Man Up | Ep. 133 • August 12, 2016
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or over a decade, David Tian, Ph.D., has coached tens of thousands of people from over 87 countries to achieve happiness and success in their dating and love lives.
Once a nerdy, skinny professor of philosophical psychology who couldn’t hold a conversation to save his life, David is now director of Aura Transformation Corp., and a world renowned dating and life coach using therapeutic methods. Dr. Tian has been featured in international media, including AXN, Cosmopolitan, Psychology Today, as well as co-hosting a radio show on national radio and a weekly dating advice column in a national newspaper in Singapore. Formerly a professor at the National University of Singapore, Dr. Tian is actively researching, speaking, and publishing in the areas of philosophy and psychology.
The show, “Man Up: Masculinity for the Intelligent Man,” is David’s way of helping as many people as possible enjoy empowering and fulfilling lives, while contributing to the global understanding of masculinity in modern times. In the show, he takes your questions posed in The Man Up private Facebook group and answers based on his experience Coaching tens of thousands of students around the world for over a decade.
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David Tian: Boom! Stop. In Episode 133 of Man Up, Kamil Haque and I answer the question: Can method acting improve my emotional awareness?
Masculinity for the intelligent man. I’m David Tian, Ph.D. and this is Man Up!
Hey! It’s David Tian, Ph.D. And welcome to Episode 133 of Man Up. For over the past ten years, I’ve been helping hundreds of thousands of people in over 87 countries attain success in life and love through applying ancient wisdom and cutting-edge research. Here we are at the Haque Center of Acting and Creativity with the man himself, Kamil Haque. Great to see you again!
Kamil Haque: Good to see you, good to see you.
David Tian: So, I’ll give you a quick backstory on how I met Kamil. I was looking for some help with method acting and today’s question is about getting into that. We’ll get to the question, but I came here looking for help and you opened my eyes every session. And it was so impactful that I’ve now required almost all of the new programs that we’ve put out, to have everybody go through something in method acting. And you recently, relatively recently, came back from LA, was it?
Kamil Haque: That’s right. I was there for eight years and came back just over three years now to start this school.
David Tian: Okay, cool. And you are Singaporean, born and bred?
Kamil Haque: Born and bred, born and raised. I don’t look Singaporean but I don’t sound Singaporean, but I’m basically Singaporean.
David Tian: Yes. Singapore is so diverse, actually, that I’ve met many people in Singapore who don’t sound or look. That’s part of what’s cool about it. But we’re here in Singapore right now.
Kamil Haque: Yes, we are.
David Tian: And the question is, how can method acting help me develop self-awareness? So, the best person to answer– I think that question came up, because I kept mentioning method acting in various episodes and some of the live shows within the Man Up group that I was doing, and I called you up and said, “Hey, let’s answer this.”
Kamil Haque: Let’s get to it. I’ll first break it up into what acting is and then what method acting is and how it can benefit you. Acting, the short definition of method acting, or acting rather is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances. So, first and foremost, the assumption of what acting is, “Oh, I have to be someone else. I have to pretend to be someone else.” That’s the imaginary circumstances part, that’s the latter half of it. The first is just behaving truthfully. “Can I just be myself when I’m myself? Being with my friends, being around strangers.”
David Tian: One of the best pieces of dating advice you’d ever hear is to just be yourself. Girls tell that to guys. Their sister will tell her brother that– that’s a sort of sisterly advice to give. Guys don’t know what to with that advice. It’s like, how can I not be myself? Technically speaking. But this is what we’re getting at. Most people aren’t speaking from an authentic voice or their authentic selves. So, elaborate on that. What does that mean?
Kamil Haque: What I mean by being yourself is essentially developing an awareness, a self-awareness and a sensitivity to what you want in your life, what you don’t want in your life, what you want to say, what you don’t want to say, what feels true to you, what feels authentic to you. There’s a difference between being yourself and playing a heightened version of yourself. And when you’re getting into characters, when you get into acting, what you’re asked to do is essentially playing a version of yourself or a heightened version of yourself.
