Have you ever been so engaged in doing something that you â€œlost yourselfâ€ for a while? Itâ€™s the experience that in acting we call â€œgetting out of your head,â€ and it can happen any time youâ€™re so 100% engaged in what youâ€™re doing.
In an article published last week, a couple of researchers at Israelâ€™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 â€œdemanding sensory taskâ€) 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! Hereâ€™s a snippet of the hard-science version:
â€œTo 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 â€˜losing yourselfâ€™ 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 â€˜mindless,â€™ selfless mental state to achieve a true sense of reality.â€
Whew. â€œNeuronal correlateâ€ indeed – no wonder nobody reads this stuff. What this means for actors is that thereâ€™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 youâ€™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 youâ€™re thinking about yourself, youâ€™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!).
Watching the Brain Switch off â€˜Selfâ€™ on EurekAlert.org
Flow Psychology on Wikipedia.org