5 Things Holding You Back In Improv And Life

If nothing else, this blog has become a chronicle of sports that I have all too easily given up on. This week’s entry: tennis – a sport I did legitimately try to be good at. I played through middle and high school, took lessons, and even participated in extracurricular tournaments.

And yet, I was still losing. But the problem wasn’t tennis, or that it was just another dumb sport, or that I was unlucky. The problem was me.

My mom used to say that the person who wanted to win the most would win. The reverse is also true – the person who wanted to lose the most would also lose. And that person was me.

I know you’re sitting there thinking, “well I would never intentionally set out to lose.” But ask yourself this – have you ever run up on stage thinking, “I am just not feeling it tonight. I bet I won’t be funny.” Have you ever blown off practice to watch Netflix or sleep in? Have you ever walked off stage and said to yourself, “I knew I was going to bomb”? What would you call that?

Technical skill isn’t your problem. The fact that you could be better at finding game or connecting 1A to 2A in your Harold isn’t why you feel like you bombed. The reason that you feel like you bombed is you. It’s you and your desire to lose. It’s you setting yourself up for failure. It’s your desire to prove the world right – that you suck and should probably just quit improv anyway and go back to sitting at home watching Bob’s Burgers reruns.

With every practice and every show, you’re working on your technical skill. You are constantly improving. You can’t avoid getting better.

When you feel like you’ve plateaued or aren’t happy with your shows, it’s due to a faulty mental skill. And your mental game will always suck, unless you actively work to improve it.


  • Self-Doubt. We all suffer from imposter syndrome at times – even the improvisers you look up to. Stop worrying about making the right move, because there are no right moves. We’re all just making it up and hoping it works out. Have confidence in your choices, regardless of the outcome.
  • Laziness. We all want to get better, but ask yourself, are you putting in 100% to achieve your goals? 100% effort doesn’t mean you have to join 3 improv teams, see 4 shows a week, and live sleep and breathe improv. But are you using the practice time you have effectively? Or are you partying on Saturday night and showing up to Sunday practice hungover…or not showing up at all?
  • Impatience. Overnight success is a lie. Right now, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. As an artist, you need time to see shows, grow as a performer, work with different people. Let time run its course and don’t rush the process.
  • Jealousy. If it hasn’t already happened, you will get passed over for an opportunity you think you deserved. Some of your friends may get something you really wanted. But the more time you spend cursing the world for being unfair, the less time you have to create new opportunities for yourself.
  • Warped Perspective. You are your own worst critic. Buy a trusted friend or coach a beer and ask them for their honest opinion about how you can improve. Don’t get offended. Take those things to heart and find a way to work on them.

In all honesty, this article could be titled “1 Thing Holding You Back in Improv and Life,” and that thing is you.

I know “the power of positive thinking” may be a bit new agey and woo woo, but the power of negative thinking is real. If you believe you’re unlucky or that you’re destined to suck, that you deserve it, that nothing good ever happens to you, you’re creating your own failures. So go to practice this week, work on your game moves, your characters, your Harold pulls, but take a minute to consider how you’re standing in the way of your own success.

Perhaps if I didn’t want to lose so badly, I wouldn’t be here writing a blog about improv. Perhaps I’d be on a fancy jet eating caviar on my way to the British Open. That’s what pro tennis players do, right?


Hat tip to John Rizzo who wrote one of my favorite articles on the internet about this topic – Stuck In the Middle with Bruce – and inspired me with this particular post.

This is the last week to preorder a physical copy of Improv ABC and recieve the extra, limited edition bonuses (like extra chapters). Snag your copy today, before they’re all gone!

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Improv ABC: The A-Z Guide To Becoming An Unstoppable Improviser


Linda November 12, 2015 Reply

Where can I order a copy of the physical book? All I can find is the kindle version. Thanks!

Ben Noble November 12, 2015 Reply

Hey Linda,

Thanks for the comment. Right now I am working to get the physical book on Amazon, but in the meantime, there are actually two ways to order the physical book.

The first is a $30 option that comes with a large sticker, bonus chapters, and a year of my blog writing (as well as the digital book) which you can order here – https://gumroad.com/l/zvVM
The second is a $20 option that comes with a small sticker (as well as the digital version) which you can order here – https://gumroad.com/l/kyikF

Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy the book.


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