Optimal Conditioning the New Year Resolutions List
“Play well or play badly, but play truly.” - Konstantin Stanislavsky
The New Year has arrived! Do you know what that means? It’s time to set some New Year’s Resolutions!! Most of our resolutions revolve around feelings of shame and guilt carried over from the previous year. And yet, there is a certain atmosphere of eagerness and a wealth of ‘new year dedication fuel’ in ye olde motivation tank. This is a magical time of year because it feels like you get a clean slate and a fresh start to make positive changes in your life. As I’m trying to curate my own list of New Year’s resolutions I can’t help but find myself being drawn to a quote from “A Practical Handbook for the Actor” by Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeline Olnek, Nathaniel Pollack, Roberto Previto, and Scott Zigler.
“All you can do is bring yourself to the theatre in Optimum condition to participate in the play at hand. Identifying what things can put yourself in optimum condition then doing them consistently so that they become habitual will give you the satisfaction of always knowing what to do, what your job truly is… The best thing you can do for yourself as an actor is to clearly define and list those things that are your responsibilities and separate them from those things which are not.” (pg. 3-4)
Theatrum Mundi. Jacques in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” said it best, “All the World’s a Stage…”. While many of you might not be actors in the commercial theatre, we are all actors on the stage of life. And all we can do is bring ourself to the theatre/our life’s stage and strive to place ourself in an optimum condition ready to engage with the play at hand or whatever life throws at us. When the magic of NYE dissipates and we find ourselves in the ides of March, fifteen pounds heavier and no longer going to the gym, with our resolutions long forgotten, what happens next? The truth is: we are not in control of the magic. We are only in control of our intentions. If you realize a few important concepts NOW, while the magical motivation of NYE/Jan 1 is still present you can set yourself up for a year filled with satisfaction and accomplishment.
- Optimal is NOT Maximal
- Know your Job
- Consistency leads to Habits
“Optimal: the best, most favorable, most salutary condition, degree, or amount; “optimal” (and “optimum”) always implies “quality” and is never fixed or finite. Maximal: the greatest possible quantity, degree, or amount for a particular situation; “maximum” is fixed or finite.” (“The Use and Training of the Human Voice” by Arthur Lessac, pg. 27-28) We live in a culture that is consumed with ‘hitting the numbers’. We are obsessed with measuring our success with some societally prescribed rubric. We need to keep concrete records of our progress so we can see how we stack up compared to everyone else. We have to get the most bang for our buck and we have to do it better than everyone else. All of these ideas have us chasing after some ‘maximal’ standard. The human condition is always in flux and is never fixed (or finite in my opinion, but thats a topic for another article). We are fighting against our own nature when we strive for the MAXIMUM. Arthur Lessac used to say “Never Force Your Voice.” Many actors mistake volume for healthy projection and effective tonal resonance. This leads to strained voices and in some cases permanent damage. Some of my students want to fill the space immediately, but aren’t willing to put in the necessary daily practice/patience/time that it requires. They look at their colleagues and see someone who is filling the space immediately without even trying. They then push for the same level of volume. They push for the end-product and forget the process. While It has to be discouraging to see people with naturally stentorian sounds, there is no short-cut to success without some consequence. In this case, a blown larynx. This seems to be a perfect parallel scenario for our New Year’s Resolutions. After going to the gym for a few weeks, we still get out of breath going up the stairs but everyone else seems to be in great shape. After asking our boss for a promotion, Jan from accounting gets the bump. It would make anyone sick trying to constantly “go for broke” and seeing the apparent success of everyone around them. We want to accomplish our goals, but we run out of energy half-way through because we aren’t hitting the ‘maximal’ standards. This is why it is so important to frame your New Year’s Eve Resolutions in an OPTIMAL way. ‘Optimal’ is the most effective, healthy, and favorable way to accomplish your goals because it takes into account the qualitative results of your actions (e.g. wear, tear, and damage to the human body). Lessac says, “It is the most favorable condition for growth, development, reinforcement, and maturation.” Before I broke my back in 2011, I was always going for maximal standards: Best Grades. Best Body. Best Role. Best, best, best. When I realized that I might not ever walk again, I knew that I would never be able to hit those maximal standards. I was depressed for months at the prospect of a life of already hitting my maximal physical limits and never being able to get there again. 2 titanium rods, 14 screws, and a year of in-home physical therapy later… There was a paradigm shift in my thinking. There had to be. I came across the word optimal. I would say to myself, “What is your optimal condition today? I can’t change my condition in life. There are factors outside of my control.” I would look at myself in the mirror and ask myself, “What is my optimal condition today?” Can I walk to the door? Can I walk to the kitchen? Can I walk up one stair? Two stairs? Each day I had to convince myself to take one step more. But instead of comparing myself to other people and the maximal standards placed on me by society, education and upbringing, I decided to compare me to ME - right where I was in that moment. “Johnny broke his back and is already running.” “Billy never broke his back and can easily bend down to tie his shoe.” These ‘maximal’ thoughts are murder to progress. Your New Year’s Resolutions are YOUR New Year’s Resolutions. Don’t worry about the maximal standards of the world around you. It takes time for growth, development, reinforcement and maturation of newly forming habits.
What is your job? Your job is to show up to your life. Be in your optimum condition daily. Does that mean you are singing show tunes every morning? No. But it does mean being at your best, whatever that looks like on that particular day. Even on your cruddiest day the self has an optimal condition. And Participate in the play at hand. Get in the habit of saying Yes! to your life. Our default is to block and deny the path before us, when we should be accepting and building as we go along. How? Identify the things that put you into an optimal condition. Is it eating right? Getting enough sleep? Having one glass of wine before bed? Meditating? etc… Then do each of those actions consistently until they become habitual. Adding and subtracting from the list as your awareness of what is your responsibility and what is NOT your responsibility grows. I’m reminded of the serenity prayer often quoted in AlAnon:
“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”
- Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
It is important to clearly define this list of things I am responsible for in my life. Then I need to Make it Visible; Make it Visited; and Make it Viable. Consistency can build good or bad habits, it just depends on your actions. If I consistently worry about the things I can’t change, I will inevitably spin out. This frustration and fruitless worry will infect my whole life and result in my stagnation. However, if I can change the little things in my life I have control over I will be in charge of my life. There will be a more consistent trajectory of growth, if we look at our New Year’s Resolutions in a practical way. My goal is to not be swayed by the ebb and flow of the motivational magic…
New Year’s Resolutions (subject to change):
- Work daily on effective vocal exercises | Goal: Strong, clear, resonant voice.
- Discipline myself to daily exercise as well as the study and application of movement exercises | Goal: Develop a body that will do whatever is asked of it; become as strong, supple, and graceful as the constraints of my body (2 rods and 14 screws from L5 - L2) will allow. Stop beating myself up about the body that was, and focus on the body I have now and what it could be in the future.
- Be Braver and more confident.
- Be more open with my faith in Christ.
- Daily prayer, meditation, and journal.
- Stay organized, prepared, and on time.
- Put God first, others second, and me third.
- Speak less and listen more.
- Read 52 books.
- Do Stand-up Comedy again.