So, there’s a difference in just being yourself, which is the guy at home picking lint off his belly button going, “I wish I had a date”, versus playing a heightened version of yourself which is, what is the version of yourself that’s still true but still is a version that you want to present to the world that is not inauthentic but does sell a story that doesn’t feel false, that doesn’t feel fake, doesn’t feel cheesy, doesn’t feel like you’re coming on too strong because you have developed in yourself, essentially, a bullshit alarm.
What you want in your life, what you don’t want in your life and being comfortable with that yes and then no, and not sounding too desperate for things.
Now, the behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances then allows you to be able to tell stories, which is what acting is. It’s to do, to act is to do. And then what are you trying to do? You’re trying to tell a story, and then the stories that you’re trying to tell are those in imaginary circumstances. Now, those stories ultimately must feel like you’re own.
So whether I’m telling you something autobiographical or I’m pretending to be Romeo, or Hamlet, or I don’t know, Jack from Titanic or something, it still has to feel personal and true to self. Which is why, say someone like Daniel Day-Lewis, still feels a lot more engaging to watch than Vin Diesel, simply because there’s a very strong inner core, an inner life to that person.
So, their externals, there’s a difference between tools and talent. The tools, meaning the externals, they look good, they sound good, they project, they enunciate, they look after the personal appearance and hygiene, all of that good stuff. But then there’s the talent of the individual, which is the inner core set of beliefs.
And that’s where we get into method acting, which is now– if acting is to being truthfully and to tell stories, method acting isn’t so much a technique as it is an umbrella term for various techniques or technique that you would develop for yourself.
So, David’s method would be very different from Kamil’s method, but we still have a method. And what is the method? A method to be able to play these characters reliably, consistently, and you’re able to justify your choices and make strong choices that allow you to kind of immerse yourself into the world of these characters that you have to play; that are ultimately engaging to watch, and they feel– like there’s something going on underneath the surface. It’s not just externals.
David Tian: Yes, that’s good. So, a lot of guys who are figuring out, “How can I make a better impression on a girl?” They often are paying too much attention to what they need to say or type, texting. So, I get those types of questions all the time. “This girl doesn’t like me. She friendzoned me. What can I say so that she will take me out the friendzone and be mine for life?” They’re looking for this one-liner.
So, the bigger lesson is, even if you can give her a potion or a pill that would fuck with her brain so she’ll like, “Oh, you’re the one”, you then have the rest of your life together to act out this character that she thinks you are but you aren’t. And so, what’s the point? So, what you really need to do is instead of paying attention to what’s on the outside, you’re always fixing the inside, from the inside.
Kamil Haque: Correct.
David Tian: So, what my suspicion was before I started coaching with you, was that to be a good actor– this is like a metaphor that I use a lot in coaching, “Don’t do the externals because there’s too many things to try to micromanage. Focus on what you need to feel and think, thinking and feeling. And if you’re thinking and feeling the right things, your face, your body, your voice will take your true self.”
Kamil Haque: Will naturally– exactly. And I’ll add something else to that. There’s a really famous poet, Maya Angelou, who once said, “People will never remember what you said, they will never remember what you did, they will always remember how you make them feel.” And there’s something to be said about that, where if you make that personal feel comfortable, if you are truly interested in that person, you will come off as being interesting.
If you truly have a strong inner life, how that comes across will be what resonates with that person and stays with that person long after the conversation is done, where you get them thinking, “Wow, there was something about that conversation and that experiences I had with X that made me go, “Ooh, they are seeing right into me, they’re talking to my soul. They’re not talking to here, they’re talking to here.”” And it takes a certain kind of individual who is so self-aware and so sensitive to who they are as individuals. And then once you’re aware of yourself, then you are aware of your surroundings.
David Tian: Okay, that’s perfect, this is [INAUDIBLE] so easily because that is like way I mention these topics. So, the externals are best expressed through the control of the thoughts and feelings. And I give this advice and you want to make that emotional impact. Because what a woman really wants from an interaction or a relationship is to feel better, good feelings, or to feel more deeply.
