The world is unpredictable and chaos is rampant. In order to thrive, we have to remain adaptable and nimble. How? The answer lies in improv.
Let’s set the scene:
It’s your birthday and some close friends are out having a few drinks when you notice that, just around the corner, an improv comedy show is about to start. Intriguing, right? Well, you all decide that you could use a few more laughs in your life- so you head on over. The show begins when suddenly, an actor on stage asks for a suggestion of topic from the audience. Your friend, let’s call her Stacy, is bold by nature (especially after a few martinis), so she calls out “Velociraptors!”
The actors on stage, who were previously doing a bit about grocery shopping, find themselves bobbing and weaving through the cereal aisle in order to avoid a seemingly inevitable and carnivorous, Jurassic fate. By the end of the night, your abs were so sore that you could cancel your gym membership.
It’s a goofy scenario but the actors on stage were following an important pillar of improv comedy: ‘Yes And’. Simply put, ‘Yes And’ is the act of taking what is given to you and running with it. What if, when Stacy called out, ‘Velociraptors!’ the actors on stage had said, “Yeah, no.”
The scene wouldn’t have gone anywhere. Instead, by employing ‘Yes And’, the actors were able to productively build on anything that was thrown at them. In improv, any suggestion or scenario given to you is a gift (regardless of whether or not it fits your original vision for the scene). ‘Yes And’ is the recognition and acceptance of that gift. The ‘Yes And’ mentality is such a fundamental aspect of improv, the improv troupe at my university goes by the name of ‘Yes Anderson’ (which I think is hysterical).
You may not be performing improv comedy on the regular but the ‘Yes And’ mentality is just as applicable to the nonperformer as it is to the cast of SNL. How?
Simply put, ‘Yes And’ is a way to respond to whatever life happens to throw your way. It’s synonymous with adaptability. In these wild times, it seems like complications, roadblocks, and unforeseen setbacks litter the landscape. When we encounter one, it can be easy to get frustrated. Unplanned developments don’t have to ruin your day, though, especially when they might be gifts in disguise. Instead of resenting the situation, accept it and build on it. For example:
Yesterday, I trudged toward the subway after a long day of classes. I was tired and wanted nothing more than to go home and lie down. After a lengthy wait, the train clumsily ambled its way into the station and I was able to hop on. About half an hour goes by when I look up and notice that the train is going uptown, not downtown. I had wasted thirty minutes going the wrong direction, effectively adding an hour to my commute. A roadblock.
Initially, I was beyond upset with myself- but then that beautiful phrase passed through my cranium… ‘Yes And’. I had the opportunity for an adventure. The subway had spit me out around Madison Square Garden- so I built on that. I explored for awhile, saw some sights, stopped in a few stores that I had never seen before, and left with five new records that I caught on sale (one of which being a ‘They Might Be Giants’ album). I was ecstatic. So ecstatic, that I spent the rest of the night listening to ‘Birdhouse in Your Soul’ instead of allowing the directional blunder a few hours prior suck the life out of me.
‘Yes And’. It’s a valuable perspective. Next time you find yourself thrown by the chaos of the world around you, give it a try. Maybe you’ve been offered a fantastic opportunity.
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