Why Your Psychology Will Make or Break Your Film Career

Why Your Psychology Will Make or Break Your Film Career

Everyone knows it's damn hard to build a great career in film. And everyone knows there will be obstacles. Lots of them.

Yet, usually when we think of obstacles, we think of things like lack of funding or resources, gatekeepers, geographic region, or any number of external things. 

But in the years I've been doing this, I've learned something kinda unintuitive.

Without a doubt, your biggest obstacle is internal. It's you.

I can guarantee you that your brain is sabotaging you in at least a few different ways, some obvious, and some not-so-obvious.

That's why season 2 of the Filmmaker Freedom Podcast is all about mastering your psychology. It's basically an in-depth course in controlling your inner world, so that you can better navigate the outer world.

Here's what this season will cover:

  1. Why your psychology will make or break your film career
  2. How your beliefs shape your future
  3. Tips for dealing with fear and anxiety
  4. Why perfectionism isn't a good thing, and how to beat it
  5. The art of "turning pro" and showing up every day
  6. How to build real confidence, without being an egotistical jackass
  7. A filmmakers's guide to dealing with depression
  8. My playbook for developing unshakeable resilience

It's a jam-packed season, and I'm incredibly proud of it. But more than anything, I hope it's useful to you in your journey to be a better filmmaker, and to live a great life.

So let's kick things off with the first episode, which is a deep dive into why your psychology is so damn important. Plus it's got a handful of tips to start taking control of your mind before you get into the rest of the season.

This episode features Alex Ferrari from Indie Film Hustle, Noam Kroll, Curt Jaimungal from indiefilmTO, and Zack Arnold from Optimize Yourself. You'll be hearing more from these cool folks throughout the season, as well as a few other guests.

So without any further ado, here's the first episode in season 2 of the Filmmaker Freedom Podcast. You can also listen and subscribe through iTunes, Stitcher, PocketCasts, Radio Public, Spotify, and the Google Play Store.

If you enjoy today's show, it would mean the world to me if you'd leave a rating and review on iTunes. That's the best way to support this small indie show and to help new filmmakers find it!


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Practical Takeaways From Today's Episode

If there's one thing I want you to take away from this episode, it's this:

Your psychology will be the determining factor in whether or not you "make it" as a filmmaker, whatever making it means to you.

That might seem like an odd statement, considering there are so many things that can prevent you from succeeding in film, but here's the logic behind it.

Your success is determined by the actions you take consistently. It's determined by your habits and routines and work ethic.

Your psychology will be the determining factor in whether or not you “make it” as a filmmaker.

The actions you take are determined by what's going on in your head, by your psychology, your beliefs, your fears, etc.

If you don't get your psychology in order, you won't take the right actions consistently. You won't make the right decisions to get you where you want to go.

And the more consistently you fail to take the right actions, the more consistently you make poor decisions, the further away from your goals you'll get.

Another way to think about it is that your psychology is the domino that can help you knock over a bunch of others in your life.

That, my friend, is the power that your mind has over your life.

Luckily, there are a lot of things we can do to take control of our mind. And that's what the second half of this episode—and the rest of this season—is all about.

Fundamental Steps for Starting to Take Control of Your Psychology

Like I mentioned, we're going to cover a lot of ground this season in terms of dealing with each psychological roadblock we face.

But I want to arm you with a few preliminary tools you can start using right away to make progress on all this stuff. Keep in mind, all of this lays a foundation for everything else we'll talk about this season, so don't skip over any of it.

We'll break this into two sections: mindsets and practices. Let's get to it.


It's possible to improve your psychology

Most of us go through life feeling powerless to change our psychology. We don't believe it's possible to do anything about it. And that belief stops us from ever taking control.

So the first step is to tell yourself that it's possible to solve these problems. At least, the vast majority of them. And if you can't solve them directly (some things like fear are hardwired into our brains), you can counteract their negative effects. You can weaken the hold they have over you.

Building new beliefs is a difficult thing—as you'll find out in the next episode—but I recommend you start by simply telling yourself that it's possible, and seeking out stories of other filmmakers who've made progress.

I recommend Zack Arnold's website, and his podcasts, because he shares a lot of vivid "before and after" style content that shows that your internal world can change for the better. Plus his material is insanely practical and hands on.

Your psychological problems aren't your fault, but it's your responsibility to fix them

Some of the psychological holdups in your life are genetic, some are determined by early experiences, some are instilled in us by our parents, many come from culture.

Basically, your mind has been influenced by a tremendous amount of sources, some positive and some negative, as you've moved through life. Largely without you really knowing it.

