How Do We Jump In?

Over the last decade of teaching improv classes, I’ve watched hundreds of new students as they dipped their toes into the performing arts pool. Some are timid, ask questions, and carefully lower themselves in, while others are bold and confident and dive into the deep end. And as I’ve dug deeper into performance theory and acting styles and confidence builders I’ve started to discover that there isn’t just one approach to getting into the pool. Everyone’s different, and for me it’s part of teaching a good, value-rich class to notice how students approach a new skill and learn within their personal framework. And through research I realized I was starting to think about learning styles.

Becoming popular in the 70’s, learning styles proposes that all people can be classified according to their “style” of learning, although the various theories present differing views on how the styles should be defined and categorized. And although there is ample evidence that individuals express preferences for how they prefer to receive information, few studies have found any validity in using learning styles in education (Wikipedia). And I’m sure you’ve seen the test you can take online that will tell you if you’re a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner (do you process info better from looking, listening, or doing). There isn’t any real science to back up the claims that tailoring your teaching approach to an individual’s preferred way of learning will make any substantial difference, but there could be value in the individual having a better idea of how they like to learn.

For example, I have recently been teaching “thinking A-to-C” in my classes and training actors on how to pick apart a word or phrase and wring as much creative inspiration out of it as they can. When an improviser gets a suggestion from the audience to start the show (a word or phrase or location) they go through a process in their heads in which they analyze the word and take a few steps away from it in their heads to arrive at a new point of inspiration with which to start a scene (thinking A-to-B-to-C). This makes the scenes more rich and interesting and helps the actors have more room to explore. So, if the audience gives the suggestion of “apple” to the actor, if they just took the word at face value and did a few scenes about apples, you’d probably end up with a boring 20 minute show all about apples. And you as the audience would want your money back. However, if the actor got the word “apple” and then thought A-to-C, they could think “apple makes me think of fresh baked pie, and fresh baked pie makes me think of a county fair” they could now have an interesting scene about two people working a ring toss booth at a local fair. A lot more interesting than watching two people talk about apples for 20 minutes.

But what went through my head when I was thinking of the word “apple”? Did I visualize a freshly baked pie sitting on a windowsill to cool? Did I picture the word and begin to shuffle through other words in my brain-rolodex? Did I smell the apples and immediately smell cinnamon and pie crust? Did I feel the apple in my hands and begin to imagine holding other apple related objects? What was the path my brain took to arrive at a new inspiration location? That’s where I landed as I was teaching this concept. And for me this is a fascinating place to explore.

As I ran through this exercise with my students it became obvious that everyone had a different approach to exploring the idea. Some were visual, others auditory, and others felt the ideas in their bodies. And noticing how you explore an idea is helpful in making the act of exploration easier and more valuable. When you are mindful of how you explore, what you notice, and what you eventually glean from a new idea or concept the act of learning isn’t just about memorizing new data, but being actually curious about it and being open to explore and hungry for more. And this concept isn’t just valuable for performers, it can translate to any line of work. Notice what path your brain takes when you hear a new concept or take on a new project or puzzle. Do you visualize the issue and roll it around in your brain? Do you see the words or picture Excel sheets? Do you need to grab a pencil and begin to write out ideas or draw flowcharts or schematics? How do you easily and most effectively process the information so that it’s interesting and supports your innate curiosity?

In other words, how do you jump in?

Impostor Syndrome and the Fear of Success

You don’t deserve what you have.

People will find out.

You’re a fraud.

Sound familiar? It does to me. For the entirety of my professional life, I’ve had a voice in my head telling me I was a faker. I didn’t deserve the success I’ve worked for. I didn’t have the right to hold the positions I’ve held. I’d be exposed as a fraud and everyone will FINALLY know that I am a liar and should go back from wherever I came from. And this voice would not be subtle. It took a lot of energy to turn down the volume, look past the roadblock, and continue on my journey to success and happiness.

This voice has a name. IMPOSTOR SYNDROME. The term, introduced in 1978 by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes, defines impostor phenomenon (or syndrome) as an individual experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness (Wikipedia). Basically thinking you are a fraud. And the numbers indicate that almost 3/4 of us have some degree of impostor syndrome at any given time. And as I’ve felt in my own experience, this feeling can spawn stress, anxiety, fear of failure, loss of confidence and a host of other self-sabotaging feelings and habits.

So how do we overcome impostor syndrome? As the old saying goes, “Old habits die hard…” Once impostor syndrome becomes a part of our routine, it becomes an extension of our comfort zone. Stepping outside of our comfort zones is difficult, but it’s the one and only way we learn and grow. Here are a few ways we can push past that voice in our heads and begin to enjoy our success:

  1. Remind yourself of your successes - We work so hard that we sometimes forget why we work so hard. To achieve success. It’s easy to list all your failures. Take time to look back and list all the things you’ve done right. Embrace those wins, and make room for more wins in the future.

