The Chimp Paradox and Indistractable. They have helped me understand my brain.
“Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality.”
― Nir Eyal, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life
“Sometimes no matter what you do, you can’t have what you want, so you must accept this and live with it.”
― Steve Peters, The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness
Moving from Reactivity to Proactivity
This requires a change of your thinking model. This is where transformation happens.
“Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.” — Ralph Waldo Emmerson
Are you looking to fix your problems, or creating your dream life?
Are you constantly judging yourself and trying to change your past, or letting go and focus on your efforts?
Talking about my past only serves so much. I might feel better talking about it, but it doesn’t lead to where I want to go.
That’s why I decided to stop working with a therapist and hired a coach.
You only have so much bandwidth. Use it with intention. Use it on what matters. Use it on creating the possibilities. Here are some tips:
1.Stop being busy. Try to be more effective
Why are you always so busy? Are you overworking yourself to run away from emotions? Are you overachieving to save your low self-esteem?
Stop the rat race and start an honest evaluation. What’s working? What’s not? How can I do differently next time?
2. Stop Micromanaging.
Trust is the highest form of human motivation. — Steven Covey
Micromanaging comes from a lack of trust: in yourself, in your people, and in the universe.
When you are micromanaging, you are giving away your power. You are reacting to your doubt and fear that what you want might not be happening.
When you are leading with your belief, you are creating your future as if you already have it. And you WILL have it.
If you’re constantly checking and replying to emails, you’re working on other people’s priorities.
Instead, I invite you to be more “selfish” and work on your priorities: Write a new chapter of your book, write a new scene for your screenplay, fulfill your commitment to yourself.
Showing up for yourself can be challenging, especially if you come from a collective culture and were raised to put others before yourself.
But again, this is what it takes to create your dream future — you have to be willing to let go of the old model that’s been keeping you safe all your life.
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” — Stephen Covey
I am still a working actor and creative writer, and I keep my instincts for my creative projects. But I consciously choose to create my life proactively with ease, confidence, and an unshaken belief.