3 Ways to Calm the Overthinking Actor

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Almost every actor has heard their teacher say, “You’re too in your head.” “You are overthinking.” “Get out of your head.” At the moment when it’s being said, the actor is typically already in a frustrated place, even if they don’t know it. They are already not as emotionally engaged as they need to be, and they are pushing and exhausting their mind to think through the moment instead of living in it. Processing what to do with that note can often push an actor further away from organically engaging and put them even more “in their heads.” The frustration can then cause an even greater block emotionally. We need to have a sense for that when it’s happening and try to stop the blocks from spiraling the actor into a place where they cannot stop themselves from overthinking and bring themselves back into the organic moment.

Here are some reminders for when the brain starts dictating to you so much that you are finding yourself too far away from the moment.

1. Go back to one. Stop, breathe, and place yourself back in neutral. Have you ever had a car stuck in mud or slush? If you keep pressing on the gas you will spin your wheels further into the ground. Stop the spinning. Stop the pushing. Go back to one, take a breath, and let everything go to neutral for a minute. At that point, the next action should occur to you. Give yourself a minute to let the next step come to you. Allowing a breather to let something occur to you instead of pushing yourself for an answer or forcing the current action to work will relieve your head of some of the work it’s doing.

2. Remember there is a problem to be solved in every scene. Your character is not there to lament the problem or discuss the problem. They are there to fix the problem—which means you need to be engaged in the act of doing something towards that end. Imagine any relationship in your life where you felt you were always in the same argument or repeating the difficult moments that got you nowhere. You were likely always stuck in a discussion of the problem and not in active resolution of it. Look for the thing to do.

3. Affect your outside, and let your inside respond to it. The body is one great reactor to stimuli. We have recorded so many different emotional responses to different stimuli in our lifetime that we can rely on the machine to respond when affected. You can affect the outside by allowing yourself physical change. This can be movement of any kind—change in tempo, rhythm, speech, tone. Physical connection to another person or object can arouse a feeling. Change in breathing can cause a change in emotion. Use of space and props can stimulate your heart. More will occur to you because you opened yourself up to the place, the situation, and the moment in a different way physical. What you do to the body, the heart and mind will respond to.

Always remember, when we want to get out of our head in life, we have lots of outlets. We go to the gym; we run in the park; we do something social; we take a nap or a bath, or do something else that changes how we are currently being stimulated. Take note of those things you do in life to get out of your thinking and into living in the organic moment of your life, and see how you can easily translate those things into your acting life. Remember, go back to one. Do something, don’t lament it, and give yourself room for physical stimuli to affect your heart. These things should prove to calm the spinning wheels and get you away from too much thinking and back to more organic moments.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Lisina Stoneburner
Lisina Stoneburner has been actively coaching actors of all ages since 1991. She is the founder and co-executive director of the Company Acting Studio located in Atlanta and is one of the most sought-after on-set coaches in the Southeast region.
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