As we step into this new year, we turn the page on one rife with realities that called for an unprecedented use of the word “unprecedented.” In many ways, all of us have been improvisers on the stage of life for many months, innovating solutions to problems on the fly and crafting our days without the familiar structures.
Research shows that the philosophy and creative experiences available through improv games and exercises are an immediately useful and positive approach to navigating the unknown without being derailed by the stress response. The ability to improvise can be strengthened through practice, and practice comes with the additional bonus of being a ton of fun.
We create the future by choices made in the now. Improv is a direct experience of living in the now while tapping into our existing inner resources and gifts, and finding inspiration in the people and circumstances that surround us. Without a script, set, or prepared plan, improvisers enter into a dynamic space to create something entirely new in that moment.
While it is designed to be an unplanned and unpredictable experience, improv is hardly an “anything goes,” fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation. As with any game, there are forms and skills that guide the interaction, and within those forms, a dynamic uncertainty that parallels real-life situations in which decisions must be made moment to moment. Anyone can learn these skills, which studies show can strengthen our tolerance for uncertainty, boost creative thinking abilities, and enhance well-being, all at the same time.
The principle of “yes … and” is the cornerstone of the improviser’s toolkit—the willingness to play with and elevate others’ ideas in the hope of discovering something together. With practice, the improviser’s mindset and skills become more accessible when responding under pressure, whether in the creative space of an improv scene or in real-life scenarios.
Properly designed improv experiences deliver a steady stream of joy and fun while also working the psychological “muscles” needed to engage in them, through which we gain new approaches to navigating the unknown. Because of its grounding in the spirit of “yes,” designed to bypass the internal editor that constantly judges and analyzes our own and others’ behavior, we can learn to notice and be more receptive to ideas we might otherwise reject because they are too far outside our comfort/safety zone.
The sense of immediacy and joy in improv has a galvanizing and powerful impact on our capacity to embrace new ideas. The dimension of fun and interest can be so compelling that it overcomes the discomfort of going down previously untried paths. Creative experiences redirect our attention away from needing to know what will happen next and toward having a full-bodied response to the present moment.
We can hope for better days ahead, a hope we realize through improv-ing our capacity for creativity and courage.
Jude Treder-Wolff is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Group Psychotherapist, Certified Practitioner of Applied Improvisation, and creative arts therapist, with 30 years experience as a clinician and trainer working in the field of mental health, addiction and wellness. She is also a writer/performer, singer, storyteller creative arts psychotherapist and improviser who speaks and presents on topics related to creativity, creative/experiential methods, storytelling and Applied Improvisation in the process of learning and change for individuals, organizations, and communities. She is host/creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS, an improv game wrapped in a storytelling show, and creator of the solo musical storytelling show “This Isn’t Helping.” Find out more at https://www.lifestage.me/trainers.