I've been taking a bunch of theatrical improvisation courses lately because it's a really fun, engaging way to increase self-confidence. There's a part of me that loves being on stage, without the old inhibitions that used to get in the way of everyday life. The skills involved in theatrical improvisation, also known as Comedy Improvisation or Improv, turn out to be essential life skills, especially when it comes to interacting confidently with other people.
Much of what I've learned in Improv class reverses a lot of what I learned about how to act while growing up. Many of us have huge chunks of our creativity, and our true personality, beaten out of us in the education and socialization process while we were young. We got punished for failure, bullied for being different, and ridiculed when we got things wrong. So we learned to play it small, avoid risks, and generally keep our head down to avoid getting kicked. It was a conservative survival strategy that worked at the time, but doesn't work so well in the adult world.
Theatrical improvisation, on the other hand, teaches us how to:
- Fail brilliantly.
- Say "Yes" to opportunities.
- Take risks.
- Listen to other people.
- Get out of our heads.
- Be aware of what's going on around us.
- Accept offers from other people.
- Make strong offers to other people.
- Be OK with getting things wrong.
- Laugh at ourselves.
- Make up stories on the spot.
- Suspend judgment of ourselves, and other people.
- Work with other people, rather than against them.
- Develop strength of character.
- Be naturally funny without trying.
- Act on our impulses.
- Develop our intuition.
- Express emotions.
- Brainstorm in teams, on the fly.
- Let go of control.
- Shine in front of other people.
- Handle the anxiety we get from all of the above.
This is the combined substance of virtually every personal development book and course I've ever come across, and it all happens in a fun environment where you get rewarded with encouragement no matter what you do.
Our attitude to how we handle failure speaks volumes about our confidence. When we lack confidence, we don't take risks because we fear the perceived shame of failure. Once we've learned to handle failure, taking risks isn't such a problem. In theatrical improvisation, one of the aims is to make people laugh. When we succeed, people laugh. When we fail, they laugh at that too, so that's also a success. Failure leads to success. The ability to handle failure is one of the major factors determining our success in life, and it's certainly something I've struggled with, so learning to handle this is a really big deal.
Saying “Yes” to opportunities and accepting offers from other people also has a huge impact on how freely our life flows. I have found that the less defensive I become around other people, the more easily we can all relate. Until I realized how defensive I used to be, I was powerless to change it. Improv teaches us to drop defensiveness and to go with the flow; and it's amazing the difference this makes to interactions with other people. You notice the effect immediately when an actor on-stage says “No” to an offer; it puts the brakes on the whole interaction; and it's exactly the same in the real world. When you start noticing how often you're doing this in your own life, everything changes for the better.
I could rave on and on about the benefits of theatrical improvisation classes; in fact, that's exactly what I do in this video:
This stuff is gold. I highly recommend taking an introductory theatrical improvisation class.