Stop Unconsciously Talking Yourself into Failure

man scratching headSelf-deprecating humor is a familiar defense mechanism, and all the more effective for the entertaining, charismatic and witty among us. In other words, actors are prime culprits. How many of us, as sensitive, artistic kids, quickly transitioned into class clown to navigate the brutal byways of early education and adolescence?

 

In many cases, self-deprecating humor can be a valuable social tool. But it’s also a slippery slope. It becomes habit, in a society that often undervalues the arts, to downplay our contribution. When we actors have to explain ad nauseum that our career counts, that this is our “real job,” self-deprecation becomes an impossibly convenient crutch for our successes, guarding us against rejection.

 

But the problem is, the language we choose has meaning and consequences. Words are internalized, habits become difficult to break, and before we know it, we start to believe our own (lack of) hype. It’s a snowball effect–once you start believing negative things about yourself, those around you do too. Here are some steps you can take to make sure you’re not talking yourself into an artistic rut.

 

  1. Be Mindful. Start clocking the language you routinely use to describe yourself as an actor. Calling yourself a hack or a trash human or referring to your work as “playing pretend” is fine for occasional comedy. But if it vastly outweighs the positive and empowering things you say about yourself, it might be something you want to work on.
  2. Reroute Your Humor. You don’t have to give up self-deprecating humor altogether. But if you suspect it’s becoming toxic, try sprinkling in comedy of the opposite bent. Self-aware comedic arrogance can have the same disarming effect, without the use of damaging language. If your instinct is to joke along the lines of “why am I such a train wreck,” try flipping the script to something like “surely my genius will be appreciated when I’m gone.” (But like, funnier, guys, come on).
  3. Value your Successes. Oftentimes I find myself couching my successes in terms of lack. “I booked in the room, but it doesn’t pay much, so…” “I mean, this award means nothing, but it’s fun,” “I only booked so many times/types of roles/real projects” etc. Stop looking for ways your work doesn’t count. Stop reducing your successes to make them palatable, or to avoid the appearance of arrogance. Start voicing joy in your successes, even if you have to practice until you feel it. And take time to mark the occasion. Maybe have a cocktail with a friend when you book, even if it’s a side hustle. Take yourself for ice cream after an audition, even if you’re not sure you’ll get a callback. The more you mark your efforts and successes, the more successful you will feel, and behave.
  4. Don’t Dwell. It’s human nature to magnify the little traumas of our days. It’s addictively easy to compare our perceived shortcomings to your fellows’ idealized successes. But it is unhelpful and unhealthy. Find ways to learn from your failures, put them to bed, and move on. Dwelling on them is a trap and will weaken you. If you can’t find the tools to dig yourself out of that dark hole, find a professional who can help you. Take your reaction to your failures more seriously than you take the failures themselves.

 

Why pile on? You’re going to get enough input of negativity and rejection as it is. Why give power to those voices? Keep your external dialogue strong and positive, and your internal dialogue loving and forgiving. Each informs the other.

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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