3 Improv Principles I Use in My Life

The thing I love about improv is I can practice things that I need to work on in my own life. It’s very simple: When I use the improv principles on stage, they will naturally spill over into my everyday life. And lately I’ve noticed that I’ve actually made a ton of progress and am starting to live by some of these improv principles.

Here are three improv principles that are helping me:

1. There are no mistakes:
In improv we are taught almost in our first class that they are no mistakes, that we need to use everything that happens on stage as a gift and that there is no return policy. Of course, I have said things on stage or missed moves or initiated something that I wished I could have taken back seconds after I did it, but in general, I get this concept when it comes to performing.

In my real life, however, I tend to obsess and beat myself up after the tiniest mistakes, leaving me paralyzed with fear and self-loathing and not able to take any action. When I make mistake in life — like making a typo on Facebook, where every one of my Facebook friends likes to make some sarcastic comment about my spelling — I have the choice to look at it through my own eyes or through the eyes of an improviser. When I look at mistakes like an improviser, I have the opportunity to find the game, have fun and support their initiation. I can learn to play with my mistakes, not take myself so seriously and laugh at myself. I’m usually better off for it, not to mention everyone else around me.

2. Be in the moment:
I don’t care what style of improv you like to play — musical, UCB game style or slower improv — we are all after the same goal, and that is to truly be in the moment. We want to let go of worrying about our next move, and instead be in a space where nothing matters, where we lose track of time and feel a connection with our teammates and the audience. For improvisers, this is the spiritual nirvana we are looking for.

Unfortunately, that feeling is slightly harder to sustain in our daily lives than it is in a 25-minute improv show. When I am improvising, I am forced to be present. In my daily life, I often forget to be in the present and instead I go into the future and over-plan things, leaving no room for things to unfold. When I do stay in the moment, things work our better than I expected.

Whenever my in-laws come into town, my wife, Lauren, and I over-plan: we need to schedule activities for every minute they are here in Chicago. We leave no room for spontaneity. On Father’s Day, we did things a little bit differently, and instead only planned to go Millennium Park and didn’t plan anything else for rest to the day. While walking around the park, we heard blues music playing, which Lauren’s dad loves, and guess what? Blues Fest was going on a block away. So we walked to Blues Fest, and her dad loved it and then we got in the car with no idea where to eat lunch, and we passed Weber Grill, a place her dad had always wanted to go, and we stopped there and had a great meal. The day was way better than we had planned because we stayed in the moment the best we could.

3. Let Go of Control
I am drawn to improv because I am a “control freak” and I want to do less of it in my life. In improv, we learn to be open to other people’s ideas and not force our agenda in a scene. Being controlling is the opposite of improvising. It’s about being rigid and thinking there is only way to do something.

I struggle with letting go of control, but I’m getting better at it. I’m learning how to call people and get their advice about my problems instead of assuming I always have the right answer. And I’ve also learned to let go of control by taking more risks in life, and telling people how I feel about something, even if I can’t control what they’re going to think about me. It’s a scary process, but it’s working.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Spots are still available in his next Intermediate Art of Slow Comedy Class starting June 21. Or, you can take his one-day Art of Slow Comedy Intensive on July 6. Sign up today!