Paul Barry is back in the hot seat for B.A.B.E. this week with Good Habits. If you missed his first guest posts you can see them here and the followup here. These articles were a wonderful addition the actor branding series and focused on making the right showreel choices.
Enjoy today’s Good Habits post!
– Paul Barry
Dictionary.com defines a ‘habit’ as: “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. It does not distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Yet, we frequently associate habits with the negative.
Brushing your teeth is a good habit to maintain. Looking left and right before crossing the street is another. We often use the term in the pejorative sense, which diminishes the wonderful power that comes along with the word. After all, why consciously and deliberately form any habit when we think habits are all bad?
It has been said, it takes three weeks to form a habit, but as you will read in this article habits are easier to make than they are to break, which is why good acting techniques are much easier to absorb than bad acting habits are to shed. Personally, I have found that repeating an action just three times is often enough to form a good habit in an actor, whereas it can take weeks, months, or years to remove extraneous, redundant, or destructive habits from them. Why is it so?
Be it a conscious habit (going to the gym) or unconscious habit (perpetually seeking approval), your ability to change it is affected by its reason for existing in the first place…
It is highly likely that if you are hit over the head with a hammer, every morning as you wake up, you will develop the habit of covering your head as soon as your eyes open. If you’re smart, that is. Encouraging you to wake up with a smile on your face every day and have a nice big stretch, will not be possible until the fear of the metal almost certainly striking your cranium is removed. Once the fear is gone (and there are techniques for this as well) it is possible, but only because you will have arrived at what I believe to be your ‘neutral’ point.
When you resist a new technique as an actor, you are resisting the creation of a new habit. Do you even know why you are resisting? Is it because it’s wrong and won’t work, or is it just because you still fear being hit by the hammer? Much of my teaching experience would suggest the latter. It makes me sad to think of the fear that much teaching (not to mention, life experience) has engendered in people, for it to take so long for actors to find their neutral point. Without arriving first at neutral there is no way to break old, destructive habits, and create new, powerful, life-changing ones. After all, a pendulum cannot swing to the left until it has passed from the right to the centre.
I was walking behind a woman one day in the rain, who was protecting herself with an umbrella. As she went under an awning, the rain stopped, and the sun came out. When she emerged, to my surprise, she kept the umbrella up. I wondered how long it would take for her to realise. We must have walked a good five minutes before it hit her.
Umbrellas are great. Umbrellas protect you, your hair, and your clothing from becoming soaked when it’s raining on your walk to work. Umbrellas even protect you when it’s stinking hot and the sun feels like it’s burning your skin. But an umbrella isn’t required when there’s nothing to soak you or burn you. And here’s the thing: even when it’s raining, getting wet won’t kill you. And enduring a little sunshine is actually healthy. So even without an umbrella your life would not end. Need I draw direct links between waterproof protection mechanisms in the rain, and our psychological and emotional defences in acting situations….?
What’s your umbrella? What are you protecting yourself from? Do you fear looking stupid? Are you concerned about being wrong? What calamity do you think would befall you if you let them go just for one day? Neutral is no umbrella. Neutral is also waking in the morning and having a good stretch without the fear of expecting the hammer to strike you between the eyes. If your life is constantly raining, or you live in fear of a hammer striking you in the morning, then find the techniques to remove the fear, because they exist. If you live your life under constant attack or storms, then remove yourself from those situations. Only then can you find your ‘neutral’, and face the very real possibility of creating some exceptionally enjoyable and productive habits in your life.
Paul Barry is an actor, director, writer, teacher and blogger. He co-owns Acting 4 Camera and Showreels Australia. Paul lives in LA, but regularly teaches via Skype, all around the world.