Brain Freeze Under Pressure…
An Actor’s Coaching Story

By Roger DeWitt PCC, PACG

I’m on the spot and I don’t know what to say…

“How stupid is this… SAY ANYTHING… oh God… they’ll think I’m an idiot…Think, stupid …think… this is silly… brain, don’t fail me now… oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, OH MY GOD!!!!”

Sound familiar?

People who know me, know that I have two very distinct, passions in my career life:

  • ADD Coach and
  • Professional Broadway actor.

One of the crazy things we actors do is called “a staged reading.” Basically, in two or three rehearsals we take a full show, learn all the music, go over the lines, incorporate some basic staging and then perform it for an audience in a concert sort of setting, holding both script and music. This is sort of a first step for composers and writers to see their work come to life and can be lots of fun for the actors.

Brain Freeze 101

I was doing one of these readings a couple of weeks ago and right before the performance we needed to have a sound check on stage so the sound guys could get a level on us. We all walked out on stage and stood in a straight line and one by one they said to us, “ok, sing something.” Now, mind you, I have done this a million times before but on this occasion my mind went completely blank. I had forgotten to bring my script to the stage… I was frantically trying to think of some line or song that I sing in the show to give them a fair assessment and of how loud I would be. But…

NOTHING.

My mind was blank and I began to freak out.

I thought, Oh MY GOD….

Truth be told, when they got to me, I was able to pull something out of my “you know where” and the ten seconds of sound they needed came out fine.

What Was That About?

As I walked back to the dressing room, I began thinking about ADD, what happened to me and what I needed to do in order to keep this from happening in the future. I realized two things.

  • First, always bring my script to sound check sound.
  • Second, in order to calm the cognitive rumination of fear that cascades through my mind, I made the decision that it was okay to simply ask for help. I would normalize the entire situation by saying, “hey guys, I’m having a bit of brain freeze – can somebody help me out here.” Simply by giving myself that permission will give me a direction to go in that will cut the rumination and calm that savage (but very interesting) voice in my head.

The Take-Aways: Cognitive and Accommodation Strategies.

There is a lesson here for all of us as coaches. When helping a client deal with poor performance under pressure it is incredibly important to engage two kinds of strategies to relieve that pressure:

  • Cognitive strategies

    Interesting places that our clients can go mentally to help break the disaster rumination and relieve some of the pressure. (Normalized by asking for help did this for me.)

  • Accommodation Strategies

    “Learn from experience” sort of strategies. For me I created a rule that I will always bring my script for sound check. Asking, “What might I do to help avoid this next time” helps our clients to relieve the pressure and create rituals and rules to put in place for moving through those danger zones.

The pressure of ending this article with a flourish is making me freeze… so I give myself permission to … stop here.

About the Author

Roger DeWitt, PCC, PACG – is the ADHD Coach to the Entertainment Industry. As one of the trainers at ADDCA, he is extremely skilled at mentoring coaches with two careers they are trying to juggle and constantly feel like they can’t give either the attention they would like. Contact him at roger@coachingnyc.com or call him on (646) 308-1578. www.adhdcoachnyc.com and www.coachingnyc.com/blog.