In the world of film and cinema a “character actor” is best described as an actor that dedicates a portion of his life to learn everything about the person he is playing in his upcoming film. He then completely dedicates his entire life to learning and adopting the behavior, looks, mannerisms, speech, personality and practically everything about the character he is playing in the upcoming film. It is quite a radical approach to acting. Daniel Day Lewis might be considered the greatest character actor of our generation. He played Abraham Lincoln in the movie Lincoln. He absolutely embodied Abraham Lincoln in every regard. You might be asking why I am talking about this cinematic concept of the ‘character actor’. Maybe this example of the character actor will make my point a little clearer. Heath Ledger played the role of the Joker in the Batman movie The Dark Knight in 2008 and soon thereafter took his own life. Some speculate that his suicide was a result of him over-identifying with his role as the Joker. Though there is no concrete proof of this and nor will there ever be a verdict on such a speculation, let’s take a deeper look at this process that a character actor undergoes in preparing for his role.
For months (probably well over a year to be more accurate) leading up to the Dark Knight, Heath Ledger played his role of Joker 24/7 in order to really fully embody it and perfect it. Some might see this as harmless fun- sure. But what was he really doing? What is really going on here? He was learning an entirely new “way of being”- a totally different beingness. He was 100% embodying a villain that had maniacal beliefs and lethal intentions. He was practicing over and over again- being sinister, dishonest, violent and slippery. Through all the months of rehearsing this and practicing this new set of beliefs, behaviors and expressions- one can’t help but to think that he had wired this new identity to his nervous system so strongly that he actually in some ways became the Joker. If this is true, then it is no surprise that he fell into a deep depression. He probably had an existential identity crisis and couldn’t look at himself in the mirror after seeing who had become. The shame must had been enormous.
Obviously it is not confirmed that Health Ledger committed suicide as a result of his role of playing the Joker, however I think that this example of a ‘character actor’ can be an effective metaphor for understanding the nature of identity, beingness and personal development. Simply put, what Heath Ledger did in preparing for the role of the joker (rehearsing and practicing a way of being and an identity) is the same exact process as what we are doing as humans all the time- we just aren’t conscious of it. We are always anchoring something to our nervous system and conditioning (learning) some behavior, thought pattern or emotional reaction (ultimately a way of being). As long as we are breathing and conscious- we are rehearsing some unique beingness. This is good news and bad news. Let me start with the bad news. The bad thing about this is that 97% of the human race is conditioning into their nervous systems shitty and did-empowering states like fear, anxiety, depression, resentment, etc. On the other hand, the good news is that if we wake up from our trance, we can actually take control of our conditioning and begin to move in the direction of who we actually want to become.
By now you might be asking the question- “well since Heath Ledger and Daniel Day-Lewis are actors- aren’t they just acting?” Yes of course they are actors, but they differentiate themselves from other actors because they embody their role to the fullest and let that become a part of their identity for some finite amount of time. Isn’t this precisely what we are doing as humans? We are doing nothing more than acting and then creating a story around our acting so it forms a set beliefs about ourselves aka an ‘identity’ or ‘personality’. This is kind of screwed up right? Maybe, but what’s even more screwed up is how we as humans tend to “act” in such an incongruent way that our nervous system is tied up like a pretzel. Yes the vast majority of us are UNCONSCIOUSLY being just like a character actor. We are always conditioning some pattern into our nervous system whether we like it or not. However the patterns we are wiring in are likely to be incongruent- pulling us hard and jolting us in opposite directions. Love, joy and peace are pulling us in one direction while fear, shame and anger pull us in the other direction. No wonder we can’t get anything accomplished. We are “acting” out a role of pure incongruence. Then when we don’t get the results we want in life- we beat ourselves up over it and add even more shit to our giant shame sandwich. Think about it- we have the unique power to visualize and determine who we want to become as a person. We can visualize that person, step into that person and with enough practice we can begin to embody that person. Then after months and years of practicing this way of being and ‘acting like this person’- we will actually become this person. This is a beautiful thing if you see it for what it is. Some people might see this phenomenon as dark or manipulative or against God’s will. I see it as a huge opportunity. You have to choose wisely who you want to become. Because you could become a complete asshole. You could also come to understand that you have the unique power to serve, heal and love to an exponential degree. You could also not choose and let your life unfold on a ‘default’ setting. This is how 97% of society operates and they turn out to be fat, broke, divorced and depressed. Why is this? Because they are conditioning mixed messages into their nervous system at all times. They have mixed associations to everything. This keeps them in no mans land- never really happy or never really sad, never really successful or never really a complete failure. Do you see the predicament in not making a conscious choice about who you are to become?
So what I am proposing is that we have the unique power to decide our destiny- to make a decision about the person we are going to become. And once we make this decision, we can rehearse it daily, step into it, embody this person and ultimately become this person. Create such a crystal clear image in your mind of this person you wish to become and overlearn the shit out it. This will completely shift your way of being and the great news is that it is entirely an inside job. Regardless of what kind of feedback the external environment is giving you- you can continue to be this person and condition this way of being into your nervous system until it becomes automatic and you become unconsciously competent at being the person you want to be. And once you become that person, it’s not like the process stops- you just continue to grow and integrate more fully. I see this approach and understanding to personal development as highly practical and an ideal combination of Maxwell Maltz (Psycho-Cybernetics), Milton Erickson, Richard Bandler, John Grinder, Tony Robbins, Napolean Hill (Think and Grow Rich), Joe Dispenza (Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself) and Alex Loyd. (Beyond Willpower)
Now this leaves you only one question…
WHO DO YOU WANT TO BECOME? choose wisely, however make the choice, or someone else will for you. Or as Jim Rohn liked to say, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”