But then the guy takes that advice and he doesn’t know what he’s thinking or feeling in the moment. And I’ve seen this so many times in coaching, where I’ll just pause– we’re simulating a conversation or a date, so I could see what he’s saying, and then he says something or does something that’s just bad and I let it roll to see what he’s going to do with it, it’s just bad. So, I just pause, “Okay, what were you thinking, feeling then?” Because that’s what we have to address, that’s the real problem.
And they’re just, “I don’t know” and then, “Alright, what were you thinking/feeling just before that?” Blank. And I know it’s not possible that his mind is blank. It’s just that when he stops and thinks about it, it’s not accessible to him at that moment. And that’s where I think the method acting is so useful to train that self-awareness.
Kamil Haque: Because what you’re doing with, essentially, creating a method of acting for yourself, is you are creating essentially a map, a physical map, a mental map and a spiritual map for yourself so that you constantly know what is working, what’s not working, what needs to be tweaked. And you’re constantly not self-conscious but self-aware of the system and the map in which you need to carry that transaction.
Every human communication is essentially a transaction. I’m here to do something and I want something from you. You’re going to do something and you want something from me. And first, to be in that flow first, I got to be aware of my map and then I got to be aware of your map, and then we could find a way to get our maps sort of hopefully dovetailing.
And the truth is, very often, both maps are never going to dovetail. But we hope, in this sort of short transaction, we hope that we can cross paths for a little bit before we carry on.
David Tian: So, how do you know what your map is what? How do you map your map?
Kamil Haque: So, there are various exercises within a typical acting workshop, at least the workshops here, that help you develop that physical awareness. So for example, are you aware of certain physical ticks that you have or eccentricities? You know, if you can see this in camera, the restless legs syndrome is one of them that come across as too much cola, too much coffee, what’s going on over there? Or you come across like, “Hi”, and shoulders are all tense.
David Tian: Or too much tension here because of all that caffeine.
Kamil Haque: Exactly, exactly. Where are you holding tension in your body and how does that come across to someone? The non-verbal body language. That’s number one. And then the mental awareness, which is, “What am I thinking? How am I thinking? And then what is the language of the mind, and then what is the mind behind the language?” So, you are understand the mechanics of this, and then therefore how it gets manifested out there when I begin to share.
And then the spiritual, meaning the core set of beliefs, “What do I believe in? What do I want? What am I trying to attract? What is the story that I’m trying to tell? What am I really saying?” Not just what am I saying, what am I doing, what am I really saying? And the exercises are developed for you to be cognizant and aware of those things.
And then if you are lucky enough to develop that self-awareness, you actually, in a weird way, begin to see the code of the universe, like the matrix, and you see how people think, feel, move. You begin to be able to be more objective with how you’re sitting tells us a story, how your dress tell a story, how you’re nodding with me right now tells a story.
And then I get a sense like, “Oh, okay, you’re in flow with me” or “You’re now just zoning off to Mars or something.” And I get the ability or I learn the ability to read myself and read my environment.
David Tian: Oh, reading yourself. That’s a really good way of putting it. So, a lot of guys think that they’re ‘being themselves’ when they’re at their… So, when they are self-conscious, nervous, anxious or whatever negative feelings that they don’t want to feel when they’re with a woman, that is intimidating to them. And the issue is, they’re not even really being their true selves in the sense of, they’re not in control of what expression is coming out and they’re not aware of the expression, they’re not in control of it, and they’re not aware of what is causing that.
So, I’ll give you an example from my experience with you. There was an exercise you gave me that I totally misinterpreted, but I ended up doing a scene that I made up, where the dominant emotion was complex. It was when you’re being fake to be nice to other people. Verbally, you’re being nice and keeping the peace with certain people, but inside you’re like, you know, fucking, you know.
So, it’s easier to just be angry or sad but this is one of the– And I thought I was doing it because I was just, “Okay, this is what it was like and I was envisioning in it, and I thought it was good.”
And then you spend about half an hour or more with me, so I was trying to get into this emotion, [INAUDIBLE], you didn’t tell me what we were doing. So, I looked at this white wall and you just have me say stuff to get it out of my head. Like, what would I say to this person that was like this? What do I say? What were the kinds of gestures that I would make?
And then you’d say more, and do it more and do it more and keep it going. And I thought it would be, “Okay, we’re going do this for like a minute.” And then it was just going on, it was never ending and I’m like, “Okay, really?” “Okay, keep going! Keep going!”
