“Yes, And….” Borrowing a Life Philosophy from Improv Comedy
By Dr. John Schinnerer
Don’t you love comedy? I love stand-up comedy. There are few better feelings than laughing until your sides hurt. My appreciation for improv comedy has grown over the years, (I’ve seen Whose Line is It Anyway twice live!), especially after seeing live improv at a local high school. I was impressed with how frequently I laughed at the teenagers on stage that had little comedic experience. And so I began wondering, “How do comedians (of any age) build on other actors’ lines to result in laughter?”
The answer is that improv relies on building upon what the last person who spoke gives you. Imagine you are doing improv: It is your turn to speak next in a ridiculous scene where you are at the horse track, betting on the races, with a dentist who is madly in love with the horse favored to win. For improv to be successful and funny, you must build on that scene. You don’t question it. You don’t negate any part of the scene. You go with it. So you might go in the direction of suggesting the dentist look for dates on Farmersonly.com and FarmAnimalsOnly.com. The main rule is that you build upon what came before.
This is seen in daily language as “Yes, and.”
“Yes, I hear you, AND have you tried this?”
“Yes, I would like to go to the movies, AND I’d like to see a comedy.”
This approach draws other people closer to you, gets you engaged in life and generates stories which you can share with others, particularly when you say yes to fun activities with friends and family that lay just on the other side of your comfort zone.
On the other hand, one of the thoughts that fuels depression and pessimism is ‘Yea, but…” I hear this frequently with certain clients who are anxious, angry or depressed. For example…
“Yea, but I’ve tried all those things.”
“Yea, but that will never work for me.”
“Yea, but I could never do that.”
“Yea, but that’s too much work.”
As I’m teaching certain clients proven tools that could alleviate their suffering, they are ‘yea, butting’ me. This error in thinking prevents people from actually trying new tools which could improve their lives. It shuts down the flow of ideas. It kills conversations. And it keeps people safely in their comfort zone. Unfortunately, real personal growth only happens outside of the comfort zone.
Here are some examples of better ways to reframe these ‘Yea, but…’ statements:
“Yes, I tried that before. And perhaps I didn’t grasp it entirely. I’m going to try it again!”
“I haven’t had much success with that. And I know people don’t always learn on the first try. I’m open to another attempt.”
“I haven’t done that in the past. However, what I’ve done in the past hasn’t worked so well for me. Let me try something different. I’ll give it a shot!”
“It seems like that will take some work. And no change has ever come without effort and perseverance. I’ll try it!”
In the 2008 comedy, Yes Man, Jim Carrey plays Carl, an introverted, pessimistic single guy with a dead end loan officer job (the ‘Yea, but’ guy). Carl hides from life and friends in his apartment until he attends a personal growth seminar with a ‘Yes Guru,’ Terrance. Carl makes a reluctant ‘covenant’ with Terrance to say ‘Yes’ at every opportunity. And this simple change to ‘Yes, and’ transforms his life. Carl has a series of adventures which make his life more interesting and fulfilling – even when the story isn’t altogether pleasant. When life hands you an invitation, accept the invitation.
Life is all about the story. Today’s story may be good or it may be bad. Regardless, it’s an interesting story to share with others. And stories are how we connect with other people. And connection is critical. So try saying ‘Yes, and’ to life. Pay attention to what you say for a week. When you hear ‘Yea, but’ change it to ‘Yes, and’. It takes practice. It will push you out of your comfort zone. This one tiny change has lead to impressive improvement in the lives of many of my clients. Try ‘Yes, and’ for yourself for one week. Be a Yes Man (or a Yes Woman). Your future self will thank you for it down the road as you will be significantly more satisfied and engaged with your life.