by Paul Russell
How Actors Can Conquer Self-doubt & Fear
Too often there comes a point when I realize that the actor before me is too much in their head. To paraphrase Arthur Miller: their craniums are living thoughts of quiet desperation with destructive speculations ricocheting off one another:
Is there something wrong I’m doing that is causing my career not to flourish?
Why am I not getting to the goals I want?
Failure must be my fault.
We all, at various detours sidetracking our journeys, pull ourselves into these destructive weigh-stations of negative reflection. Souring reinforcements derived from past situations in which affirmations from peers and/or family bears only a barren fruit stand. Lacking refreshment our thoughts meander to dry soil beds sprouting weeds of negativity. Deprived of outside encouragement we turn inwards blaming or demeaning ourselves as to being the fault for not eliciting the praise or advancements desired. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ doubting slithers into the mind. When that nagging inner-voice routes its phantom calling to our cranium tendency is to wallow in the false comfort of empty self-pity. There is no substance to offering the soul healthy nourishment within the wretched thoughts.
Recently, I was hibernating in the mountains. I went west with the intent on completing a manuscript. As days of solitude passed, I found my mind was lonely for company and began…
And, that’s where I stopped. Literally. Writing this chaplet ceased. I got lost in my head as I was writing about others getting lost within their head. (Oh doctor? Heal thyself.) I toiled on and off on my project. I sulked. I channel surfed the 900-plus offerings on my mountain cable. I wondered why people wander Craigslist while I myself did the same. I was getting nothing done fast. Doubts, anxiety, and a constant nagging voice in my head whispered, “What’s next?” I was haunted by fear. I chance similar has happened to you, at least once. If not, please share with the rest of the class the pills you’re taking. Aside from stimulants (legal and non) there are ways for you to get out of your head and back to life.
First realize that everyone shares your experience. No one—not seemingly cock-sure politicians, celebrities, or all-star athletes—is exempt from occasionally questioning their abilities or future. So, if it is any comfort, the S.S. Self Doubt is decks full of the sometimes unsure just like you. Once you realize that, then look for ways to sink the ship (but please, firstly jump off of the promenade deck). Don’t wallow on an endless journey that has no final destination other than death. Don’t want to sink the ship because there’s promise within? Seas are mostly unencumbered by obstacles. Grab the ship’s wheel. Explore channels for improvement on your course that is life. Don’t know how to steer or where to? If so, then have you considered asking of others to be your scout? Their vision is unobscured by your fear. The scout doesn’t navigate your journey. The scout relays to you what options they see ahead that you’re blind to.
If that option for control of fear doesn’t completely soothe the synapses into some form of sanity; time to get out into the world to get out of your head. And that’s exactly what I did several days after I stopped my initial writing of these words. I booted my feet onto slivers of fiberglass and plummeted down a 2,000-foot vertical drop of snow and icy moguls. Sometimes you just gotta say to yourself, “Screw it! I’m not going to deny myself some fun!”
I returned to the slopes after a too long absence. I returned to a youthful joy. So what if the day cost me more than I’m comfortable spending? I had fun—cold frigid fun—but fun nonetheless. And for days after I was out of my head—living once more. Pain-free not so much in body but definitely feeling fine in spirit. A hot tub accompanied by coconut rum and diet vanilla Coke eased muscular sores. The day’s exercise soothed prior mental paralysis.
When you find yourself plagued by Eeyore’s “Woe is me” inner voice tell the ass to fuck-off and seek refuge elsewhere. You have a life to live. Get out of your head and out into life. For if not, then you’re already in the grave.
You can choose to be your own worst enemy or your own best friend. Honest friends don’t destroy those they sincerely love.
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned thirty years. He’s worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul’s taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU, and speaks at universities including Elon, Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.