The first rule of Improv is “always say YES”. The second part, of the first rule of Improv, is to add the word “And”. “Yes, And…”. But….what does that actually mean?
When you’re performing in an Improv scene, you’re on a stage, in front of an audience, armed with nothing but your brain, your scene partner and a nervous colon. You get a suggestion from the audience that is meant to ignite an entire scenario that has never existed before and will never exist again. The only way to succeed is to be present, listen, and support your scene partner in the free fall. The best way to do that is to say YES. For example, if your scene partner says, “it’s raining cats and dogs in here”, you say “YES…AND it looks like a few of them are in heat”. (Forgive the bad improv, I’m working alone over here people)! You agree with the suggestion AND you add more to it. If your scene partner says, “It’s raining cats and dogs in here” and you say, “no it isn’t, we’re in the middle of a dry spell”….well, now the scene is dead, along with your hopes of a career at SNL. Saying NO is the Improv death knell. It feels gross; to the audience and to your scene partner. No is no good.
The same rule applies to life. Saying “Yes, And…” opens you up to new opportunities, to new people and new experiences. Saying “Yes, And”, puts you directly in the way of success. It sets you on a collision course with life. It’s the antidote to boredom. It’s life’s little WD40; it gets you unstuck. “Yes” expands, “No” inhibits.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes practice. It’s easier to say No because No keeps you safe. And safe is fine…sometimes. But you can’t just stay in “safe” forever; if you don’t make a move, someone or something will inevitably disturb your inertia. Don’t live in reactionary mode. Say YES instead. Yes is the answer to that nagging question; “what comes next?” Yes is where the party’s at!
Now, for some caveats.
I can’t say No. Well, I can, but it hurts. I live in the land of possibility! I thrive around new ideas and new experiences. I get restless when I’m too complacent. I have an insatiable curiosity about the world and other people and my own personal growth. Some of that is innate; it’s just how I was made. Some of it is as a result of having had such an intimate relationship with death and dying. I know how short it all is. I know, in my bones, what’s important and what isn’t. It’s an incredibly liberating, yet surprisingly depressing understanding. It’s a confusing dichotomy to balance; on one hand, “Life is short! Seize the day!” and on the other, “Life is short….never mind then, it’s all gonna end anyway.”
In my quest to say YES to everyone and NO to no one, I can burn myself out. I’m trying to find the Yes/No, Want/Should balance. How often do we say yes to things because we feel we “should”? I “should” see so-and-so for lunch, I “should” go to this function even though I’d rather eat my own face off, I “should”_________(fill in the blank with your own obligation du jour). We don’t often ask ourselves what we WANT to do, so instead we end up “shoulding” all over ourselves, (copyright Carrie Bradshaw). How can we live a life where we say “Yes, And”, but “No, thanks” at the same time?
It’s about ownership I think. “Shoulds” lead to guilt; “Yes, And…” leads to empowerment. There are lots of “shoulds” that need to be “shoulds”, I’m not suggesting we disregard our responsibilities. Fulfilling our grown up obligations is a noble endeavour. However, for the non-obligatory “shoulds”, I have a new barometer: it’s called the Poppy Factor.
This summer, while at our family cottage, the ice cream truck visited our dead end street. The cottage has been in our family for almost 50 years and in those five decades, nary an ice cream truck has darkened our gravel lane. But this summer, this summer was different. The ice cream man cometh. And my nieces were ecstatic. Upon being handed a Popsicle, 5-year-old Poppy, made this face….
When was the last time you made a face like that? Over anything, let alone a Popsicle!?! This face is the definition of living in the moment. This face is “Yes And’ing” the hell out of life! I think this face SHOULD be our new goal.
Moving forward, when evaluating whether or not we “should” do something, I propose we use the Poppy Factor; does this thing/person/situation make me do this….
If it does, go for it! If not, maybe we take a pass.
There are droughts in everything; jobs, relationships, health, motivation, and so on. Droughts are normal and they’re meant to be weathered. But when the drought has turned into the Sahara, it’s time to invoke the Poppy Factor. I believe most of our lives are meant to feel like her face looks. I’m not naïve in that belief, I’m optimistic. Say “Yes, And” more often. Choose more things that cause a Poppy face. The face alone makes the popsicle taste better.