First published on Thrive Global on 19 August 2020

Life Lessons from Improv!

Confidence is something we all either could use more of or want more of. When we are confident, we are sure about the truth of something or have a self-assurance of our own abilities or qualities. Confidence is the belief that one can rely on or have faith in someone or something. Being confident helps you gain credibility, make good lasting first impressions and supports you in dealing with pressure and meeting life head-on.

So, it pretty clear WHY we want it; confidence is a lubricant of success. What might not be so clear is what gets in the way of us BEING confident.

The biggest obstacle to confidence sits within us. It’s that little voice inside your head. And, if you just said, “What little voice?“. That would be IT, right there. And, I’m going to refer to that little voice as IT! Once you tune into it, you’ll notice that IT has specific characteristics. Characteristics like, it’s harsh, rude and downright mean. It’s very opinionated. IT judges and assesses everything and everyone, mostly YOU. That little voice is on repeat, and it pounds you with problems and won’t let you BE. And when it comes to confidence, it can be to you what Kryptonite is to Superman! There is a crucial difference; however, Superman is powerless against Kyrpontite. You can develop your power and mitigate the destructive capabilities of IT.

The question is, HOW?

Enter Improv. Intuitively I knew that Improv would make a difference to several people whom I have worked with. So I suggested that they take an Improv course. The only problem was, I hadn’t experienced it myself. In a COVID environment, that provides some challenges. In this case, it has made it easier for me to participate because I can do it from the comfort of home. And, so I am…

Noticing IT

I became acutely aware of the Kyprotonite like powers of IT many moons ago. There’s an old saying about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. This definitely applies to IT. So, we begin by noticing what IT is up to and what IT has to say. This is where the self-judgement and self-deprecation become apparent. Just try something new and stretch yourself and listen in to the commentary.

Let it go

Anything new is challenging. Even a silly game that we would happily given ourselves over to as a child is enough to start IT off. It will say things like, “What do you think you’re doing? Or, “You can do that?” “Stop before you make a fool of yourself!” All the while, that monologue is destroying your confidence…

The antidote?

Don’t judge yourself. The only problem is, you probably will judge yourself. It’s on speed dial in your brain. So first cut yourself some slack, forgive yourself for being human, let it go and THEN resolve not to judge yourself. Like any new habit, this will take some time and some practice, but with commitment, you’ll get there. Which brings me to the next point…

Get committed

This is the subtle art of acting “As if”. It’s not about faking it, it’s the art of feeling your way into something new, and that is only ever going to work if you are committed to it. You won’t be committed to your course of action if you are judging yourself in the moment. As Cindy Tonkin, our Improv facilitator pointed out to us, there is plenty of time for judgement later. Of course, confidence isn’t the same as competence. Competence takes time and practice. When you are in the throws of something, BE there and act committedly. That is where flow lies. No commitment, no personal momentum. Commit and move forward.

“Somehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four Cs. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.” –

Walt Disney

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you have always gotten. Letting go of the self-judgement and taking what comes is a real skill. It’s not a new skill however; we all did this as children. Children learn through play as we are naturally curious beings. While our adult brain may be older, we still learn through playing and through mixing it up. I once read there’s nothing truly original in the world. Creativity then is about taking something existing, and this can be from multiple inputs and then creating something new out of it. Twitter is an example of this: It’s the love child of two things relatively unrelated systems, antiquated SMS protocols and the internet. Improv is perfect for unleashing this kind of creativity.

Lastly, no one really knows how things are going to turn out. That’s why things don’t always go to plan. People don’t say what they are supposed to, they don’t follow the script, (unless they are telemarketers) and when that happens, what do you do?

You take what you’re given and you build on it from there.

This isn’t to say don’t rehearse or practice. Practising builds confidence after all. Prepare and then be willing to throw out the script and follow the thread instead.

True spontaneity is just that.

Practice, then throw out the script and your pre-conceived ideas and trust that if what you need will come.