Reclaiming Self-Confidence as an Actor
Self-confidence is as vital as any acting skill. Actress and screenwriter Abiola Ogunbiyi explains how we can reclaim our self-confidence, and shares tips to help prevent us from losing it again.
Whether you’ve noticed it within yourself, or it’s been brought up by those close to you, feelings and behaviours of low self-confidence can add a tenfold weight to the already challenging task of navigating life as a working actor.
Because it’s known as ‘self’ confidence, it might appear to be a trait that’s only relevant to our personality. However, our inner confidence has a huge impact on how we engage in our acting craft; after all, as actors our working instrument is our self.
Having a positive attitude towards our abilities is vital to walking into or onto the stage, set, or casting room with trust that our prep is locked-in, and our instincts are strong enough to carry us the rest of the way. It frees us up to live in the moment, rather than create reasons why we’re not right for the part, or engage in other behaviours that block our best work from shining through.
Fortunately, there are many actionable steps we can take to reignite, and increase, our confidence as actors, and build the resilience and inner conviction to support an empowered acting career. Here are some strategies to start that journey:
Don’t Brush It Off
If a close friend told you that they felt low in acting confidence, it’s highly unlikely that you’d tell them to just get over it (unless this was your kind of banter). This is not an easy industry, and you are not flawed for having moments of doubt, no matter what career stage or CV-length you’re at.
If you can pinpoint your confidence dip to a specific, isolated experience, you may simply need time and some new, encouraging work experiences to get closure. However, if you’ve spent a while trying to shake the feeling, or have experienced an intense period of career challenges, it may help to find additional support through a coach or qualified mental health professional, and get advice tailored to your unique situation.
The British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM) specialises in health and wellbeing for performing arts professionals, and offers free consultations led by clinicians from a range of backgrounds. Take time to consider the support you need and don’t be afraid to try multiple approaches to help you get a thorough reset.
Take on the Confidence-Thieving Culprits
By developing proactive strategies for situations where we know our confidence could take a knock, we can feel more confident navigating these situations as they arise. Write a list of the aspects of the job that have affected your confidence in the past, and if you can’t think of a combat strategy at that moment, make a note to ask a colleague or find a resource that offers tangible advice.
A common confidence-thieving culprit is hearing that an audition hasn’t gone our way. The great paradox about self-confidence is that, early on in life, much of our self-confidence is created by others’ perceptions and positive reinforcement of our skills. Auditions carry a similar model in that we present our skills and choices and wait to hear whether they fit the part we’re being seen for. If we then hear a ‘no,’ we could internalise that as a rejection of our choices and, subsequently, our skill.
A key to maintaining trust in your ability is to reframe audition outcomes so that they’re not about your skill as an actor, but instead about how the team sees the character. Casting others in your own project can be an eye-opener into this aspect of the casting process, as can remembering instances where you’ve been brought back for a new project by the same casting director or theatre.
Break the Fourth Wall
Though acting is your chosen profession, your greatest confidence-booster might actually be found outside the rehearsal room. Investing time in your other interests, or exploring brand-new ones, can cultivate some beginner’s enthusiasm, which will be a welcome addition to your craft.
I recently wrote about the benefits of creating your own work. While this can be an empowering way to keep creative, consider looking for outlets that are far or completely removed from acting. For example, things like pottery, painting, or cooking apply creative skills in stimulating atmospheres, but don’t need to instantly be thought of as CV-boosters.
Physical and fulfilling activities can raise levels of the three ‘happiness hormones’: serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins - why not consider enrolling in a new activity class or community-centred project? Scout local resources for any team sports or fitness facilities in your area, sticking to whatever level of contact you’re comfortable with. Many studios offer a special rate for first-timers - grab a buddy and give yourself a new outlet to release some steam and build pride in yourself as an individual.
Keep Your Eyes on the Craft
At its core, self-confidence is trust in our abilities. As we progress in our acting careers, we must balance the feeling of enough-ness in the moment with actively improving on our craft. By seizing as many opportunities to learn as possible, be that through attending class, reading books, and watching performances, you’ll increase your knowledge of technique and build confidence because you are taking the initiative in your development.
For book suggestions, Spotlight has a growing collection of acting book articles, including recommendations by Spotlight staff, a wellbeing-centred list, and books for graduating actors (all of which have tips to support every career stage). For further reference, ask your actor friends for class recommendations. Ask to observe or audit both in-person and online classes, and look for videos of the master teachers at work, podcasts of actors and actor-trainers discussing craft and exercise, or putting techniques into practice. If you can get to a place where you’re practising independently at the same frequency of your auditions, if not more, you can feel strong in your technique and treat auditions as enjoyable events in your self-led journey.
The aim of all these strategies is to help you build strength and trust as a person, to then transfer back into your acting practice. Different strategies will work in different paces, and, just like with finding your acting technique, part of building trust is exploring and choosing what works best for you. Whatever methods you choose and apply, let time be your friend and help you build a strong foundation of self-belief to layer your characters, choices, and career goals proudly over.
Abiola Ogunbiyi is an actor-performer, writer, and filmmaker working across film, stage, and television. She made her television debut as Maria in the Sky One/Carnival Films series Jamestown, and her feature film debut in A Boy Called Christmas for Blueprint Pictures and StudioCanal. Abiola's original work crosses multiple disciplines, and her comedy short Sexellence won awards for Best International Film (Portland Comedy Film Festival) and Best Comedy Short (Budapest Independent FIlm Festival) respectively. In addition to performing and writing, Abiola is the founder of The Artists Branch, a health and well-being platform for artists. Through TAB, Abiola leads bespoke workshops on topics including nutrition, self-confidence, career longevity, and self-care for performing arts schools, theatre companies, and arts organisations. She has led both online and in-person workshops for organisations including BAFTA, Equity, the Royal Academy of Music, and the Almeida Theatre, and speaks regularly at events around maintaining well-being as a creative professional. Visit Abiola's website here, and find TAB on Instagram here.
Headshot by Claire Newman-Williams
Header image by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash