What Improv Teaches Us About Life
We are the sum of all our little moments.
Every person has a story, a life narrative, just like a movie. The only difference is that Hollywood can only show us the lives of a small handful. The rockstars, the game-changers and the extraordinary. Meanwhile, there are billions of movies filming daily that’ll never make it to the big screen; not that they’re any less important, they just have a smaller stage with a smaller audience. The metaphorical camera is always rolling, capturing your life’s little and defining moments.
To seize these little moments and leverage them to improve my daily life I know I need to be more present. Present with what is happening all around me. Present with what is making up that bigger narrative. I realized recently that when you fixate on the past or future that you start to live in your head, living out of the life you desire where it’s safe. For instance, let’s say you’re trying to impress a date when it suddenly flatlines. In response, you stop actively listening as you search yourself for something clever or redeeming to say that could save the date from completely crashing and burning. But what you fail to realize is your date has noticed your withdrawal and is growing bored. The energy has shifted because you stop paying attention to what she is saying or what is happening in that moment, and you almost seem closed off, bored or disengaged. So the date goes bad anyhow, and you’re left wondering what you could have said or done differently to change the outcome. When the reality is simple, had you been paying attention instead of searching for something interesting to say, maybe the date would’ve gone differently.
One way to avoid that unpleasant awkwardness is to practice improvisation. Letting go of the need to prepare something perfect and just flow with what is in front of you.
Improv is like taking a presence-building class. It forces you to live in the now, and because of that, you have to work to overcome one of the most common phobias — stage fright. For social creatures that want to be heard, it’s ironic we’re scared of public speaking, all because we allow our fear of being judged to get in the way. Confidence is everything. It’s so cliche, but it’s true. Confidence can help silence the ‘can’t do’ attitude, motivate you, help you rebound after you’ve failed, strengthen your relationships and develop a strong sense of self.
What Is Improv?
Improv is a type of comedic theatre where actors play off of one another to create a one-of-a-kind performance that is entirely unscripted and spontaneous. It embodies the idea of living in the moment as you have to be quick-footed and confident to keep the show flowing organically. It’s also incredibly honest and helps you foster a more resilient mindset, which can help to strengthen resiliency in the mind.
Guiding Principles of Improv
Everybody strives to be the best version of themselves, and we all want to come out on top. We are all desperately look for an edge.
Well here’s one straight out of the left-field: learn improv.
We all want to be more confident and more fulfilled. That takes a little bit of bold fearlessness.
There’s no better way to learn than from an industry that literally builds self-confidence. Because if you can look fear in the eye and stand in front of a crowd without fear of judgment, then you can do just about anything.
Here are a few ways I’ve used Improv to create a little more space in my life for freedom, fulfilment and creative work:
1. Tapping Into Courage
It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of a crowd and go with it. What if people judge you, what if you say the wrong thing? Being vulnerable is not an emotion we care to experience; it means we are opening ourselves up to criticism, so in effect, we burrow into ourselves, create walls, live in denial and form negative opinions of ourselves. When really, fear is a natural part of life. Rather than living in fear, I’ve realized that I can downshift into courage to embrace whatever is trying to keep me from moving, and understand where it comes from.
Here’s what I mean… When fear is present, we are actively avoiding. Avoiding the next step, the hard discussion, the major decision; and the list goes on. What we tend to forget in the presence of fear, is that on the other side of it is freedom. When we’re wrapped up in fear we are doubting, criticizing and manipulating ourselves into not taking action. We will always be our own toughest critic, so it’s up to us to find a way to silence that ego before it gets the better of us. My suggestion is to do it anyway, especially when the ego voice in side your head is trying to convince you it’s going to hard, awkward or uncomfortable.
2. Shut Up & (Actively) Listen
There is a big difference between hearing and active listening. Hearing is an anatomical process that just happens, while active listening is understanding the message that’s being broadcasted. Improv relies on active listening. Good listening skills are hugely beneficial because it forces you to be present and not stuck in your head where you can overthink things.
Ever notice when you’re in a rut or feeling bad about yourself, that it’s a lot harder to accept invitations than it is to decline them? ‘Yes’ is available, but ‘No’ is so much more comfortable.
A fast ‘no’ means we’re missing out on opportunities and life’s little moments. We want that fulfilment, happiness and freedom, but we can’t step outside of our comfort zone, even though that is where the most personal growth happens.
So rather than passing up an opportunity, I try to say yes more frequently. And when in doubt, I chase a yes with an ‘and’ to gather more information to help ease into accepting what’s in front of me.
FAIL — First Attempt In Learning
Part of improv and life itself is learning from our mistakes. Mistakes are how we grow. How many times did you fall off a bike before you mastered how to ride it? Parents teach their kids to get up and try again; they encourage, support and sometimes practice tough love in order to raise resilient children.
So then why is it that adults are held to higher standards? Why do adults need to be perfect when we know it’s impossible?
Mistakes are what enable us to learn; they are our teachers — we just have to stop beating ourselves up when we mess up. It’s only human to make mistakes and it’s only failure if we accept mistakes without learning why they happened.
Life Is Improv
Life is spontaneous, it’s unscripted, it’s addled with mistakes, and it’s hard. So why make things harder?
Through that lens I feel like we can forget living in fear, which causes us to miss out on experiencing the magic of life.
Instead, we can take the centre stage and live in the now so we can appreciate everything life has to offer.