The Atlas

Don't should all over yourself


One of those things I've been wanting to do for a long time is take improv classes. Aside from my indelible conviction of my own hilarity, the reality is that one of the things I get most frustrated with myself about is thinking of the perfect response to something after it's too late to use it.

There is a part of me that has always kinda hoped that taking improv would help with that. While also making me funnier.

So, now that I'm back to living someplace with options on this front, I'm taking improv. Classes are fun, energetic, hilarious and mentally stimulating in all the ways I had hoped. But I quickly realized that the first and most important rule of improv is to put a muzzle on your inner critic.

What is really interesting to watch is how each person handles that. Sometimes it feels easy. Other times, it feels so hard that you just freeze right on stage with everyone staring at you expectantly. (No pressure!)

One of the biggest areas of focus when you start training as a coach is to develop an awareness of just how many things you're judging -- this is especially hard when you don't think of yourself as being a judgmental person. I kept thinking about this as I watched some of my classmates struggle through some of the exercises we were doing in class. And it reminded me of three very useful techniques:

  1. Keep a judgement journal/scorecard. Literally make note of every single time you catch yourself passing judgement during the day. If you can make a full note about what/who it was, great. If not, just a tick mark on a piece of scratch paper gets the point across. At the beginning, it was always a lot more than most of us expected.
  2. Ban the word "should." (And any synonym, like "ought.") That word is pure judgement. If you are using that, you're passing judgement. Even when you think you're being careful.
  3. Give your inner critic a name. This can be weird for some people, but also very helpful because it can help you distance your authentic feelings from the voice of judgement that creeps in quickly after you have a reaction to something. Most of us judge ourselves more harshly than we do anyone else, so this can be a very useful way to start learning how to manage a voice that isn't serving you.

Of course, the greatest thing about doing this work is that that most of us take our inner critic for granted so much that it doesn't even occur to us that we could slap it into submission. But I have never met anyone who has gone through the process and not come out of it saying, "Wow, I was way more judgmental than I realized!"

And, as in all things, awareness if the first step in making a change.

But what is great about using improv as a tool to help get there is that a good teacher can help create a safe space where it doesn't feel like an insurmountable task, and where there is enough fun and hilarity in much of what evolves that it helps illustrate some very real advantages.

Plus, of course, who doesn't want to be funnier?

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