The Art Of Making Everyday Better – Improv Your Life

No it’s not a typo. It actually says ‘Improv Your Life’, as in utilize improvisational techniques to make your everyday life better. A disclaimer, I am an improv comedy performer and instructor, and I strongly suggest that you check out our shows if this topic interests you at all. They are a great time to kick back and enjoy life through laughter. Info will follow the article. Now let me explain what I mean, and stay with me kids, it’s gonna be a fun ride.

Members of the First City Improv Troupe having a great time using the 'rules of Improv'. (Photo Credit: GlassHat Media)
Members of the First City Improv Troupe having a great time using the ‘rules of Improv’. (Photo Credit: GlassHat Media)

One of the greatest regrets that we all have in life is that of missed opportunities. Moments, when we reflect upon them with 20-20 hindsight we recognize that instead of shrugging off an opportunity, or simply letting it pass by for whatever reason, we should simply have said yes, and taken the opportunity by the horns and lived through that adventure.

The regret is often compounded rather acutely if we chose to miss the opportunity due to an overfull workload, be it at the office or at school.

As is so common in today’s day and age, with looming deadlines, overflowing work schedules, and false technological escapes which are meant to bring us together, but only end up individualizing us further, one can often simply miss a great opportunity to connect to others and to “suck the marrow out of life” as Henry David Thoreau put it, (later quoted by Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poet’s Society).

But one does not have to “go to the woods” or leave their daily routine in order to “live deep” and achieve the goal of living a more fulfilling life, one simply has to apply certain rules from improv comedy in order to succeed.

The first and foremost rule of Improv, which should be applied everywhere in life, is to say ‘Yes, and…”. By this I mean accepting another person’s viewpoint, suggestion, critique, comment, and not simply brushing it off thinking ‘that I know best what is good for me’. The amount of self help books that talk about accepting other people into our lives in order to make ourselves better fills shelves upon shelves in libraries and bookstores alike. Today they often take up a lot of room on kindles as well.  But it is not enough to simply accept what another person is saying, in order to really accept their suggestion, and move forward with your life you need to add something of your own as well. You need to offer a ‘next step’.

Let’s take a pretty harsh example.  Let’s say your romantic other says that ‘you hurt my feelings’, for whatever reason. Instead of saying, ‘no I didn’t’, or coming up with a lame excuse as to why you did, or throwing it back in their face by saying, ‘you hurt my feelings first’ or some

such thing which will only lead to a fight, why not accept what the person is saying. After all they are simply telling you, in open communication how they feel. One cannot argue with how another person feels. It is simply how they feel and you need to deal with that. So the best idea is to accept their comment, i.e. say ‘Yes’. But that makes you feel bad, and we don’t want that either, so herein comes the tough part. the ‘And…’ Now this gets tricky. We don’t want to say, ‘no I didn’t’ as that would be what we call a block in improv, and frustrate your significant other. We don’t want to make up an excuse and say ‘yes I did hurt your feelings but…” That type of sentence in Improv is called ‘yes, but…’ and is also a block.

We want to say ‘yes, and…’ then add something of your own.

‘Yes dear, I did hurt your feelings and I am sorry that I did that. I had a rough day and I took it out on you. I apologize. etc…’ Adding the extra part of why you did what you did, helps alleviate the frustration of your significant other, or in improv your scene partner, it offers support for their feelings, and allows your situation to progress from the point of contention forwards to another place.

One doesn’t even always have to apologize for their actions. ‘Yes dear, I did hurt your feelings, and I did it so that you would be spared another round of chocolate cake so that it wouldn’t throw you off your diet which I know you are trying so hard to maintain.’ By adding this new piece of information, i.e. your side of the story you are also helping the situation, or the scene, progress and alleviate the frustration of your significant other.

Now there are many lessons that we can apply to our everyday life from the rules of improvisation. And I know what you are thinking, ‘how can there be rules to improvisation. Isn’t improvisation simply made up on the spot?’

The simple answer is yes, there are rules, or guidelines if you will, to improvisation. These guidelines help keep improvisors on track and help them create scenes out of nothing which each other. Scenes that are meant to reflect real life situations.

In everyday conversations people often say something, and then another person adds some information of their own. Whether they agree or disagree will often determine the type of conversation they are having. (Disagree=argument, debate, conflict, while agreement=friendly, romantic, productive, not to say that conflict cannot be productive, it certainly can be once the conversation starts building upon the conflict and heading towards a resolution, but by then the conversation has changed to be one where people yes and each other.) We move conversations forward by adding new information in response to what has already been communicated, this we call ‘the and…’ part. In an improv scene the players/partners will work together to create a base reality by continually making statements, agreeing with them, and adding new related information to what has already been established.

The more we say yes to opportunities that present themselves to us, and then add or build on those opportunities, the happier lives we will lead, and the less we will regret missed opportunities in conversations or in making life choices. Adding new and relevant information, parts of our own story, to our conversations as well as to our everyday lives in a positive manner can make a big difference in personal happiness. Listening to others helps as well. But that I’ll cover in the next blog post.  Or you can come see for yourself how improv rules are used and how they can create positive interactions at the First City Improv show that I will be participating in on Thursday night, January 1st, at the AACI.

To find out more about Improv opportunities in Jerusalem please click here:

This article is the first in a series of related articles regarding how the ‘rules of improv’ can help improve our everyday lifestyles.





About the Author
Raphael Poch is a Canadian-Israeli playwright, producer, director, actor and journalist. He is the International Media Spokesperson for United Hatzalah and runs the First City Improv Troupe.
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