Trust Your Instincts

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Photo Source: Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

Acting (and living) from instinct is a lost art, yet it’s one of the most vital tools of the artist. We have tossed instinct aside for planning and controlling and in doing so, cut ourselves off from the magic of natural impulses and innate wisdom. 

Many great actors with incredibly rich impulses lose themselves in years of technique and study.  But we must prioritize the study of trust above all masters. We must be willing to throw away everything we know and face the moment with wonder and the awe of a beginner’s mind. Only then will our performance live and breath. Anything else is mechanics.

There is a story about a frog and a centipede that beautifully illustrates this idea. One day, a centipede was out strolling when it happened upon a frog watching it intently. The frog was absolutely astonished gazing at the centipede. The frog asked, “How is it that you walk? How is it that you know which leg to lift first? How is it that all one hundred legs move in such a way?” The centipede answered, “I have never thought about it! Let me see…” The centipede then tried to think about which leg began the movement and he could not move. He was stuck, paralyzed. The centipede looked to the frog angrily and said, “never ever ask a centipede this question again for you have ruined me!”

Instinct does not live in the mind—it lives in the body. Our nature has wisdom that neither our mind or all the analysis in the world can match. Yet when understanding a script or a character, many of us use only the tools of our mind, logic, and intellect, and cut ourselves off from our greatest source of power.  

READ: The Secret to Finally Silencing Your Inner Critic

We must value our knowing over our knowledge.

The mind is a computer. It gathers, stores, and organizes information. The mind collects experiences and data and when we are faced with a new stimulus or situation, the mind will instruct us (based on its current data bank) what to expect and do. The mind has no capacity for the unknown. It knows only what it knows.

Children are instinctual. They follow their desires with ease and with no judgment. They play. They explore. They are not worried about “getting it right.” They just want to express and experience themselves in life. They are free.

At some point, we sacrifice instinct or we’re conditioned to believe our instincts are wrong or will lead us into trouble. We start forcing because we have to obey and we feel guilty if we can’t do it right on time. And whenever it might happen naturally now, we too feel guilty because we know we have done it in the wrong place or moment. We no longer trust our body’s natural rhythm, instead becoming an artificial mechanism to be manipulated.

This is what happens in auditions. We force. We become artificial. We try to do it “right” in the “right moment.” We do not trust the moment. We do not trust that our instinct in this moment will be right. We get too involved. We grip. 

Instinct is not something you cultivate, it is something you allow. Be willing to show up ready, prepared, and open to the newness of the moment.

Be willing to be surprised. Be willing to be a delighted audience member of your own talent. Leap, and see what appears. 

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Natalie Roy
Natalie Roy is an actress, author, and spiritual teacher. She’s also a 500-hour certified yoga and meditation teacher specializing in visualization technique, positive psychology for actors, the yoga sutras and taking ancient Eastern philosophy and practices and playing them into the audition room and onto set.
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