  2. What’s holding you back? - We think the thoughts that hold us back, but never examine those thoughts or where they’re coming from. Who’s voice are you hearing when it says you’re a fraud? What belief do you hold that is sabotaging your future? What would happen if you actually won and were successful?

  3. Accept Yourself - You are who you are and you do what you do. Stop comparing yourself to others successes. Everyone’s journey is personal, so comparing what you’ve done to others is pointless. Use yourself and your past as the comparison to the here and now.

Trust the universe is showing you the correct path.

Body Positivity vs Body Acceptance

For female-identifying people the struggle with body image has been a long and storied affair, documented in every magazine, movie, and tv show we’ve seen. Much emphasis has been placed on being thin, young, and flawless. And anyone straying from a very narrow band on the spectrum runs the risk of being mocked, shamed, picked apart, and left drained, dejected, or even suicidal. The weight loss industry has grown to tap into the culture of fear and self-consciousness about our bodies to the tune of $66.3 BILLION in 2017 alone.

There are signs of change happening, but in 2019 the norm is still young, white, and thin.

A similar issue that is now making its way into the spotlight is male-identifying people and their struggle with body image. A discussion of body image in male culture cannot really be separated from a discussion about toxic masculinity and the toll it takes on young men on a daily basis. But for the sake of this post, I’d like to focus specifically on pop culture representation of what a handsome, virile, relevant man is supposed to look like. And much like for the ladies, the ideal for men is more often than not young, muscular, and white with a full head of hair.

The men’s hair loss and replacement industry was valued at $2.3 BILLION in 2017, with 397,048 hair loss replacement procedures happening in 2014 alone.

Men are just as vulnerable to the images of what a “real man” should look like as women are to what a “real woman” should look like. However, men are less likely to talk about their insecurities or seek out help and will instead struggle alone with the personal effects.

As a queer man, I have seen this issue from a unique perspective. Straight men will definitely get more of a pass from society in terms of what an average body will look like. Just look at any sitcom like “King of Queens” where a skinny wife is paired with a larger husband. But even in this regard, there is an assumed inherent comedic sight gag to having a “beautiful” woman married to a “fat” husband. In gay culture, a premium is still placed on being well muscled or rail thin. Anything that deviates is considered a subculture, like bears or daddies, and isn’t really considered a norm.

No matter your place on the gender spectrum, body image is something we all struggle with.

A heartening trend that has appeared in recent years is the body positivity trend. Models and advocates who don’t fit into the narrow bands of what is usually thought of as “beautiful” are being more visible and more vocal in terms of loving their bodies and making the case that you can be healthy, happy, and attractive no matter your body type. Although this call to love yourself is a step in the right direction, does it really address the underlying issue? Is forcing yourself to “love your body” at all times really a healthy alternative?

I recently read an article “Should We Swap ‘Body Positivity’ for ‘Body Neutrality” and it raised some valid concerns. In the article, the author writes “…instead of fighting to love our flaws, we learn to just accept them. For many people, the idea of loving their bodies unconditionally just isn’t achievable, but celebrating our bodies on the days when we feel good, and accepting it on the days when we don’t, is the positive premise that neutrality presents.” As a life coach, this resonates with me on many levels. Body positivity has the connotation that we should love ourselves no matter what. And any phrase that has the word should in it rings alarm bells for me. Yes, there is value in loving who you are, but when it becomes an imperative to be positive about it at all times there is more room for “failure” and a backslide into unhealthy thought patterns and habits.

On the other hand, body neutrality or acceptance doesn’t include any stringent requirements. With neutrality and acceptance, you can embrace and love your body on days when you’re feeling it, and on those days where you aren’t quite at 100%, you can still look at yourself in the mirror and accept yourself exactly as you are. Because people aren’t perfect. Bodies aren’t perfect. Those celebrities and models who are held up as the examples of what “perfect” is…really aren’t. They have armies of make up artists, and trainers, and nutritionists, and photographers helping them look “perfect”. It’s their job to look as perfect as they can. They get paid for it.

But what about the rest of us? Without the armies of help to look our “best”, we are all left as the universe made us… natural. And the more we all can begin to see ourselves in that natural light and ACCEPT that image, the more we can reach out and accept each other exactly as we are, and the more the weight of trying to be perfect and all the “shoulds” begin to melt away.

And that is a solid step on a new path to happiness and success.

New Season, Who Dis?

Did spring catch you off guard? Have a growing list of to dos and not enough time to do the to dos?

Here are three points to ponder when considering what to do next…

What do I need to get done first?
Is any one task on the list connected to other tasks that will move forward if this one is done?
What’s stopping me?

Set smart goals!
Are your goals too broad?
Too vague?
Too far off in the future?
Put one foot in front of the other and set small attainable goals. You’ll start flowing in no time!

Celebrate the wins!
Did you check something off your to do list?
Finally de clutter the clutter?
Make a molehill out of a mountain?
Congrats! Take a victory lap!

Take your time. Take a breath. Take the reins. You got this!

Need support? Schedule a FREE focus session with me TODAY!