Kelly Nienaltowski, Max Bunzel, and Tyler Olshansky in Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT, directed by Alex Burkart

Mind Wandering, Happiness, and Your Acting Process

Since I got up this morning, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve already checked my Instagram and Facebook account.  I can’t tell you the number, because it’s become almost a constant habit for me.  Often checking a post minutes after I broadcast it, wanting to see how many “likes” or “hearts” or whatever I’ve accumulated to feed that everlasting demand for validation that continuously exists.  As I do so, I feel my mind wander off-track, scrolling through the ongoing media; and before I know it, I look up and minutes (sometimes hours) have passed.  And I don’t feel good about it.  I feel actually really bad about it, even if I was having a total blast on my daily stalk’scapade.  And why is that?  Because I can’t help but to realize that every second I spent sucked into the hypnotizing screen of my cell phone was a second wasted.  Every second I spend allowing my mind to wander the everlasting labyrinth of social media is a second I could have been creating something new: something that would have actually done something to not only further myself, but perhaps society in general.  I think “How much wasted time?” is a valuable question to ask all of ourselves… because it is a lot.

This week I did a lecture in my acting class about mind-wandering.  It was inspired by the following TedTalk.

Basically what Matt Killingsworth goes over in the talk is that there is a correlation between mind-wandering and happiness.  The more our minds tend to wander (even if we are thinking about seemingly positive things) the more unhappy we tend to feel.  Why this happens is a bit uncertain, but after thinking about it I can definitely agree that the days where I am incredibly productive (and in the moment) are the days where I feel most satisfied with the elemental aspects of life (career, relationships, creativity, self, etc).

It was with this video that I also started realizing that perhaps social media mind-wandering is not only making me non-productive, but it is also giving me a degree of unhappiness.  Over the last couple months, I can certainly say that I’ve struggled a bit with my own unhappiness: often frustrated with where I am in certain aspects of everything, and not having the control or successes others seem to present.  These thoughts are frequently birthed out of my mind-wandering journeys.  The dreaded and self-sabotaging particles of doubt and fear, of jealousy and competition.  It is when I am most busy and occupied with my teaching, and writing, and directing work that I can zero-in on the task at hand and not give much thought or care to the other extraneous pollutions surrounding me.

And perhaps we can actually shift this mind-wandering to more of a productive form of creativity.  After all, I can say that many of my favorite creative ideas also were birthed out of this same mind-wandering storm.  Maybe creative flow is the beautiful step-sibling of mind-wandering.  It is allowing your brain to explore magical “what ifs” in a productive “moment-to-moment” manner than aimless walking in the social media abyss.  Creative flow has the purpose to create, and therefore it seeds happiness; it gives us the action to pull us out of monotony and into productivity.

And perhaps understanding this idea of “mind-wandering” can also give us insight to our characters as we actors create fictional inner-lives.  Perhaps identifying where our characters are unhappy, and then investigating these moments, looking for the potential of mind-wandering, will help give us richer understanding of our character’s thought and subtext: of their humanity.  We as actors often focus so much on being connected to one another that we never consider an possibly interesting opposite choice: the choice of being “not connected” with our partner: the moment where our character escapes to their continuous spiral of randomness.

So moving forward: in your script, play around with those moments.  See if “falling out of connection” actually puts you “into the circumstances.”  See what it does to you both mentally, physically, and behaviorally.  But then always remember to snap back out of it, to focus on being present and productive in your daily life: even cutting those tethers to social media if you have to.

Spend less time wandering, and more time creating.  The world will probably thank you for it.