Rules for Life from Improv and Art!

August 15, 2013

About a year after I became a coach, I attended a workshop  where as part of the course we were exposed to the three rules of improv comedy. As I remember them they are

Never say No

Add and Affirm

Have a plan but be willing to change it

We practised using these through  chain storytelling where someone started a story and then passed it on to the next person who had to add another piece to the story before handing it over to someone else. As per the rules we were not allowed to negate the story thread we had been given whilst adding our own spin on the tale thus far.  I returned home and played this as a game with my girls who found it really easy and we would generally end up in heaps of laughter as the story lurched towards a hysterical outcome.  I liked the concept and thought I understood it until this year when I truly got it!

The medium through which I received a META understanding of the rules was through an art class.  Same rules just a different medium. We were creating a collective art piece.  We all started a piece with our own intentions and plan and after about twenty minutes of working on our piece we had to hand it over to the next person to work on as we received a piece from some one else.  I found that I was able to accept another person’s piece of work with generosity and love and could easily find all sorts of brilliant content in their work. I took what they gave me without any negative judgement and and added to it in a way that did not negate what they had done.  What was interesting to observe was the slight sense of relief at handing my piece over whilst still being attached to what someone might “do” to it! I quickly learned that the only way to  fully engage with the piece in front of me was to completely let go of “mine”, become fully present and focus all my attention on the piece directly in front of me. The question that formed in my head was “what does this moment ask of me?”

INSIGHT 1  Being present is the key to letting go!

Once I had come into the present, I was able to fully accept what was given to me and proceed from there.  I did not need to know what the original plan was and what I needed to add came really easily and naturally. I turned the piece of paper around to see it from different vantage points and all of a sudden the next step was obvious.

INSIGHT 2 By saying yes, we can work with anything we get given.

We carried on passing on the pieces in front of us every twenty minutes and eventually the original piece that we had started with came back to us. We then had to finish it and integrate everything. It was amazing to see the journey that the piece had been on  and how people had worked with the piece and transformed it. It was not at all what I had planned and  it was beautiful.  This experience made me wonder where in my life rigid thinking had prevented me from exploring a multitude of possibilities.

INSIGHT 3 Rigid thinking limits our options and choices. By being open to a change in direction we could end up at a place far better that the one we had originally attached to. Unexpected turns can be a gift.

Our next exercise involved the same process with one minor change. By now, I was really comfortable with the process. We worked for 20 minutes and as I was  getting ready to hand off my piece our teacher informs us that we will carry on working with our own pieces to completion. What?!!!!!!Shock horror……………panic rising……….and then the the judgements rolled in on a wave of mind chatter. “Now everyone will see how crap I am at this because this is all my own work……nowhere to hide……I can’t figure out what to do next………..I’m stuck…….what I get given to work with is easier than what I produce myself…….other peoples offerings are better….WOW….no self acceptance here…….ok breathe…….say yes to this moment…….add and affirm………..ok…………..I have to treat this the same way I treated what was given to me…..what I’ve done so far is fine…….”. The panic recedes and I find my way again.

INSIGHT 4 The rules apply to everything we get given, whether we are giving to ourselves or receiving from another. Self – acceptance is as important as accepting from others. Self – compassion leads to self – acceptance which in turn again leads to a myriad of possibilities.

Why had I judged myself so harshly?  My reaction really surprised me. I could at least have been as kind to myself as I had been with complete strangers by according my work the same respect and open mindedness. The self judgement and lack of acceptance just made me stuck in the same way that fighting and resisting can sometimes keep us in a rut.  It’s such an ingrained habit that had some how gotten past me. Whilst the first three insights might seem obvious, the fourth one was profound for me.  Where else have I not been accepting myself?  Where else do I judge myself too harshly? What would be different if I didn’t? What opportunities or gifts am  I missing whilst I am so invested in the the self judgement? When did it begin?  Where does it come from? Why have I not noticed it before???????

Needless to say, I am now on high alert to observe when I judge myself harshly.  I am also practising self – compassion.  My self seems to be responding well to this. I’m less tired, more curious and more able to accept what is. I play more and seem to have more time. I also sleep earlier.

I’ve spent many a  session coaching my clients around energy and content management vs time management. I think I’ll be adding one more tool – “Give up judging yourself harshly”. It really will free up your day.


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