Have you ever been so engaged in doing something that you “lost yourself” for a while? It’s the experience that in acting we call “getting out of your head,” and it can happen any time you’re so 100% engaged in what you’re doing.

In an article published last week, a couple of researchers at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science found that when people are engaged in a task that involves concentrating 100% on hearing-feeling-touching-smelling-tasting (what they called a “demanding sensory task”) the part of your brain that controls your sense of self actually shuts off! How do they know such a crazy thing? By using an MRI machine to see where blood is flowing in the brain, of course! Here’s a snippet of the hard-science version:

“To conclude, the picture that emerges from the present results is that, during intense perceptual engagement, all neuronal resources are focused on sensory cortex, and the distracting self-related cortex is inactive. Thus, the term ‘losing yourself’ receives here a clear neuronal correlate. This theme has a tantalizing echoing in Eastern philosophies such as Zen teachings, which emphasize the need to enter into a ‘mindless,’ selfless mental state to achieve a true sense of reality.”

Whew. “Neuronal correlate” indeed – no wonder nobody reads this stuff. What this means for actors is that there’s some hard science evidence that when you really focus your attention on the scene, on listening to the other actors and letting what they say affect you, self-consciousness will melt away (literally – hah!) and you’ll be 100% in the moment.

For anyone who ever gets nervous, or gets distracted by self-conscious thoughts while auditioning or acting, look at this study as useful advice. If you’re thinking about yourself, you’re not paying enough attention to the scene. I tell self-conscious actors all the time to spend their energy on their senses – focus your attention on the scene, on listening to the other actors and letting what they say affect you and self-consciousness will melt away (literally – hah!).

More reading:

Watching the Brain Switch off ‘Self’ on EurekAlert.org

Flow Psychology on Wikipedia.org


Biz Studio [[Classes for Young Actors]] in Vancouver, BC