And then when you said ‘now’, you made me turn to the props that we had and deliver that one sentence. And when you did it, when you had me do it, it was like– maybe it was 20 minutes, but it was quite long to me. I was really in emotion, I was ready to continue at the wall but you said, “Now”, so I just move like this. And when I delivered the line, my face wasn’t in– their muscles weren’t moving and other muscles were still, that wasn’t like that before. I could feel it.
It’s almost like an alien had entered me. So, my face felt totally different, the voice sounded different as it was coming out my mouth and I felt like my body was possessed in a way too. But that was more authentic in a sense of all that was coming from me. But it was me feeling that, going deep into that feeling to really go there emotionally.
So before that, if I were to say, “Okay, I can get there emotionally”, it’s such a low level of emotion that it actually is not authentic. So, one thing I’m learning through going more into clinical psychology and learning a lot more about that is, a lot of times, people are too scared to be authentic. They repress their feelings. So they have basically throughout the days, Monday to Friday, Monday to Sunday for most people, a deadened emotional life.
But they’re underneath this boiling cauldron.
Kamil Haque: Storage brewing, yeah.
David Tian: Yeah, all this stuff out, but they just push it down and they think, “I’m being my real self by not expressing.” Acting is one of those safe places where you can– it’s actually encouraged to let out all of that feeling. And one of those things is, it’s attractive, people are attracted to people who are free to be themselves, to feel. And secondly, it feels amazing because you’re getting that emotional roller coaster.
And third, you’re actually finally becoming aware of what’s actually happening under the surface with you. And to think that in order to play some other character who’s not you in actuality, I have to know me in such detail that I can call on those emotions.
Kamil Haque: Your physical, mental and spiritual. And you know where the gaps are in your map so that you know, “Okay, I need to go see David so he can fill this part of my gap. I need to go see a sports coach or a personal trainer so I can build my body. I need to go see a personal therapist so I can fill those spiritual gaps in my core set of beliefs. Or maybe I’m insecure about stuff.” So, you begin to understand what my strengths are, what my weaknesses are, what do I want to achieve and then where are the gaps between who I am, what I want to be and what’s missing in this. So, you take stock.
David Tian: Close the gap.
Kamil Haque: Yes, you close the gap. It’s a creative gap, that’s all it is. And all it is, at the end of the day, that if you boil it down, it’s just muscles. It’s muscles that, truth be told, out there you are told to deaden, you are told to not question, you are told to kind of put the blinders on. Someone once said, “Everyone is born perfect.” And then life worked really, really hard to fuck you up.
David Tian: That’s great. Do you know the source for that? That’s amazing.
Kamil Haque: Actually, it’s a gentleman by the name of David Glass, who actually teaches workshops here.
David Tian: David Glass, wow, okay.
Kamil Haque: Fantastic, phenomenal man. And it’s so true, because as a kid you have these strong instincts, you are curious about the world, you’re constantly asking questions, you are interested in people, you are interested in the most mundane of things. And then soon, your parents, your relatives, school, the law, friends, so on and so forth tell you, “No, wouldn’t, shouldn’t, can’t, mustn’t.” And then you begin to go, “Okay, well, I got to be less and less and less curious about the world so I can survive.”
And yes, great, you survived, but then at what cost? Then you become, essentially, an automaton, a robot, and then you forget what made you interesting in the very first place is the very fact that you were interested, and you were willing to ask questions, and you weren’t paralyzed by the analysis of things. You were allowing yourself to take in stimulus, feel, think and then respond to it.
If I were a little baby and you were my dad, and I’m trying to get to you, if I fall down and I’m a kid, I will cry my soul out and then I’ll pick myself up and I will do my darnest to get to you. And it does not matter how I do it, I just must get to you. And I’m doing everything I can do close that gap, not worried about myself, I’m not worried about my ego, I’m not worried about how I look, all of those things, I simply know I must close that gap.
And we forget how to do that the older that we get. We forget that we had that ability. And so, part of a lot of what I do here is simply giving people that permission, again, to listen to that person. I mean, shit, what woman doesn’t like a baby?
