Squashing the Inner Saboteur: Reframing Intrusive Thoughts As An Arts Educator

Squashing the Inner Saboteur: Reframing Intrusive Thoughts As An Arts Educator

No matter if you’re a teacher, a coach, a director, or a mentor, chances are you’ve questioned your abilities. Just yesterday, I found myself sitting at my desk with thoughts that are all too common these days: 

“What makes you so special?”

“You really aren’t that good at what you do.”

“Why do students even listen to you?”

“Everyone around you is lying to you about your talent just to make you feel good.”

“Are you really worthy of owning a studio?”

We’ve all been there – thoughts of inadequacy creep into your head out of nowhere and you suddenly find yourself questioning your entire career. If you’re anything like me, these thoughts leave you in a constant state of denial when it comes to your talents.

Believe it or not, these crazy thoughts aren’t recent developments that just magically materialized in my head one day. When I think back, I can remember struggling with self-worth as early as high school. As I began to grow my craft and develop my instrument, it seemed like I experienced these thoughts more frequently and controlling how these thoughts influenced my day became increasingly harder. Now, what started in high school as a small whisper in my head has since evolved into a full-fledged voice, anxiously screlting doubt at me louder than Barrett Wilbert Weed singing a G#5 in Heathers.

It wasn’t until I began discussing these debilitating inner monologues with my therapist that I discovered I’m not the only person that struggles with this, and to my surprise, they actually have a name: Intrusive Thoughts. By the book, intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts or ideas that pop into our mind involuntarily and repeatedly, causing anxiety or distress. Because these thoughts are oftentimes difficult to control or dismiss, they can disrupt our thinking and interfere with daily activities, sometimes affecting our overall quality of life. Intrusive thoughts tend to show their ugly heads when we are stressed or anxious, and coincidentally intensify those feelings. As the intrusive thoughts get louder and louder, the only thing we can focus on is silencing them. And like many things in our lives, if there isn’t a game plan in place to guide us, focusing solely on silencing these thoughts without a plan only creates a larger problem that becomes harder to control.

Thanks to my therapist, I have discovered a wealth of tools that help me not only manage my inner saboteur, but also pinpoint and identify the triggers that cause these intrusive thoughts in the first place. Through self-discovery, I’ve begun to learn that my intrusive thoughts typically stem from a negative experience that I’ve had earlier in the day and my brain is over analyzing the situation and is trying to explain to itself why things happened the way that they did.

Here are a few different techniques that I have found allow me to quickly and effectively silence my intrusive thoughts and go on with my day:

  • Give a name to your inner saboteur… mine is named Tyra. The moment I begin to have intrusive thoughts, I speak directly to Tyra and tell her to knock it off. I’ve learned that treating these thoughts like a being I can communicate with allows me to gain control over my thoughts and begin to silence them.
  • Ground yourself in the world around you. I have this coping technique for anxiety called “5-4-3-2-1” that my therapist uses with me to help me ground myself in the presence and remind myself that I am ok. When I am experiencing intrusive thoughts, I simply list five things that I can see, four things that I can touch, three things that I can hear, two things that I can smell, and one thing that I can taste. After I’ve identified these 15 different focal points, I am typically able to calm my brain and go on with my day.
  • Focus on your successes. Believe it or not, every one of us has at least one thing that we can call a “success.” Maybe you recently passed a certification test; maybe your student was accepted into their dream college or a prestigious summer program; maybe you landed a huge role in a local opera. Worst case scenario, if you can’t find a personal success to celebrate, remind yourself that you woke up today. Put one foot in front of the other and don’t forget that you have your entire life ahead of you to create successes. No matter what, identify your successes and think through them, acknowledging that your success is YOURS and should not be compared to anyone else. 

At the end of the day, intrusive thoughts can interfere with our ability to create art, but they don’t have to! Whether you decide to use the tools I’ve provided above or start to discover your own, each of us have the power to defeat our inner saboteur and show our students that the human brain is capable of so much more than we give it credit for. And remember: seeking help is a sign of strength and it is never too late to take control of your mental health. Our students are looking to us for guidance, so let’s show them that irrelevant thoughts, no matter their name, can’t stop us from being our best.

Brandon Marcus, MLA

Brandon Marcus (he/him/his) is the Owner/Director of The Studio, an award-winning educational performing arts studio located in Daphne, Alabama. As a Musical Theatre voice teacher and audition coach for over a decade, Brandon has seen success in his students who have starred in Broadway tours and Off-Broadway productions, collaborated with Disney and Marvel Studios, and won top awards at state, regional, and national competitions. Brandon is an active member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, the Musical Theatre Educators’ Alliance, the Music Teachers National Association, The Voice Foundation, and the Voice and Speech Trainers Association. For more information, visit www.bmarc.us.