If you want to succeed, breakfast isn't the only thing you should consider starting your day with.

I like to think of my life as a series of experiments and myself as the chief lab rat. I find something that's not working, dream up some possibilities for improving it, and test out my theories on myself.

Sometimes the experiments are successful ("yes" on pre-heating the omelet pan); sometimes they're not ("no" on any cut that leaves my hair too short for a ponytail). But one of the smallest changes I've made that's given me the biggest bang for my buck where creating good habits is concerned is putting first things first.

What's #1 in your life?

If you're an actor, the answer to what you want most, after "good health" and "the love of my friends/family/partner", is "to succeed as an actor." (And if it isn't, you should seriously consider whether you're cut out for it.)

If you're a smart actor (which we know you are, since you read this column!), you also spend some significant portion of your time honing your craft: taking classes, adding to your skill set, reading plays and scripts, actually acting in productions, maybe even making your own magic. (And again, if you're not doing this in an age where you can so readily own the means of production AND distribute the product, you should seriously consider whether this is the profession for you.)

So what extra thing can you do, without adding to what is, I'm sure, an already hectic life, to go one step further?

Rearrange your priorities. Literally.

How I increased my reading by 3,000%

As a writer (and sometime-talker), I knew I needed to be reading more books. While I was already reading a great deal, most of it was magazine articles and stuff on the Internet, not that there's anything wrong with that, but my brain needed longer and more focused engagement to keep it sharp.

Until late last year, I did all my book reading at night. Not that there's anything wrong with that! Reading anytime is fantastic. But too often, I'd find myself drifting off after just a few pages, not the extended kind of reading I wanted for my brain, and not enough reading, period, to add to my body of knowledge at an acceptable rate.

After reading an article (yes, on the Internet!) about one author's struggle to read more books and how he finally accomplished it, I decided to implement his two-step strategy: commit to reading a certain number of pages per day (40, in my case), and commit to doing it first thing in the morning.

Within a week, I had read two books. (Okay, it was the holiday season, and I went a little nutty.) That was exciting enough in and of itself. But what was more thrilling to me was the feeling of control I got from it: I was finally master of my own destiny! I could shape my future, day by day.

Or more specifically, morning by morning.

Defining who you are, right up front.

Your entire reel has to be good, but if the opening doesn't work, it doesn't matter how good the rest it. Ditto your choices in a scene: make a strong one out of the gate, and while it's not a great idea to coast through the rest, you have a much easier go of it than slogging uphill.

The same is true, as it turns out, for your day. Start out your day owning it, and you're more likely to continue that momentum. Start out surfing the Internet or hitting the snooze button (*cough* *cough* and again, *cough*) and the day is likely to devolve from there.

No one is asking you to roll out of bed and perform Hamlet. Well, maybe someone is, but it's not me. But what might happen if the first thing you did upon waking was to read a few pages from it? Or to write out a list of the things you intended to accomplish that day? What if, after your coffee but before you got on Facebook, you did 15 minutes of vocal warmups? Or of memorizing a new monologue? Or of reading a book about screenwriting?

Hang onto your power.

Over and over, I see actors yearning to be recognized: If only so-and-so would see me for this part!

If only I could find an agent who really believed in me. If only...if only...

What if you started out every day declaring your power, really owning it? What kind of momentum would that give you throughout the day, whether it was a day full of acting work or a day full of day job?

What could you start creating for yourself if you put not only your mind to it, but your body?

What kind of momentum would you have then?...

Book of the Month: Paying yourself first, 8 hours at a time.

Author Robert Pagliarini is an investment adviser, but he understands the life of the self-directed artist better than many artists themselves do. His latest book, The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose, outlines a sturdy framework for pursuing your dreams while you (responsibly and sanely) live your life. It's filled with actionable ideas for avoiding time sucks, becoming more focused and productive, uncovering your passion, and everything else you need to shift your mindset, and your life, from consumer to, as he calls it, "cre8tor." And while he didn't write it expressly for actors, Pagliarini's style is light and humorous, turning what could be tedious, business-y material into a fun and breezy read. (Buy The Other 8 Hours on Amazon.)


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Yo! Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.