How Two Words Changed My Thinking
Wellity well then how’s that for a click baity title? It’s true though, about the words.
They were a total game changer.
I came across them a few years ago in my first ever improvisation class. My hands were clammy, my heart rate was irregular, and all I could think was “what the hell am I doing? Leave now. Get out get out get out. This is stupid, this is scary!”. I imagined leaping up and sprinting out the door, setting off the fire alarm, or even just slowly backing into a corner and hiding under the table until the class was over. But it was too late, the class was about to start, I had paid & they knew my name.
I’ve learned that it is totally normal to have that kind of adverse reaction when someone suggests “improvisation”. It’s similar to the feeling you might have if someone unexpectedly threw a bag of dog poop at you from the window of a speeding car – shock, confusion & disgust. IMPROV CAN BE TERRIFYING! It leaves you completely vulnerable, with no idea of what the hell is going to happen next, in front of an audience no less (surely this is why we have scripts people?!)
So is it actually that awful? Truthfully, my answer is both yes and no. Yes it is scary, yes it is by its nature unpredictable. But it is SO much more. I like to think of improvisation as extreme mindfulness. It’s extreme because it’s not the kind where you sit on a cushion in a darkened room and meditate on the flickering of a candle flame whilst you “ommmm” your worries away. Improv is active, it’s involved, it’s a group activity. When you are improvising you are truly in the moment – not able to think about the past or worry about the future. You simply don’t have the brain space for it. You also have to instantly commit to whatever is thrown at you – someone endows you as a dog? You’d better believe you’ll be immediately on all fours, sniffing and woofing. All of a sudden the dog is also a breakdancing prime minister? You’re dropping moves you never knew you had whilst singing the national anthem. Essentially you have to leave your ego at the door. Improvisers are vulnerable, confident, grounded & flexible. It kind of feels like a really hearty laugh followed by a long exhale. It’s bloody good stuff.
Truth bomb – you have been improvising your entire life. The doctor didn’t cut the umbilical cord and hand you a script for your life (wouldn’t that be handy). We spend every day in a constant state of action and reaction. So when you start practicing how to improvise you get really good with the life stuff too.
So what’s the deal with “Yes, and” and why are improvisers always harping on about it? Let’s start with “Yes”. Seemingly simple, but practically can be really difficult. Often our instinct is to say “no”, often out of our need to control what’s going on. But improvisers always say “Yes”. This is essential for acknowledging and accepting the offer in front of you. Saying “no” or denying what is happening is called a “block”, because it stops the action right in its tracks. Next comes the “and” – this is the fuel to keep the action going. You add your own ideas and offers to move the scene forward. It’s a beautiful reciprocal rhythm.
This can really get stuck in your brain, and start to change the way you think. As someone who struggles with anxiety it allowed me to feel more comfortable in my skin, I was able to realise when I was blocking other people & especially when I was blocking myself. Things really do change when you start saying “yes” more - challenges become inherently more positive, and you get really good at breathing, relaxing, and pushing through the intense stuff.
My challenge to you is to go see an improv show, heck go take a class! And next time you’re in a pickle, try “Yes, anding” it.