You have to take responsibility for how you think and how you feel. You have to acknowledge that your mental “operating system” has some bugs, and that it’s your job to fix it.

And I can guarantee you that your mental journey has left you with some psychological baggage that's holding you back in life. We all have baggage like that.

And none of that is your fault. But it is your responsibility to do something about it.

You've probably heard this countless times throughout your life, but there's nothing more empowering than dropping the "victim mindset" and taking responsibility for every last aspect of your life.

It's tough to carry that weight, but it's empowering, and it's the only way to get results.

Whereas people who feel victimized are quick to point the finger and deflect responsibility—thus leading them to not solve any of the underlying problems—taking responsibility puts you into a state where you can take action and start chipping away at your problems.

Here's a quick video I found recently that sheds light on this.

So the key takeaway here is this: before you do anything else, you have to take responsibility for how you think and how you feel. You have to acknowledge that your mental "operating system" has some bugs, and that it's your job to fix it.

This work is difficult, uncomfortable, and scary, but that's ok

The last thing I need to mention here, is that it's damn difficult work to improve your psychology, and it's uncomfortable work. And sometimes, when you're facing your fears and pushing through your anxiety, it can be downright scary.

And it likely won't be some kind of overnight miracle transformation. Like all great things in life, it has to be earned day in and day out, over the course of months and years.

Maybe you're put off by that thought, but I can tell you from personal experience that it's 100% worth it to embark on that journey and to chip away at psychological change. Over time, those small changes add up in a big way, and eventually you will be a completely different person.

Because again, your psychology determines your actions, and your actions determine your life.

Once you change the underlying operating system, your actions will create an entirely new reality for yourself, hopefully one that you'll enjoy far more than the one you've got now.

But again, you have to commit, and you have to understand that the work is hard, and that results won't come quickly or easily.

Get comfortable with that fact now, embrace it, and you'll be prepared for all the work to come.

Practices for Improving Psychology

Ok, so now let's dive into a few basic practices you'll need for taking ownership over your psychology.

Here's the first one...

Develop self-awareness

Many of these psychological issues like to live in the background, running (and ruining) our lives from the shadows.

That's why self-awareness is so damn important. Because when you learn to examine your psychology and your motivations and your actions, you can start to clearly see the mental patterns that are holding you back. And once you're armed with that type of self-knowledge, you can take action and combat those mental patterns.

So how do you develop self-awareness?

That's a big question, and one that we'll dive into a bit more throughout each of the episodes this season. But here are a few foundational tips for you.

Mindfulness meditation

Yeah, yeah, everybody and their mother is recommending meditation these days. It's super trendy, especially in places like LA and NYC.

But it's also one of the single most powerful tools out there for understanding your inner world better.

Not only that, but meditation can actually be part of the solution for a lot of the things we're talking about this season. You can use meditation to quiet down your brain, or disengage from your negative thought patterns, which can help you in all sorts of ways.

So how do you start meditating?

I won't go into that here, but I will share two of my favorite apps (I'm a paying customer of both).

The first is Headspace, and it's the best for beginners. And it's got a lot of great

The second is Brightmind, which has some more advanced material, and is really great for teaching a wide array of meditation techniques.

Reflect in the painful/disappointing moments

The best time to sharpen your self-awareness skills is when things aren't going well.

Maybe you procrastinated so much that an project fell through. Maybe a collaborative relationship fell apart. Maybe you're frustrated with yourself for staying in a day job and not 

There are a million little things that could be going wrong or eating at you, 

Now here's the big lesson that I want you to take to heart.

No matter what's happening, good or bad, you played a part in creating those circumstances. That doesn't mean you're at fault for all the bad things that happen in your life (again, watch the fault vs. responsibility video above). But it does mean that your decisions, or lack thereof, led you down a path to where you are.

And when you realize that, and when you start looking for ways that your actions contributed to your circumstances, then you're in a position to become incredibly self-aware.

So when things are going wrong, reflect on the situation, its underlying causes, and search for ways that your actions, thoughts, and attitude contributed to it all.

This isn't fun. And it's not easy. But it will teach you valuable lessons into how to improve yourself, and the outcomes you achieve in life.

Use family and friends to expose your psychological patterns

This next tip for developing self-awareness might make you a bit uncomfortable, but it's super effective.

Ask the people you trust most in your life—your close friends, family, or even collaborators—to help you shed light on your psychology.

More specifically, ask them how they observe you getting in your own way, or sabotaging yourself.

This works because, for some reason, it's way easier for us to spot negative thought and behavior patterns in others than it is for us to recognize those patterns in ourselves.

