That Thing You Do


You know that “thing” you do?  Well, it might be getting in the way of some brilliant acting!


Don’t you want someone to fall in love with you because of your true self?

Unfortunately, many actors do a lot of other “things” that cover up that natural lovable self. Since the audition room is where actors become most nervous, this is also where all of the “things” start happening. These “things” are habits and defaults.


Have you studied your work to find the habits that you always do that might be blocking your true self from emerging?


The funny thing about acting is that we want the true self to emerge, but sometimes your defaults prevent that from happening.

Typically, the first thing that actors notice when working on camera are the nervous habits that appear.

These habits are things that you do all of the time when you are not even thinking about it (or funny enough, only when a camera is on you). Some people blink a lot, shift the body constantly, talk with the hands, smile a ton, talk really fast, stop making eye contact, etc.


There’s hope. Don’t worry. Start here.

A great place to learn about your own (nervous) habits when acting is to review your work on camera.


Identify your acting habits (on camera)


The easiest way to really identify your defaults is to watch yourself acting on camera, or to have an outside eye tell you what they notice that you do a lot.

What are the things that distract even you when you are watching videos of your acting?

Watch your self-tape auditions, watch your classroom tapes, or just record and watch any scene that you can put on camera with your little smart phones. Watch and you shall grow!

Now, let’s really nail it.


Identify WHEN you are doing your defaults


There are specific moments that every actor has when their habits come out.

If you can identify the exact moment when you are doing your default, you will be able to start to retrain yourself.  But first you have to be honest about it, see what you are doing, and then the next time you find yourself actually doing it, then you can STOP IT in the moment.

Learn to call yourself out in the exact moment that you are doing it.”Ah! I’m doing that thing again!


The way that we can change our habits is to identify them first.


Now, here’s the reason that I really want you to start noticing your default habits.

You are doing them all the time and it is distracting the viewer from watching your TALENT, your true self.

Oh no, your “habits” are taking over your acting choices!


Unearth the “YOU” that lies beneath the habits


If your default is to look around a ton, or shift in your seat, then your scene partner never feels like they get to connect with you. And guess what that means? Your AUDIENCE won’t connect with you.

If you talk with your hands a ton, then we are not looking into your eyes. Again, the audience is not deeply connected to you.

Consider that your defaults might be preventing you from actually “revealing” the multiple layers of your character.  You are probably doing too much!

Settle down, kids.  Literally, settle down. Trust that when you settle down, all the gorgeous nuances of your thoughts and acting choices will now have a way to emerge. They won’t be buried or lost behind your defaults.


I love to see the real you. Not just the default you.


PS – Jim Carey has made millions from identifying his defaults. When he identified them, he could control when to use them or not. This is why he can do dramatic films as well. His silly faces might seem like a default, but really they are his conscious quirks that attract audiences. Don’t confuse what “distracts” and what “attracts” audiences to you!


Do you have defaults that you battle or have conquered? I’d love to know. Share below!



  1. Laura Betz says

    Thanks, Heidi. I’ve started this exact thing today. Self taping and reviewing myself on film every week with different goals/prompts surrounding each week. Working to unearth that true self, and this is exactly what I needed to read. You always know, Heidi

  2. Wes says

    I noticed that right before a major line or change of thought I would click my tongue against my teeth (like a quick “tut”). It was a small thing but I noticed it reviewing several takes and then it stuck out like a sore thumb. I was able to smooth it out once I was aware of it 🙂

  3. Natalie says

    I was so busy standing outside of myself “watching” myself act that it would make me so self aware and not present – actually taking the time after my work in class to do that process, so that I could stay connecting in the scene allowed me to correct and notice that when the emotions were starting to cook, my quirks would begin. I’m still learning to lean into the vulnerability and stay present, but this practice is the only way through it! thanks Heidi!

  4. Polly says

    At first, I could not bear to watch myself. It is still not a pleasurable experience. but thanks to your class, I see the value in it and watch all my clips and learn so much!

  5. Rosie Cosch says

    Thanks to your classes Miss Heidi and forcing myself to watch the videos, I have been able to minimize the overly big eyes and furrowing brow that may be great for the theatre but not for the screen! At first it was hard to remember but like anything you do with practice, you can only get better!

  6. Jay Santiago says

    Oh, I really found a “doozie” , I always wondered why people laughed even when there weren’t any funny lines… They were watching my reactions and my responses with my “eyes”… I tend to really “hone” in or use my eyebrows and eyes a lot just one second before responding… (it was hard to watch) but I think I know now NOT to do that when not necessary..

  7. Nina Covalesky says

    The biggie that was hard for me to kick (in real life as well as in “real-life” on camera) is the tendency to talk a billion miles a minute as soon as the stakes get high. I’ve kicked it, though. No really, I have. Mostly. Most times. I think.

    For me, the key is to concentrate, concentrate, concentrate and breathe like a livin’ human should!

  8. Carole Monferdini says

    I haven’t yet identified a specific thing I’m doing as a default, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got several of them. I’m still trying to get used to seeing myself on camera. Wow, it’s really tough. In the last assignment I noticed that the things I did that I thought might be really attractive and help me “seduce” my partner in a seduction scene, were actually not when I saw them played back to me. Ugh. But I’m sure this will be of great value in the long run, painful as it is right now. Thanks again!

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