BY: BRAEDEN ETIENNE
A lot of people started this month by making a resolution. But hot take: setting resolutions based on a time of the year is mostly unmotivational bull poop.
Sure resolutions challenge you to try new things, but these new habits hardly ever stick around. Several places on the internet tell me, 80% of people who set new year’s resolutions will fail or give up by February. And regular gym-goers can finally use those rowing machines again.
Why is this statistic so alarmingly high? Because just saying you’re going to do something new, without any other motivation than “it’s a new year,” is not an effective way to set new habits. Changing habits is hard and takes a very specific set of skills. And if nothing changes in your foundation for habit setting, your regular life and regular habits will take over once again.
But as an improviser in my second year, I question whether any resolution I’ve set has ever given me the same kind of development and growth being an improviser has. Upon deeper reflection, I learned improv teaches plenty of skills and practices to give everyday people the power to level up their lives.
“Yes, And” Your Current Good Habits
New Year’s Resolutions are essentially new habits. Humans love habits, and disruptions to these habits can lead to a lot of anxiety, exhaustion and hardship. One hot tip for building new habits is to take one you currently have, and add to it, rather than forming a completely new one.
For example, if you already go to the gym twice per week, and make it your resolution to go three times per week. You are far more likely to succeed than if you resolve to take up a brand new Keto diet you weren’t ever eating before. Or, if you love something like taking a hot shower, add the “and” of “I will take a hot shower (yes) after going for a run (and).”
By recognizing the good of what you already do (saying yes) and then adding one extra thing (and), you are well on your way to success. A better life doesn’t have to mean taking up completely new things, in fact, it’s probably better you build on what you already have.
It’s no coincidence that the foundation for performing effective improv works as a foundation for living an effective life.
Tell A Better Story About Yourself
I’m often thinking about the latest improv book I read: Life Unscripted.
In this book, the authors Jeff Katzman and Dan O’Connor explain how improv is a valuable tool to unscript the current notions you hold of yourself. By removing the script you use for everyday life and habits, you open up yourself to new possibilities for growth and change.
We can be super mean to ourselves. We’ll say something like, “look how fat and flabby I’ve become, I should get to the gym so I don’t have to walk around as Flabby Flabberson anymore.”
No one was calling you that, Flabby. That’s an identity you bestowed upon yourself, and a script you are writing about yourself. You’re operating from a place of poor self-esteem and mislabeled identity, so of course you’re not going to succeed.
Improv teaches us that new identities and ways of thinking is as simple as letting go of your current conceptions (or as Katzman and O’Connor say, “unscripting your life”), and bravely try something new.
What if instead of resolving to get rid of Flabby, you told a story about yourself that you are Denny Dedication? Or Keisha Killin-it? Which of these people is more likely to complete a goal?
Improv teaches us we can be and do anything. But more importantly, it teaches us the courage to try these new roles. Letting go of the scripts and preconceptions holding us back, is the perfect way to start living life differently.
Make Strong and Confident Choices
A sage piece of habit-setting advice is to “know your why.” Others call this goals with intention or (GWI). You are far more likely to follow through on a new habit if you assign a “why” to it.
For example, saying you want to eat healthy means nothing unless you assign the why. Perhaps you want more energy day to day, or, you don’t want to see that rude McDonald’s employee anymore. In resolutions, knowing why you want to reach goals is instrumental in completing them.
As improvisers, we’re taught to look for motivations or “whys” and “wants” to drive a scene forward. We are all very good at this. It helps for us to know where, why and how we choose what we choose. If we don’t think of strong and specific motivations or make offers that are progressive, we end up with stale scenes we just hope our teammates will sweep so we can forget about it.
If you’re “a dragon” that’s fine. But if you’re “a tax collecting dragon from the CRA looking to destroy all late tax submitters,” there’s a lot more to motivate and work with your character. Take that kind of specific motivation into your real life and see what happens.
Perhaps that weekly crocheting goal you set for yourself makes no sense in the context of your life, so why are you doing it? To hang out with your grandma more, to impress your friends, to learn a new skill?
You better justify why it’s importance to your life, or make a different choice that suits you better.
Create a System, Not a Goal
Another suggestion is to not worry about goals at all, but instead build a system where you can flourish. That way you can reward you effort, rather than results. When we set a system that makes life easier for us, we are setting ourselves up for success rather than failure.
So instead of saying, “I want to bake 45 cakes this year,” you may find more success in creating a home that is clean, a kitchen that is well-stocked, and a recipe calendar, to make baking cakes easier, rather than just focusing on the results. That way, we can also be proud of our effort, even if it doesn’t lead to the exact end result we were hoping for.
In improv, we learn to set ourselves up for success by agreeing on a system that will keep us in the moment. We all agree on a framework of listening, collaboration, agreement and form before starting to improvise. The actual “result” of the scene is far less important than the system supporting it. Improvisers who focus on the system first, are the ones who put on the best shows.
If we have an inflexible end goal of our improv in mind, we are doing bad improv. However, if we stay in the moment, trust our system and focus on what we can do right now to make this the best scene possible, we are far more likely to succeed. When things don’t go well, we often don’t criticize choices or content if the scene, we will first try to determine if the rules and system we set up for ourselves was being adhered to.
The improv framework is a great place to start with any goal. How much more would you get done if you learned how to implement a system of support and collaboration, rather than taking on your dreams on alone?
Create a system for success. Life will feel like less of a constant climb toward something, and more of something you can appreciate, and even have fun with, right now.
Fuck up. It’s okay.
You know what New Year’s resolutions don’t tell you it’s okay to do? Fail.
A New Year’s Resolution has a built-in connotation that if your plan doesn’t work out, you’ll have to wait until next year to try again. But that’s ridiculous. We are human beings and we have to understand that trying new things is certainly not going to go as well as we’d like. And that’s okay.
Improv revels in failure.
The most valuable lessons you’ll learn in an improv class come from “mistakes.” But mistakes and failure are necessary part of the process. They’re not the end of the world. Improvisers learn to view failure as acceptance of what doesn’t work and insight into what to do next time. Improvisers are far more focused on trying again, and extremely talented at letting go of the past.
Failing a resolution often leads to giving up on all areas of growth. If you failed this time, you’re a failure forever (or at least until the next year).
After a few improv classes, failure doesn’t deter like it used to. In fact, it fires you up! Learning a lesson from a mistake means you are more eager to get up again and see what happens if I try again in a new way.
What we’re trying to say is if you resolve to do anything this year, do a new thing that will help you do more new things. Improv isn’t about performance as much as it is about making you a better human being.
You don’t need to wait twelve months to start living a better life and start new habits. Just dive into improv and you’re already well on your way. See if a Drop-In or a Level One feels right for you, and crush 2019 on your own schedule.