Someone once described the moment that he took the stage to perform a totally improvised show as his "threshold of anxiety." Before he took the stage, he had all his usual daily concerns: his relationships, paying his bills, whether or not he would be funny during the performance. Then, as soon as he took the stage, it all melted away, and he was able to slay. 100% uninhibited, creative slaying.
This speaks to some of the advantages of improvisation.
Improv relies on a few so-called "rules" in order to let everyone be on the same page while totally making things up from scratch.
First off, there's the Yes, And rule. It just means that when one person says something like, "There's a bear in that cave," the other has to go along with that idea and run with it.
If the second person says, "What bear?" or "That's not a bear. It's your mom," then the scene gets really confrontational really quickly. We're trying to figure out who's telling the truth, instead of getting to the stuff people actually want to watch onstage like deep relationships and transformative moments.
There are many improv rules, but what I want to get at here is really just that this structure allows improvisers to experience some major benefits once they get the swing of it.
And I don't see any reason why people can't take these advantages of improvisation and apply them to their day-to-day routines.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves though.
Here are 7 advantages of improvisation:
1. Improv Allows You to be a More Positive Person
The Yes, And rule says we have to go along with all the other improvisers' ideas. This allows us to be a much more positive person.
It takes a lot of practice, but once you get in the habit of agreeing and adding onto everyone's ideas, there's no stopping you.
You can't be thinking, "I hate this guy" or "she's so bad at improv" when you are forced to agree and add onto people's ideas.
It's a great feeling to know that I can say anything really, and my teammates are going to make the best of it.
Yes, Anding is a sure-fire way to get into the silver lining habit.
2. Improv Makes You More Creative
When you know everyone is going to support your idea and make the most if it, this frees you up to start taking some risks. And the only way to get creative is to have a trusting and supportive environment where you can be all about risk taking.
There's something called "creative mortification" that happens when creativity...well...dies. This creative death happens when you feel like your ideas will get shot down or judged.
We obviously don't want that.
Improv relies on a supportive environment from which every player can take all kinds of risks and not get shot down or judged.
This allows you to be at your creative best.
3. Improv Helps You Become a Team Player
Ever been to a meeting where someone was saying no to everyone else's ideas? No fun, right?
Well, improv stops this in its tracks.
By saying yes and running with every idea, improv allows ideas to come fast and furious.
It's called ideation: coming up with ideas, and it's a part of the creative process that often gets squashed by negativity. Remove negativity and you bump up the ideation to the next level.
Improvisation also relies on everyone to support everyone else onstage. In improv, the motto is that you look good when your fellow players look good, so you support everyone else in anyway you can.
Imagine working in a place like this.
Team players as far as the eye can see.
4. Improv Makes You a Better Listener
Think back to that Yes, And rule. If improv needs you to agree and add onto other people's ideas, obviously it needs you to become a better listener first.
Improvisers have to pay attention to everything their scene partners do and say because it's their job to take all those details and run with them.
This means improvisers have to listen to each other in a way that many of us don't experience.
There's just no way you can go it alone or get stuck in your own thoughts while improvising successfully.
And that kind of listening feels pretty great.
5. Improv Helps You Make Big Choices
Another one of the advantages of improvisation is that when people are listening and supporting everything you do and say, you become emboldened to start taking some risks.
Improv becomes a super supportive environment because of all the listening, agreeing, and supporting, and this leads people to take some chances onstage.
When you know that your partner is going to run with your idea no matter what, you start having some wackier and wackier ideas.
6. Improv Brings Out Your Playful Side
Improv is nothing if not playful.
Improvisers have to take the stage with a sense of excitement, curiosity, and enthusiasm. It's a real childlike endeavor to hop up onstage and not know what's going to happen. To find your way to the end of the scene, you listen and agree, sure.
But more importantly, you play.
You try new things and see what happens. You don't take anything too seriously. And you, for sure, try to find the game in each moment.
One of my favorite parts of improv is this game finding. While improvising, you are looking for fun details that you can take and run with. That's called finding the game.
Someone drops a plate? That can become a game if you drop a bowl or a bigger plate.
Someone says they live on the moon? You can say you live on Mars. Now you're creating some kind of game.
This kind of game is like a fun pattern.
And these kind of fun patterns are great for helping you bring a sense of play and joy into your life.
7. Improv Helps You Enjoy the Moment
And finally, improv helps you enjoy the present moment.
When you are listening carefully to your teammates and paying careful attention to everything that they're doing, you can't really be kicking yourself for that last thing you said or planning out what you might say next.
This lets you live beautifully in the present moment.
It's perhaps the biggest advantage of improvisation: that living in the present moment feeling.
It even changes how your brain functions.
The improvising brain reduces activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, that's the part of your brain that tells you not to say certain things, kind of like your internal critic.
When this part of your brain chills out, you are freed up to enjoy the moment without that internal monologue that you hear most any other time.
Improv can be another way to experience a kind of mindfulness that doesn't require you to close your eyes and chant "ommmmm."
Advantages of Improvisation
I worry and plan and get anxious and stressed out, but I've always found that all that melts away when I take the stage to improvise.
Improv's structure helps these advantages happen.
Improvisers have to listen to each other, so they can agree with people's ideas.
They have to support each other and make everyone look good for scenes to work.
All this changes the vibe onstage. People start taking more risks and getting more playful when they know that they are being seen, heard, and respected.
But I don't think these advantages should only exist onstage.
Play Your Way Sane
I've researched the cognitive benefits of improv and adapted improv games and exercises for our everyday lives in my new book Play Your Way Sane: 120 Improv-Inspired Exercises to Help You Calm Down, Stop Spiraling, and Embrace Uncertainty. Pre-Order the book now or subscribe below to receive 3 free games now so you can start playing your way sane immediately.