This post was originally written for actors but anyone can use it!
A couple weeks ago I was waiting in a busy subway station during rush hour.
The 4/5 trains were taking forever to arrive and since I was at Fulton Center (a super busy stop), there were exactly 473 new people joining us on the platform every minute (but who's counting?).
Eventually, the 5 train arrived.
We all crammed in like sardines.
My knee had been hurting because of not doing squats at the gym properly, so I REALLY wanted to sit down.
You can probably guess how many seats were available.
I searched for a moment and noticed two angry-looking people sitting on either side of an empty seat. The only part of the seat left was a thin sliver in the middle.
Should I sit there?
I thought about it for a moment, and then my mind immediately went, "Yes."
I steeled myself for all the negative energy about to be sent my way, and to the astonished looks of everyone around me, I went for it.
I squeezed down into the seat... and pulled out my laptop to start working.
"When I was 20, I always worried what people were thinking of me. When I was 40, I completely stopped caring what people were thinking of me. When I was 60, I realized no one was EVER thinking about me... and if they were, they were just wondering what I was thinking of them!"
So Why Do We Keep Getting in Our Own Way?
Because we unconsciously want to stay in our comfort zones.
Well, we all have a natural thermostat, or comfort level, in our lives.
With a room thermostat, when the temperature starts getting too cold, the heat kicks in to bring the room back to a comfortable temperature.
Similarly, if we start failing too often or not making enough money for our comfort zone, we'll kick ourselves into high gear to fix the situation, getting things back to a comfortable level.
Unfortunately the opposite is also true.
If things start heating up too much, the thermostat turns on the air conditioner to cool the room back down.
Likewise, when an opportunity for a ton of success presents itself, we'll unconsciously self-sabotage in order to stay within our comfort zone.
Procrastinating, being lazy, and even getting super nervous before a big audition are all forms of self-sabotage.
The reason we get in our own way is because our brain NEEDS to stay in its comfort zone to keep us "safe."
Here's a crazy fact: Many actors feel extremely nervous in big auditions not because they think they'll mess up, but because unconsciously their brain is scared they might succeed! It thinks that if they book the role, they might not be ready for it because the success is too far out of their comfort zone.
So How Do We Make Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zone Easier?
The only way to truly become better at what you do is to put yourself in a place where you can fail.
Instead, you need to accept those challenges to find out whether you'll overcome them or not.
It's easy to go to acting classes week after week and continue submitting for the same small, guest star roles. It's easy to say, "I'm not ready for an agent yet," or "I don't want to follow up and bother that big executive producer I met on set."
But do you want to keep doing the easy things in life? Or are you willing to step up and test yourself to see if you can overcome the hard things?
Fearing Failure Means You're Holding Yourself to Low Standards
I used to be the type of person who would say, "Eventually I'll be ready to do that. But if I try it now I might fail." And so I'd never try.
But when I changed my thinking to, "I must constantly test my skills to see how good I really am and learn how to get better," my life changed.
Instead of it being me who determined whether I was good enough (which is inherently self-centered), I decided to let the world show me if was good enough.
It's that new perspective that made me want to challenge myself to see whether I could go sit down between those angry people on the subway.
And it's that new perspective that has allowed me to grow my sphere of influence in the world so I can keep giving more and more value to people.
As just one example, I clicked "Publish" on this blog post. Maybe you'll like it or maybe you'll hate it! But I'm OK with getting negative feedback if that's what comes because it's the only way I'll learn for sure if what I'm doing needs to change.
So I'd like you to make a commitment to yourself right now:
Write in the comments below one specific thing in your career or life you know you should do – but that makes you nervous or anxious.
Then make it your mission this week to go out and test yourself.
If you succeed, AMAZING! And if you fail the test, more power to you! All it means is you've held yourself to the highest standard and have grown as a person.
You've now got real data on something that needs to be changed, and you'll start improving way faster than if you never tested yourself and just continued theorizing like most people do.
Look at everything you want to do as a test and keep running those tests. And then analyze the data after each test to see what you can learn.
If you do this, I promise that within a few months, you'll stop getting in your own way and you'll start accomplishing WAY more than you ever have.
Martin's Quick Win:
But how do we get that confidence to actually attempt it in the first place? Well, here's a shortcut to INSTANT confidence that anyone can use right now:
- Sit in a comfortable chair, looking forward. Make sure you're in a place where you won't be disturbed for 5-10 minutes. And be sure to turn off or silence your phone!
- Close your eyes and deeply think of a time when you felt extremely confident and strong. Really imagine that moment and remember it. FEEL the confidence.
- Once you're feeling 110% confident and strong, pinch your right hand hard at the skin between the pinky and ring finger. I know that seems weird, but trust me and go with it.
- Repeat this process at least another 2-3 times, each time making sure you're in a deep state of confidence before you pinch yourself. Be sure to pinch yourself in the same exact place each time.
- You've just created an anchor, and now need to check it. You can test the anchor by relaxing completely (not feeling confident), and then pinching yourself in that exact place. Suddenly, you'll notice a surge of confidence and your state will completely change – without you even needing to think of that memory!
- Now, think of something you know you SHOULD do, but you're scared to do. Focus on it very strongly, and feel the fear.
- Now, pinch your hand in that exact place again! Suddenly, that feeling of fear will evaporate and be replaced by a feeling of total confidence and strength.
- Now get out there and do the thing you're afraid of! And any time you need a boost of confidence, just activate your anchor.
An anchor is a psychological phenomenon that uses your brain's mechanics to your advantage.
Now, any time there's something you know you need to do, but you're scared, all you gotta do is pinch the skin between your pinky and ring finger on your right hand and you'll get the confidence you need to follow through.
Additional Advice from Actress Meghan Hemingway
- Set yourself up for success. Treat your small business (aka you) as a job you are getting paid 6 figures for. You bet you'd show up on time and offer input at the meeting and take that extra care to follow up with people - especially if your bonus is on the line. You must find a way to create those same stakes for yourself.
- Stop apologizing for your work. Own it. Listen to criticism and be ready to answer questions, but stand in the power of what you are building. No one will be able to see it if you don't.
- Get comfortable with discomfort. In this industry, you are going to be living with huge question marks hanging over your head at all times. "If I book this role, I can't do this trip with my friends;" "If I don't get this role, I can attend that family function;" "If I have to jet off for a meeting, there goes my weekend plans." I wish I could say it gets better or easier, but I've learned that this is just the resting pace for a life in the arts. It can be hard for family and friends who do not live this life to understand. The best thing you can do for yourself is to find the thing that will ground you amidst the chaos. I practice yoga daily, I find my structure and meditation through that practice and it helps me deal with the anxiety of a life lived in question marks.
- Stop comparing yourself to other people - like NOW! STOP IT! This is the surest recipe for disaster. It can be the death of your spirit and the death of your art. If you're busy looking at your neighbor, trying to figure out how they booked that last role, you are completely negating the things that are wonderful and singular about you. Lean into your craft, work it, be more you - stop worrying about them.
If you enjoyed this article, here are a few others I've written that I think you'll like:
- The Biggest Things I've Learned from Age 20-30
- How to Be Yourself Without Seeming Unprofessional
- How Actors Can Make the Most of the Coronavirus Situation
For guest posts, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.