Learning to Yes…And your scene partner is one of the first lessons you learn if you take an Improv class. It is the foundation upon which any improv scene is built. This might seem like an easy trick. I mean, improv scenes are generally short, maybe 2 to 3 minutes unless you’re doing a longer mono-scene, and improv is a hobby, right? It’s not REAL life. It should be easy to do the little, inconsequential Yes…And trick while playing make-believe. Uh-huh. Guess what. It’s not.
Saying, “yes…and” rather than “no” and “but” can help you open your life to more juiciness, but it takes practice. For most of us, “no” and “but” are autopilot responses, and we need to be very conscious to counteract the habit.
It’s amazing, even with some classes, rehearsals, and shows under our belts, how often my improv partners and I No or But each other. It happens all the time; the words, “no” and “but” are autopilot responses. Here’s why they make sense and pop out so easily. Autopilot activates when we’re under stress, when we’re judging something as bad, when we feel shame, when we’re scared, and when we feel like we’re not in control. As fun as improv is, as great as it is to get to play make-believe as an grown-up, it can also be a little bit of a scary ride, and sometimes the words that our scene partner offers don’t make sense to our minds (thus making us feel a little out of control), or those words hit a button in us – a should button, an ought button, a deep belief button – and even though we’re playing make-believe, our minds hit a wall, and our mouths open and spit out, “no” or “but” (which is really just another, sometimes softer “no”).
Who cares? You might ask. Again, this is make-believe. Improv isn’t real. And in a way, you’re right, but stick with me for a minute anyway. In an improv scene, a hard “no” can bring a scene to a screaming halt. If it doesn’t go that far, it can at the very least make the scene bumpy and difficult to play – for both parties. Being in the middle of a No or But scene can be really uncomfortable. And here’s another thing…improv is REAL LIFE because our lives are improvised. That autopilot “no” or “but” can have the same effect in our lives as it can on stage. It can bring things to a screaming halt, and it can make things, particularly in relationship, uncomfortable (even if we THINK we’re in our comfort zone!).
We weren’t born with a script, y’all. This whole big thing that we call LIVING is done by the seat of our pants – just like an improv scene (except that you probably aren’t a Teddy Bear living on Mars). The trouble is, for many of us, we pretend that there is a script, and anything that breaks our script is uncomfortable. As we’ve established, discomfort activates autopilot, and just like in improv, most of us go to “no” or “but” before we go to “yes…and”. To be clear, I’m not talking about healthy boundaries here – those times when saying “no” is for our own good. I’m talking about all the times that we let fear and judgment hold us back. I’m talking about the no that keeps us in our comfort zone, blocks curiosity, prevents connection and keeps us slowly boiling to death in a soup pot on the stove.
Hear me, I beg (if you get that reference, you’re my newest friend. If not, it’s not a big deal.).
Ask yourself, how many times in your life have you said, “no” out of fear or shame or some other this is bad judgment? How many things have you missed out on because your automatic, brick-wall of “no” got in your way? How many times have you said, “no” or “but” when offered feedback? Be honest with yourself, and count the “no”s that you speak and those that never leave your lips but spin like a top in your mind. Then start practicing saying, “yes…and”.
You can find little places to practice when you’re talking to friends and coworkers.
Coworker: “There’s a new position opening up that you might be interested in; it’s got a lot of responsibility and a big raise.”
Autopilot response: “No, no. That’s not a position for me. I’m pretty good at my job, but that one’s outside my skill-set.”
Conscious response: “Yes. I saw that. It looks interesting and kind of scary, and I think I’ll apply and see what happens. Maybe you should too.”
Try it when you receive feedback from your spouse, friend or roommate.
Spouse: “Hey, you left the toilet-paper roll on the back of the toilet rather than replacing it.”
Autopilot (often a shame response): “No, I didn’t do that. OR Well, you left the lid off the toothpaste.” (blaming and justifying are just fancy ways of saying no)
Conscious response: “Yes, I did, and I completely forgot to throw the empty tube away.”
Try it when somebody invites you out to do something new.
Friend: “Hey, I got a Groupon to go to the new rock-climbing place. Wanna go?”
Autopilot response: “Oh. No. I couldn’t do that. I’m not that strong.”
Conscious response: “Hmm. Yes. I’ll go. I’m not very strong, and this might be a fun way to get stronger.”
Keep this in mind. I’m not advising you to say, “yes…and” to things that are unhealthy. I’m inviting you to challenge your fear and that automatic “no” response. Do it in small ways to start. It’s going to take practice. Just observe what happens. My hope is that you’ll find your life opening up in ways you weren’t expecting. My guess is that you might start to find new people, new activities, and new passions. My absolute conviction is that, if you start saying, “yes…and” more often, you will find yourself becoming more brave, more courageous, and ultimately more authentic.