Let’s play a game.
First, list three things you did wrong in your last improv show.
Now, list three things you did well.
If you’re anything like me (and a ton of other improvisers I know), that first list was pretty easy to make. In fact, you probably could have kept going. But that second list was hard. Were you even able to come up with three?
After my first show with Musket, a new Improv Shop house team, we all gathered in the frigid back hallway to talk through notes. Our coach, Katie Nunn, started by asking us to call out things from the show that were fun and things from the show that felt weird.
Immediately, people started criticizing themselves or calling out poor moves we made. In fact, the only positive comment was that we heard an ambulance outside and were able to incorporate that siren into a group game.
I am not trying to put down my team in any way by sharing this story. The show, I thought, was pretty excellent for a first performance. I think we all felt that way. But I only mention this story to highlight the fact that when asked to share both good AND bad moments, we are wired to immediately start by focusing on the negative.
But this problem isn’t specific to improvisers alone.
Just last month, while warming up for the New Year’s Eve show, Kevin McKernan asked us each to go around the circle and name one non-improv thing we were proud of from the past year.
When the show had ended, my girlfriend asked me about our warm ups, and when she asked what I had said in that circle, I froze. All I could think to tell her was, “It’s a secret.”
Why? Why couldn’t I just tell her that I had said I was proud of this blog? Why is it so hard to give ourselves credit for the big things we do well and so easy to beat ourselves up over the small things we did wrong?
I often forget what Melissa Darch so effortlessly keeps in mind:
Improv is impressive. A lot of times we, as improvisers, talk ourselves down (“Watch us do ‘make-em-ups’”, “I just go out there and say stuff”, etc), but when we get on stage and play an emotional scene, an honest scene, a memorable scene, it leaves the audience wowed.
And again, it’s not just improv. Whatever that thing you do is – crafts, photography, writing, designing t-shirts, podcasting, cooking – that is impressive.
As humans, we are imperfect. There is always going to be something you could do better next time. It’s beneficial to recognize that. If you don’t think you could do any better, you’re going to be worse off than the rest of us running around thinking we totally suck. But we cannot let the tendency to self-criticize overpower the joy that comes from doing what we love.
So next time you have an improv show, next time you talk to a new person, next time you bake something delicious, try to name what it is that went well. Give yourself a second to be proud of your accomplishments before thinking about how they could be even better.
You’ve got your whole life to keep improving yourself and your projects. But you only have a few minutes to stand back and marvel at what you have created.
If you’re over Facebook, you could give us a follow on Twitter. There, I keep you up to date on new posts as well as other dumb stuff I have to say.
Header Photo Credit: Julia Madras