In my college classroom, in my dance studio, and wherever else I encounter another person, one of the key lessons I strive to impart due to its universal usefulness is the power of performance. Specifically, I stress the critical phenomenon that we, as human beings, are always performing–in fact, whom we are (if we even have such a thing as a stable identity) comprises all of our individual performances at any given moment throughout our lives. What’s so liberating about this theoretical approach is that we aren’t limited by rules or notions of who we are. We are free to change who we are simply by performing otherwise. Whenever my students express doubt about themselves (“I can’t do that,” “I’ve never been good at this,”), I love to challenge them by saying simply, “Then perform the role of someone who can!” or “Pretend you’re good at it and do it.” The key to this philosophy of teaching is that when we realize that our identity is not defined by who we ARE but rather what what we DO, then we are freed to BECOME whatever we wish at any given moment. Thus, who we are is never fixed, always fluid, and infinitely open to change.
I’ve only recently begun to explore my interest in psychology–by way of my fascination with neuroscience and the philosophical and scientific approaches to understanding cognition–and at some moment in attempting to understand the cognitive behavioral approach, I understood that this was essentially the same truth that underlies the power of performance. How you behave can actually shape how you feel and what you think. Put in performance terms, once you’ve rendered a performance (even if feigned, fake, or insincere), now you know what it feels like. It is a part of your subjective experience.
Put another way, the external behavior is not contingent upon one’s internal state. This is the essence of performance. And performance is so powerful because that external behavior has the potential to affect our internal states, not just the other way around as we often unquestioningly assume. The performer needn’t be sad to cry on the stage, but oftentimes, the emotional intensity follows anyway. We can seize this powerful potential to enact our personal goals. And, in many ways, this marvelous potential also lies at the heart of cognitive behavioral therapy.
To unfairly condense a vast discipline of research and practice into a terribly simple summary, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an approach to the betterment of one’s life through the interconnected relationships between and amongst three vital aspects of our human experience: behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. Shifts in one of these can influence the others.
Once again returning to performance terms, I share my characteristic mantra: “It is in behaving as if that one becomes.”
I am not a psychologist; I merely have an interest in the discipline and its contributions (although a serious interest) and I would love to see more scholarship written on the connections between therapies such as CBT and the role that performance can play enacting positive changes within individuals. Or, perhaps merely understanding the core tenets of CBT through the lens of performance can help individuals access the spaces within themselves to initiate healing, growth, development, and movement towards one’s goals.
Thoughts and discussions always welcome!