How To Use Improv To Change Your Life

This week on The Upgrade we're going off-script and talking about improvisational comedy. Even if you don't think of yourself as a comedic or theatrical person there are a lot of lessons you can take away from the improv stage.

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This Week's Discussion: How You Can Apply the Concepts of Improv to Your Daily Life

Even if you're not a comedy nerd like me, chances are you have some awareness of improv. A typical improv show features a group of performers acting out skits based on suggestions from the audience. Depending on the form, a good improv skit takes a small detail and builds it into an entire scene with fleshed out relationships and characters. It's a very tricky thing to do that requires a few key skills that you can apply to your own life and work.

To learn a little about the fundamentals of improv we spoke with Ed Herbstman, co-founder of the Magnet Theatre in New York and Hannah Chase, an improv teacher and performer. In addition to teaching classes at the theatre they are occasionally are hired by companies to impart how improv concepts can help in professional settings.

For example, you may have heard of the concept of "yes, and..." All that means is that you should avoid saying no as much as possible. We tend to approach everything from a sceptical point of view and think about new ideas in terms of how they might fail. That doesn't really work in improv. Rather, you should try to say yes and add to ideas instead of shutting them down immediately or bulldozing something with an idea of your own.

And another key parts of improv is what's called "active listening". It sounds obvious — of course you need to listen to someone in order to respond to them — but most of us just sort of half-listen in normal conversations or just say whatever's on our mind without any regard to the person we're talking to. On stage active listening is crucial; improvising a scene depends on your awareness of your partner's intentions, and everything you say and do should be a reaction to them rather than a non sequitur. But the same thing applies to real life. Take time in your relationships to actually listen to what the other person is saying. At work don't zone out at meetings; pay attention and see how you can contribute.

Those are just a couple of improv principles that Ed and Hannah taught us. And stick around until the end of the show to hear Hannah and Ed perform a hilarious skit spun from thin air.

Our Upgrades of the Week

Every week to round out the The Upgrade with the little upgrades of our own. Here's a quick recap:

  • Andy: I tend to populate my desk with toys to fidget with while I work. One peculiar item that I occasionally fiddle is a Zippo lighter. I don't really know why — it has a pleasant metallic clickiness. It's like one of those fidget cube toys.
  • Melissa: Melissa just got a bidet attachment for her toilet and her world has changed. Also, it saves toilet paper so bidets also help the environment.
  • Hannah: Hannah decided to limit her internet usage at the end of the day and goes offline around 10PM. "It helps me not feel like I want to kill someone," she says. Sounds nice.
  • Ed: Ed's has started doing what he calls "tech shabbat". His family takes a complete day off from technology to reset their modern tech-addict sensibilities and actually connect with each other. He's also being more mindful of his posture whenever he's hunched over his phone.

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