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5 Ways to Practice Being in the Moment

The goal is to be in the moment — in life and on stage.

I don’t care if you are an actor with a script, a storyteller telling us a seven minute story from your life, an improviser doing a long form show, or you’re out to dinner with your friends — your goal should be the same: to be in moment.

That is where the joy lies in everything we do. Attaining that feeling of presence is fleeting, but necessary.

Today, more than ever, it’s harder and harder to be in the moment because we have far more distractions. If we are not texting on our cell phone, we are posting on Facebook or binge watching Netflix.

And because it’s become trickier to be in the moment in our lives, it can affect our what we do on stage.

Being in the moment is the ultimate form of listening. It’s about giving 100% attention to the task in front of us.

It means when you are performing you are not thinking about what you are having for dinner or who is in the audience. You are not judging yourself or your performance. You are in the flow. It is as if you have stopped “trying” and have instead given yourself over to a force bigger than yourself. You have completely lost yourself in what you are doing. That is what is meant by being present.

I am not saying this is easy. Not at all. But when we can truly be in the moment on stage, that is where the magic lies for us as well as the audience. They, too, want to lose themselves in your performance and forget about the stress and anxiety of their lives.

Here are a few things you can do to practice being in the moment, so you are better able to do it on stage:

  1. Limit your time on social media
    I think one of the biggest addictions in this country is the addiction to social media. I know I suffer from it. It was so bad that I had to take Facebook off my phone. I have the same relationship with social media that I did with alcohol and food when I was addicted to them; I use it numb myself out, which, by the way, is the opposite of being present.
  1. Mix things up a bit
    I am a creature of habit. I love routine. I consistently take the same route when I go to teach class or to do a show. It’s as if I am asleep when I drive and take public transportation. If you want to be more in the present, mix things up. Take a different route. Shop at a different store. Eat at a different restaurant. Allow yourself to be scared and surprised. The thing I love and hate about going somewhere different on vacation is it forces me to be more in the moment because I am experiencing everything for the first time, which is what we do in good acting, improv and storytelling.
  1. Stop packing so much in the day
    We love to run around. We love to over commit to so many different projects because this one will be the one, we are sure of it. When I was younger I could do three shows a night and rush from teaching class to doing auditions. I would go from one thing to the next without even getting dinner sometimes. I was into quantity over quality in those days. It didn’t work out well for me. Instead, give yourself some time in between things so you can show up and be more present.
  2. Take a Meisner repetition class
    In Meisner class they have an exercise called repetition, where you focus on your scene partner and call out their behavior. To me, it is the purest form of improv, because you are not concerned with a scene or dialogue or a performance. Instead, you are emotionally connected with the other person on stage simply by repeating how you think they are feeling. It’s one of the best ways I’ve ever found to practice being in the moment.
  3. Meditate
    Yep, I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Every actor, no, every person would benefit from slowing their mind down a bit. Meditation is the perfect tool for this. But please, go easy on yourself — start small with just 5 minutes in the morning.

Got any other ideas of how to be present? Let me know in the comments below.

Attention improviers! Want to get out of your rut in your scene work? Don’t miss Jimmy’s next Advanced Two-Person Scene Tune-Up happening Jan. 4, 2020. Sign up today!

How to be More Mindful in Your Improv

The other day I heard someone give a pretty inspiring talk, and at the end of it he said, “The most important thing we can do is be present when we are with other people.” I immediately thought of improv.

Today, it’s called mindfulness, and it’s being taught in schools, practiced in offices and become a buzzword you hear all the time on social media. The reason it’s so popular is because we have so many distractions — between technology, social media, multi-tasking and our constant on-the-go culture, it’s become harder and harder to stay focused on one thing at time.

Luckily, being mindful is something that we as improvisers are trained to do. The audience actually rewards us for being present, by laughing and clapping, even though they might not even know it.

And the more mindful we can be in our improv, the better we’ll be on stage. When we focus on being in the present, rather than thinking about all of the other things in our head, we can be better listeners, we can respond more authentically in the moment, and we can be more relaxed, which is the best state to be in on stage to access your creativity.

Often when beginning students take my Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 class, they’ll ask me what they can do in between classes to get better at improvising. And the short answer is to work on being more present in your everyday life.

When you are out with your friends, stop looking at your cell phone. When you’re home washing dishes in your apartment don’t try to multi-task — just do one thing at time. And the hardest, but most beneficial thing you can do is to slow the fuck down.

If you are constantly rushing from your job to a show or rehearsal without some down time to decompress from work or eat a healthy meal, you are not going to be very mindful on stage. You have to slow down long enough to let your mind be present.

Sure, you have to work on your craft by taking class and doing shows, but don’t forget that in this art form, the most important thing to work on is yourself.

Here are three things that I have done to be more mindful in my improv.

  1. Meditate on a regular basis
    One of the biggest benefits of meditation is it can help you be more creative. Meditation was suggested to me for years, but it took me a long time to develop a consistent habit. For the last five or six years, I’ve been meditating every morning, typically for 15 to 20 minutes. Not only does it make my day run smoother, but it has also improved my listening skills, both in my life in my improvising.On stage, when my scene partner says a line, I actually have more time to respond to what they just said to me. I feel I am improvising at a higher level and because of meditation, I suddenly seem to have more choices in the moment. Nothing is more exciting when I am improvising than when I have too many good ideas in my head and I am forced to keep making a choice about which way to go. It’s like the improv fork in the road — I can either take a right or left — and this happens more frequently when I meditate on a regular basis.
  2. Be less judgmental
    If you are like me, you may be judgmental, which is not a great skill to have in improv and certainly not in life. When I am judging someone on stage or in life, it takes me out of the moment and blocks me from my true creativity.People have told me over the years, “Just stop being judgmental,” which works about as well as telling your alcoholic Uncle Teddy to “just stop drinking.” For me, being judgmental is an addiction, and denying that just makes it harder to stop.

    Lately, however, I have tried a new technique based on a Hawaiian healing method called Ho’o Ponopono that has actually been helping me let go of my judgmental thoughts. According to this philosophy, when a judgmental thought comes up, either while I’m improvising or in my life, I say “I love you” over and over again. As you read this you may think I am nuts. (If so, this would be a good time to use the “I love you” method over and over). In all seriousness, this practice has really worked for me and has helped both my improvising and teaching.

  3. Create a ritual
    Another way to become more mindful is to create a ritual for yourself before your improv show, class or rehearsal. I have made up different rituals depending on the show I was in that helped ground me and make me more present. When I was doing “God Show,” I would walk around the block at Second City about 30 minutes before the show to get my energy up and to breathe fresh air. When I did my improv show “Summer Rental,” I would get quiet and do some physical stretches to get out of my head and into my body.Today, before my shows and classes, I take a hot bath at home to relax. I also will be very mindful of what I do that day so I can take care of myself and limit my running around.

    You don’t have to have an altar and use incense to create a ritual for yourself. It can be as simple as taking off an hour early from your day job on the night of your improv show and making a healthy meal instead of rushing to the theater after scarfing down a frozen pizza. Trust me, self-care will translate to your performance on stage.

Want to up your game in your improv? Sign up for Jimmy’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 2 class, starting April 24. Save $30 when you register by April 10!