One of the most powerful self-improvement things I ever did for myself was taking improv classes (the other biggie was weight-training).
I see improv as somewhat like a meditation training — it trains one to be as in-the-moment as possible.
When I was in high-school taking karate, I loved the sparring because everything else in the world disappears while fighting another person. If you let your mind drift to something that happened that morning, you wind up getting hit. Improv is a similar experience, but without the “getting hit in the face” part.
In improv, you have to be constantly paying attention to what everyone else is doing so that you can support it and add to it. If you drift off, then you mess up. Fortunately, I found my improv class to be a very forgiving environment, and forgiving myself for mistakes and forgetting them quickly is something I got to practice a lot in improv. (Which is a bit of a life lesson right there.)
I think the idea of learning improv may be off-putting to some people because they watch an example on TV that’s put on by professionals and it seems like there is so much going on so rapidly that they can’t understand how they would be able to handle it all.
However, improv is taught in bite-sized pieces with structured exercises (called games) — allowing a beginner to practice various elements until they are learned well enough that they can start being strung together.
As time goes on, one gets more comfortable with the process of being put into a new situation with just a few rules or suggestions and having to figure out everything else on the fly. And this practice at handling new things “on the fly” builds the general ability to handle things on the fly. So the next time an automatic door shuts in your face or some other weird and potentially embarrassing thing happens, you’ll be more practiced at “Yes, and-ing” it and going with the flow.
As an example of a typical exercise, here is a “Yes, and…” story I was asked to do with Brian during an improv show. It’s a little sloppy (it was near the end of the show and we were a little punchy and this was an unexpected addition), but you can get the idea. What you might not know but most of the people in the audience did know is that Brian *is* a lawyer in real life. I’m the one in the t-shirt ’cause that’s how I am.
If you live on Long Island, I highly recommend you check out Michael Rock’s class — I cannot say enough good things about it. Your world will be more colorful, you’ll have better posture, and everything will taste better (even hot fudge sundaes!):
This is a video about Long Island Improv, and Michael gives a better explanation of the benefits of learning improv.