Jimmy Teaching

Why We Need to Take In Positive Feedback

I hear this all the time from my students who are just starting out in improv: “Be Hard on Me.” “Don’t Hold Back.” “I don’t need all these positive notes like I am doing nothing wrong up there.”

I get it. I was totally the same way. I think some of us come from parents or teachers who thought it was their job to criticize us, thinking that would make us better. I once heard a woman say her mom used to say to her growing up, “I criticize you because I love you.”

Then we take an improv class and things we got scolded or shamed for as a kid – such as being silly, being loud, being provocative — are now being rewarded. It can be confusing. We are playing and no one is judging us. We are getting that positive reinforcement we did not get growing up. And it’s uncomfortable. We don’t trust it. We feel like this is some sort of scam, and the more encouragement we get, the worse we feel. We are convinced we aren’t getting better when the opposite is true. We are making progress, we just refuse to give ourselves credit for it. If you taking one fucking improv class, you are 98 percent braver then the rest of the world. But I know you don’t want to go there.

So, how do I improve then, Mr. Pollyanna Carrane, if everything I do is so wonderful?

Okay, settle down. I hear you. If you want to get better when you first start out, you have to build off of what are doing well first, because if you don’t, you will want to quit or kill yourself, two things I am hoping you will avoid.

Getting positive feedback is important for your confidence. So, please be kind to yourself, and soak up all the good feedback you get from your teacher and classmates like a dirty kitchen sponge. Taking in positive feedback is a way of reprogramming yourself. It has taken me years to take in positive feedback because that isn’t my natural state, and I still don’t do it perfectly. But if you are going to stick around for a while, and I hope you do, this is a must.

I remember not so long ago after doing an Improv Nerd live show, I was driving home on Belmont Avenue with Lauren. I thought I did I good job in the show, and feeling insecure and wanting some reassurance, I turned to Lauren in the car and said, “What did you think?”

She immediately went into a critique of the show. I got angry and shouted, “How about starting with the positives first?” Which she did. There is no way I could hear the things I need to work on until I had taken in the things that went well. I was too defensive, and when I am in that place I am not getting better, I am only getting miserable. Which in improv is not the place you want to be.

Need to get inspired again in your improv? Don’t miss Jimmy’s Two-Person Scene Tune-Up workshop, happening Dec. 30. Sign up today!

7 replies
  1. Allison Black
    Allison Black says:

    I think it is so tempting to ask for constructively critical feedback after a show. It’s like getting notes on a show from a director or team leader as soon as you are backstage. I’ve sat through enough of them. It’s painful and I secretly hope for no comments directed at me. But, I remember Mick Napier saying in a class that notes should not be given, after a show. If you have notes for people, share them at the next rehearsal, but after the show is time for coming down from the show. Thanking those people who got out to see you. Celebrating this cool, frightening thing you just did. And it’s so easy for me to then ask for constructive feedback, which again, I need to resist my urge… it’s the same thing. I need to remember to take care of myself, and take the positive feedback. Try to hear it. Try to let it sink in. And even sometimes, I will… dare I say, ask for positive feedback. And it feels pretty good. Baby steps.

    Thanks again for the great read Jimmy.

  2. Anne Purky
    Anne Purky says:

    So true Jimmy💜This is what happens for me in storytelling. The example Story Jam. I felt self annilation. And every one thought it was great. I stayed up til 2 AM W HEAD RIPPING ME TO SHREDS.

  3. Louis Hirsch
    Louis Hirsch says:

    gotcha Jimmy. But I also get torn between those who say good show because that’s what your suppose to say and those who say nothing making me think they didn’t like it because they had nothing to say. I had an instructor who gave notes on the last day of class and said I am going to say one thing I think you’re good at and one thing I think you need to improve . He in my humble opinion nailed it for me. he said ” Don’t ever quit because you too funny and even though this class isn’t about object work but your object work is terrible”. I thought he nailed. he praised me for what i did well but made it clear i had areas I could improve in,” and it makes it much easier to take in the praise that way because I knew he wasn’t just saying it.

  4. Steve Circeo
    Steve Circeo says:

    Yeah, man, you nailed it in the last paragraph. I like positive criticism, but I also like negative criticism. Why can’t we have both? Fwiw, after a show, I am out the door. I am not interested in anything anyone has to say. I’ll do my own post-mortem, then the team can discuss later, if necessary. We record all our performances so we can self-critique, too, which is very helpful.

  5. DaveO
    DaveO says:

    You’ve just reminded me to recalibrate my line of thought once in a while to help ensure I’m not letting my presumptions take command of my emotions and (give myself permission to) accept responses at face value more often.

    I like getting positive feedback, but I crave the constructive feedback too; which I rarely get. I know I need it in order to grow. I need to always be learning or else I get nervous and uncomfortable.
    People often have a tendency to be nice so as to not cause waves or hurt the feelings of others. Others just don’t feel like it or are apathetic.I’m probably guilty of both at one time or another but I have become more aware of this and empathise with others feeling the same way-even if it’s a person I don’t care much for working with.
    I think most people don’t want to make those waves. And while I respect the hell out of that, I also find it can hinder ensemble growth or at least in my case, what I offer to my scene partners. My self confidence drops when this happens as I feel constructive feedback shows a desire by others to want to work with you more in some capacity.
    And presumably like anyone else, I want to bring my scene partners “the goods” so they have enough to play with. I have the most fun when that happens. I gain a lit of strength from those scenes; good or bad.


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