Stop Beating Yourself Up: A 12-Point Plan to Keeping Afloat

The song “High Water” by Dylan has been floating in and out of my brain ever since the Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA strikes were announced. 

The steady drip of A.I. has become an ocean, and many of us are playing like children in its waves, gleefully unaware that we are in shark-infested waters. As I look around, I see some of us drowning, while others reach out a hand, trying to save those in peril without being pulled under themselves. Still, others are so focused on the receding shoreline and their own survival that they don’t dare look back to see those who are struggling.

Here’s a little roadmap I’ve drawn that may help. Specifically, it pertains to improving everything from auditions to relationships, and everything in between. High Water may be everywhere, however, if you learn how to swim, teach others to swim, or just help keep them afloat, we will all survive and ultimately thrive because we took care of each other.

1. Avoid beating yourself up for beating yourself up; it’s unproductive to double down on your fight with yourself. You can’t win.

2. Acknowledge when you are being critical of yourself, accept it, and address it rather than ignoring it in the hope that it will go away. Remember, it’s a little voice inside you saying that you can improve. It is not a constant battle you need to fight.

3. Take the time to precisely identify what you’re criticizing yourself for. This could range from not knowing your lines well enough, to issues of breath or focus, anticipating a line, or lacking emotional access.

4. Treat each critique as a separate challenge, not a personal affront.

5. With this knowledge, create a list of specific items that you think you need to improve on.

6. Once you’ve identified these specific areas of improvement, review your preparation process. Look for potential changes you can make to better achieve your goals and avoid the same issues in the future, such as the examples laid out in point 3.

7. Be specific. When self-critiquing, stick to the point. Focus on clear, actionable issues, not sweeping “woe is me” statements. 

8. Remember this important distinction: you are not a failure. It’s what you did that failed, not you. You can break a habit but giving yourself “The Mark of Cain” can break you.

9. Constant adjustment is key. You should be continually updating your preparation based on past outcomes, your current needs, the scene in front of you, and the external pressures you’re dealing with now.

10. If you decide to be self-critical, focus on these specific, actionable items rather than attacking your entire existence. Annotate these items of self-criticism, compare them against your preparation, and make necessary adjustments.

11. Understand that you may not resolve all issues in the next attempt, but you will undoubtedly get better. Chase progress, not an elusive idea of perfection. Consider perfection like the horizon — a goal to be desired, not a destination or a finish line.

12. Always prioritize your psychological well-being. The process of self-improvement should not lead to self-damage. Remind yourself how far you’ve come, not how far you need to go.

I have had the good fortune of working with Olympic Figure Skater Elvis Stojko. He has trained with me as an actor and is a colleague of mine. While training, he lived by the motto, “you are only as good as your prep.” When training future Olympians, he asks them two questions:

  1. What is your goal?
  2. What are you afraid of?

Next week, I will publish our five-step program to help you prepare and improve in the audition process. We will not fill your head with instructions on how to book more roles or impress casting directors. Instead, we will give you simple tools to become better.