David Tian: I have this other great question and it’s to tease it because we probably won’t have time to get into detail here but, if a guy was paid to play the part of a very seductive male character, what should he do to prepare for that part? So with that in mind, what are some takeaways, what can people do right now other than take a method acting class with the HCAC? Is there anything they can do to test out what we’ve been saying in their lives, to see, “Is this something that would work for me?”
Kamil Haque: Okay. A really simple test that you can begin to do for yourself is one, as you begin to go through your daily life, begin to be aware of when that little alien of self-doubt begins to creep into you. And the moment that happens, do what you can. Do call out the elephant in the room, essentially. Don’t give it power. And it doesn’t need to be when you are under massive stress or duress, or anxiety or overwhelmed, it starts with that small little tingling feeling.
And that little thing, the moment you begin to call it out, you prevent it from growing, becoming bigger and then being something you can’t control. Being something as simple as work stress, life stress, being something as– if I’m around company and something feels fishy, it feels off, call it out, call it out.
David Tian: Give an example of calling it out.
Kamil Haque: It’s as simple as just walking away from a conversation. Like, “Okay, thank you.” Just walking away. Oh, “Alright, good to know.” And then you walk away diplomatically and then you clock for yourself, “Alright, that was not a transaction that benefitted me” or “That was not something that I want more of in my life. People, places, friends, things.” And then what you do is you begin to develop a very strong bullshit alarm, we come back to that all the time, which is, “This is what I want in my life that will help me close that gap.”
So at the very minimum, know who you are, know what you want to be. And then to close that gap, begin to be aware of what is it that will help me get closer to closing that gap? What is it that doesn’t help me? And then not being afraid to say no to things, not being afraid to say yes to things but in the process of the two saying, “What is it that resonates with me and what doesn’t?”
And then finding ways to kind of bring more of the stuff that works into your life, and then the stuff that doesn’t, consciously begin to cut that out. And you can, and it will feel like, “Huh, I wonder.” So, not to be afraid to ask yourself after, say, a conversation, “How did that work for me? How do I feel about this person, this conversation? What is that adding for me or to me?” And then taking more of it or walking away from it.
David Tian: That’s great. So, I have the calling out– I have this technique. There’s an old program that I made called the Desire System. A lot of it’s about developing emotional awareness. Because the emotional awareness, self-awareness is required to actually pull off the different techniques that are in it. And one of the techniques is vulnerability. It’s like calling out, vulnerability calling out. And the easiest instance for a guy in a dating situation to practice is, when he’s on a date and he feels insecure.
So, if a guy feels really confident and comfortable on a date, he generally wouldn’t go looking for me on the internet. So, the guys who have, have problems. Now, every human being feels comfortable and at ease in some setting. So whether it’s– maybe it’s rare for some guys to feel that in a presence of a beautiful woman, but it could be that they’re alone in the room playing Sudoku or whatever, Pokémon Go, and they feel like at ease and comfortable.
But you’re actually, almost always, at your best and most authentic when you’re not self-conscious. When you’re not thinking, “What do other people think of me?” And then they enter these situations where they are thinking, “What does she think of me?” or “What do they think of me?” And then they change.
One of the first things I tell them to do is pay attention to that feeling inside. And I think you’re getting at the same sort of thing, where you feel like you’re being inauthentic, and that can come off as anxious, self-conscious, nervous.
Kamil Haque: And if that happens, you call it out and you stop it.
David Tian: Yes. I say the same thing, it’s like, “Calling it out in the context of a date would be to just voicing out, verbalizing, actually say, “You’re making me really nervous” or “I’m feeling really nervous right now.” And if you don’t know why, say, “And I don’t know why.” And that gives you control over that as well. It’s probably the best thing you could do.
But it also is like taking notes for yourself. “In this moment, I’m self-conscious and I know I’m self-conscious because these muscles are really tense. I notice that there’s tension here or I notice that I said something that is totally not me, I splurted it out and it was there because I was insecure or something.”
And that’s the beginnings of self-awareness. And in fact, that can often fix the situation right then. Because when someone feels like you’re getting authentic with them, like you’re finally being vulnerable, they relax as well. They’re like, “I can trust you”, comfort happens and then that’s two authentic people finally interacting.
