After performing an exhilarating improvisational comedy show with my classmates to a packed audience in New York City last weekend, I couldn't help but notice some parallels between effectively performing improvisational comedy and living an authentically confident life. It's no secret that tapping into your funny bone can help you in your career and personal relationships. While I had my own stints in stand up comedy, I found that there are magical moments unique to improvisational comedy, or "improv," that allow you to leave the stage with your self-esteem firmly in tact!
As a health coach for stressed out busy people, I like reminding others of how having fun in life leads to more success and confidence -- here are some lessons I learned from my first improv comedy class so that you can do just that!
1. Admitting what's true can be funny.
While what is said and how it's said can make something funny, humor actually stems from the connection forged between a comic's experience with that of the audience. This makes being funny about relating to the the truth in everyday situations. In life, even just admitting an emotional moment or stating the obvious can be funny because some of these situations can be plain absurd! Being more open to speaking the truth can make an otherwise undesirable situation more light and less stressful.
2. Un-learn the negative self-talk you carry around all day.
Every one of us has an inner heckler that puts down what we actually want to do or say. In this way, our inner heckler limits our lives. While learning improv, we were encouraged to just trust what we want to say without judging how "funny" it would be. In the beginning, this was hard and I'd just stand there hesitating, sputtering and struggling with what to say. Now, I just speak my mind and am more in tune with myself. The filter is lifted and this allows me to...
3. Say "Yes! And..." to life and its infinite possibilities.
In improv, you actively engage with the scene or situation that you are building with a fellow improviser by accepting what is presented as true. For example, if one improviser exclaims, "You are half an hour late and we were supposed to go to the concert!" the other person can respond, "Oh, you know how the boss is, dear. He likes to spring last minute details on us!" In this way, the scene builds momentum and branches into different possibilities because the audience wants to learn more of how the scene will unfold. However, if the second improviser had denied, "No, I am not late!" the scene falls flat and screeches to a halt. In everyday conversations, if you keep exploring where it leads rather than being defensive, you can deepen the conversation and foster even more meaningful relationships.
4. Life doesn't need to be meticulously planned, prepared, or scripted to be great.
When creating a scene in improv, people are listening to each other, observing actions, and building the scene together -- you never really know what's going to happen next! When it comes to building a career or relationships, approaching it all with an openness to surprises can bring about opportunities that you didn't think existed! This is not to say that we shouldn't plan anything in life, but there's something exhilarating about creating something and seeing how it develops as it's being created. Life becomes more like a work of art created by freedom of expression, not something that needs to be followed by the book.
5. Vulnerability creates connection.
One exercise we did in class was inspired by a clown: Three people would sit next to each other and display an emotion, such as laughter, in increasing levels one by one, starting with the lowest intensity first. No words are said, it's literally a wave of increasing emotion being passed from one person to the other via eye contact. Because the exercise required you to make eye contact before emoting, you felt totally vulnerable -- and yet once you locked eyes it was easier to get into the emotional zone and be really into laughing.
Whether it's personal or professional relationships, it's easy to hide from your own emotions -- yet that's what creates disconnect, doubt, and awkwardness. This makes it difficult to know what to say or how to act. It's when you allow yourself to be emotionally affected by someone that you connect. Only then, whatever you want to do or say next comes more naturally and you become more at ease in social situations.
6. Trust the process (and your fellow humans).
In improv, there's quite a bit of trust needed between your fellow improvisers to build a scene successfully. This is opposed to stand-up comedy, which Tina Fey tells Jerry Seinfeld is "so much scarier than improv... because it's all you." Improvising, however, relies on several improvisers to create a rich scene. In life, no one is truly an island, and so sometimes when the going gets tough, those who trust the process and keep taking action towards their goals with the right support group win the day.
By embracing the humor in truth, saying yes to life, and rolling with the punches, life will feel funnier, you'll gain more confidence, and attract more opportunities. Because face it: who can resist a funny person? So take an improv class today and find the funny in life!
Catherine Chen, Ph.D., is a speaker and Health Coach who believes that you are important, no matter what you achieve. She works with high-achievers to get out of their own way to have more fun in life while being great on the job. If you enjoyed this article, sign up for tips to find your personal awesome at www.achievewitheasenow.com