So if you ask people who truly know you, chances are they'll come back with some answers that will hit way too close to home.

And that's a good thing. That's your self-awareness muscle getting exercised for the first time in awhile. It might be sore for a bit, but like working out any muscle, it'll just get stronger and stronger.

The best part of this strategy is that once people point out negative patterns to you, they'll become glaringly obvious in your life. Which is the whole point. Because once you can see them, you can do something about it.

Lastly, you should also make a habit out of asking the people close to you how they would solve some of your psychological problems. What actions would they take. Again, this works well because other people can often see solutions that just aren't in our view.

Use "mental separation" to control the negative voices and urges in your head

This tip actually wasn't included in the episode, but I want to share it anyway. It's called mental separation, and it works like this.

  1. Identify a negative thought pattern or urge that you have consistently. Maybe it's self doubt, maybe it's fear, maybe it's anger. Maybe it's an urge to procrastinate. Pick one that derails you often. We'll use self-doubt as an example.
  2. Give that part of your psyche its own name—like Bob, Fred, or something silly like that. It could even be a different version of you, an alter ego, that you don't like.
  3. Any time those self-doubt thoughts pop up, that's no longer you talking, it's Bob. It's whatever persona you gave to that part of your brain.
  4. Learn to distrust and ignore those particular signals. Whenever you feel self-doubt, and are considering acting on it, say to yourself, "Go away Bob. Nobody wants you here."
  5. Do this every time you think those thoughts, feel those feelings, or have those urges. Eventually, you'll start to disassociate with them, and you'll be able to break out of those patterns.

This might sound like a bit of a silly strategy, but it's been incredibly effective for me in two areas of my life.

First, it helped me overcome cravings to junk food. Whenever I had cravings, those weren't coming from me, but instead they were coming from my gross alter ego—a version of me who weighs 400 pounds and is terrible in every way. That thought helped me steer clear of bad choices, because it foreshadowed a result that I don't want for my life.

The second way I've used this is with my own self-doubt and imposter syndrome. Basically, any time I feel like a fraud, that's the voice of Bob. And over time, I've learned to ignore Bob, because his advice is shitty.

So, are there any ways you could compartmentalize your psychology and reframe your negative thoughts? I bet there are.

Use "socratic questioning" to undermine your fears and anxieties and beliefs

This last tip is one that I've just started experimenting with. Essentially, you fight your internal battles with a healthy dose of logic and reason and exposure to reality.

And to do this, you use a technique known as Socratic Questioning. In a nutshell, your goal is to continuously ask yourself questions in order to expose holes in your thinking and gaps in your awareness.

Here's an example.

Let's say you're terrified of releasing a passion project you spent the past year on. You talked it up to all your friends and family, and on social media, saying how great it was going to be. But when you finished, it was nowhere near that good.

So now you're scared that people will judge you because of the quality of your work. You're scared you'll lose status and people will respect you less.

And that's where socratic questioning comes it.

First you'd ask yourself if that's a valid fear? You'd be likely to say that yes, it is valid. But you can't take that first answer at face value. You have to go deeper. So you'd follow up with more questions...

  • How will people react when they see the film?
  • How will that change their thinking about you?
  • Will it really cause them to lose respect for you?
  • Have you ever lost respect for a close friend because of their work?
  • And so on...

If you go far enough down this rabbit hole, eventually you'll come to realize that it's a bit silly to think people will lose respect for you based on a project that didn't live up to your expectations. In fact, they're likely to be proud of you for finishing something, and they'll likely support you and push you to do better in the next project.

So whenever you have a belief or a fear holding you back, get ruthless and question it. Chances are it's not grounded in reality.

That's all I've got for you in episode 1 this season. Now let's dig into some extra reading and resources.

Extra Reading & Resources

Article: The Three Levels of Self-Awareness - Mark Manson

I've read a lot on the subject of self-awareness, but this is the best piece I've found. Hands down. It's not only a great reminder that self-awareness comes in different forms (some more valuable than others), but it's got a lot of great advice on how to develop this stuff.

Webpage: Socratic Questioning - Changing Minds

A quick and dirty guide on the different types of questions you can ask yourself (and others) in order to get a fuller picture of the truth. Enjoy :)

Meditation App: Headspace

The best, most friendly app for those of you who are brand new to meditation.

Meditation App:Brightmind

More advanced material, and more instruction about individual meditation techniques.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, you'll love Filmmaker Freedom Weekly. Each week, I share my latest writing, curated stories from around the web, a short film that I love, and a healthy dose of filmmaking inspiration.

Are you ready to take your film career to the next level?