Kamil Haque: Absolutely. And if you feel it’s too high-stakes to do it on a date, then start to do it with your friends, with your family, with your colleagues. The stuff with your–
David Tian: With your coworkers, the boss.
Kamil Haque: –low risk, high return in that sense. So, that when you do need to be in the so called high-stakes situation like the date, that you are already practicing that in your dating life. That when it comes to the stuff that really matters, so to speak, like it comes second nature to you in that sense. So, it’s a learned behavior, it’s a muscle that you can call upon, like a Pavlovian response, essentially.
David Tian: So, if I were to take method acting, are there ways of training this within the craft?
Kamil Haque: Yes, there is. Because the very basic intro to the method acting workshop that I do here, Strasberg’s method of acting, Lee Strasberg’s method of acting, if I were to boil it down to two words, I sum it up as ‘know thyself’. So, before you begin to play characters, can you simply play yourself? Can you simply be aware of yourself?
Can you play yourself? Can you be yourself and be comfortable with just being in your own skin?
And for a lot people, that’s immensely difficult. And I’ll use myself an example. It was very difficult for me to do that because growing up in Singapore, you’re told to dumb myself down, be what people want you to be, be seen, not heard, be what everyone expects you to be. And so, when I intensely began to deep dive into this work, it honestly took me about a year and a half of just consistent work on myself for me to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be, what I was presenting to the world.
It was only then that I began to be comfortable playing characters and caricatures, which is a big difference. And the characters had a true core sense of self as opposed to an attitude, or a cliché. I was indicating something like, “Oh, I’m really upset. Oh, I’m angry.” And people feel that fake bullshit. And in order for me to take the bullshit out of my system, that year and a half of work was essential for me to get comfortable and rid myself of bullshit, and then be aware of the gaps.
David Tian: So, this year and a half of work you did to become more aware and to close this gap, was that done in a studio? Is that something you do throughout the day? Was there an actual series of exercises? Like in fitness, if you want to build muscles or whatever, you go to the gym and you do certain movements, and you do them in a certain way at a certain time.
And right now, we’re talking about method acting in a very broad way. You’re acting all of the time. So, if you go to the classes and take these courses, there’s actual programs?
Kamil Haque: Yes, there’s a sequence of physical, mental exercises that you would do so you can keep track of your own progress. And ultimately, what would happen is– I’m trying to lean people off me. So, once I teach you how to be self-aware and self-diagnose, eventually what you do is you do most of the work outside of here.
Because essentially, learning is the tools, skills, attitudes, behaviors. And I can teach you the tools, I can show you how to use those tools, you might have a thought or a feeling about it, the attitude, but the behavior, the learnt behavior, most of that will happen outside of here because the classes here are three/four hours tops once a week.
I can’t police you, I can’t babysit you out of here. I can only assume that what I’m seeing here each week when I meet actors or non-actors, for that matter, is that you’re showing me the results of what you’re doing outside of here. Because realistically, a lot of the work that will happen for the individual, I can show you how to do it here but you have to let it live outside of the bubble, in the real world, so that your acting problems, they’re your life problems, but your acting solutions can also be your life solutions.
So, the more you practice them in your daily life, the more I will see it when you begin to show me the work that you do in here. And if you can do it in here, believe me, it will naturally be easier for you to do it in your daily life. So, it kind of is one is to one kind of thing.
David Tian: Awesome. How can people learn more about you?
Kamil Haque: What you can do is, you can go to the school’s website, HCAC website. It is WWW dot MethodActingAsia dot com.
David Tian: Alright, MethodActingAsia dot com. We’ll put a link under the video. Thanks so much for letting us come into– Oh, we’re at this beautiful studio. Nice place. And it’s David Tian, signing out. But before I do, join the private Facebook group. That’s where you can get all your questions answered. Ask me your questions personally.
A lot of the times, we can answer the question directly in the comments so you get a quick answer, or we can do a whole episode for you. So, make sure you join the private Facebook group, click the link below. I’ll see you inside. Until then, Man Up![MUSIC]