Can acting keep a lawyer's mind sharp? Perhaps theater is one answer to the dilemma of the graying (or greying) bar. Drama coaching might prove better than life coaching for aging lawyers. Get them out of their routines and on stage.
Dave Munger at Cognitive Daily posted "Is theater the ultimate brain fitness product?" in which he describes a study of people 60 through 86 years old. A third of the group participated in a theater workshop, a third studied visual art, and a third received no training. Pre- and post-tests were compared. Munger writes:
The theater group improved significantly more compared to the control group in each of the measures (there was much less variance in the psychological well-being scores than in the other tests, so those small gains are significant). For problem solving and well-being, the theater group also improved significantly more than the visual arts group. The theater group also had the lowest drop-out rate of any group: All theater participants attended all 9 sessions, while 8 of the 44 visual arts students dropped out, despite the fact that all participants said they enjoyed the sessions.
Noice et al. continued to study the theater students for four months after the study, and found their performance on all tests was maintained for the entire post-study period.
The research team speculated about the reasons for the improvement made by the theater group: sustained attention and novelty. New activities certainly require the brain to make new synapses and help it stay out of neuro-ruts. The brain, like the rest of the body, benefits from cross-training which promotes flexibility and limberness, both qualities of brain fitness. (Both also aid in neuroboomeritis prevention.) I bet that learning improv would greatly facilitate brain agility, too.
Perhaps when some of these new thespians learned the technique of "acting as if," they deliberately or subconsciously used it in their day-to-day life to make changes. For example, acting young is an ingredient in maintaining physical and mental health as one ages. (Read Act Now!.) The actor is engaging in self-directed neuroplasticity and is sculpting and rewiring his or her brain. To further explain, I am going to include most of a short article I wrote several years ago . . .
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
We Become What We Do
"Because we always have control over the doing component of our
behavior, if we markedly change that component, we cannot avoid
changing the thinking, feeling, and physiological components as well."
William Glasser, Take Effective Control of Your Life
Dr. Roberto Assagioli called this technique of controlling what we do "acting as if" . . .
"If we are sad or depressed, it is difficult, if not impossible, to become cheerful or serene through a direct act of will. It IS within our power to smooth our forehead, lift our head, smile, and speak words of harmony, optimism, confidence, and joy.
"The use of this technology will actually change our emotional
state. Little by little, and sometimes rapidly, the emotional state
will follow, adapt itself to, and match the attitude and external
Roberto Assagioli, The Act of Will
The great acting coach Constantin Stanislavsky called aligned principles simply "the method."
What almost unimaginable, and transcendent, freedom we have. Act as we want to be, and we will become it. We do not have to be slaves to our emotions, our psychological barbs, our internal weather. We just need to imagine how we want to be and then put it into ACTION.
Whistling in the Dark
Our emotions are chemicals. (For more about emotions and chemicals, read Candace Pert's Molecules of Emotion.) Whistling in the dark, acting confident when we are scared, changes our emotions. Our chemical self changes and we have the chemicals of confidence. We are confident!
No longer just acting the part.
Let's all become actors today. Who will you be?
Better Living through Chemistry
A queen in your court? Don that invisible crown and wave your imaginary scepter at life, commanding not cowering. Start now, Your Highness. Oh, so high.
. . .
A jewel of joy? Put on a happy face, add a bounce to your step, and open your arms wide to life. To paraphrase some song I heard long ago, say loudly when you open your arms: "I'm big! I'm glad! I'm nationwide!" Those chemicals of delight will soon stream through every cell.
"Acting as if" lets you design a new life. Shall we hold an Oscar night? You can turn your role into a day-to-day reality. You will win much more than an Oscar.
And Today . . .
Decide who you are going to be today. Confident? Optimistic? Vibrant? Playful? Patient? Successful? Loving? What do you really want?
Sit for a while and imagine how you would act if you were that person. Make notes on posture, gestures, tone of voice, manner of dressing, way of walking, enunciation, expressions, sound and action of laughing, topics of conversation, you'll think of more as you wholly and completely and fully imagine this new you. Take time with this exercise, no less than ten minutes.
Then stand up and begin to play the part. Go to the mirror and perfect your acting. This will be fun. You are doing what you loved to do as a child -- make believe. You have not lost that skill to make believe. You just need to let it out on stage today.
Your acting will change every molecule in your body. Not to mention your life.
Today you are the director, the actor, and the producer all rolled (and role'd) into one transforming performance.
Ready? Roll those cameras. The first scene starts now. Action!
©Copyright 2002 Stephanie West Allen