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Improvisation and The Power of Habit


By Kelly Leonard – Executive Director, Insights and Applied Improvisation

When I talked to Gretchen Rubin for our podcast Getting to Yes, And, we talked about the importance of “doing.” That until individuals can turn their productive desires into ongoing habits, it’s unlikely that they will find happiness – at home or at work.

This is so true. When Second City gets brought into a company to lead workshops we can read the reluctance of the workshop attendees the minute we enter the room. We know that they are inwardly dreading the idea of getting on their feet and playing games.

Within minutes, 95% of that room is wading blissfully in the unexpected power of those same improvisational games. They are energized, the are impacted and they are emboldened.

And they just had to do it. And we made them. Or, their company hired us to make them do it. Either way, it’s the doing that matters.

Because the improv games we teach make individuals experience empathy, increase listening and seed collaboration, they feel good. Therefore, if you want to continuefeeling good, individuals need to make a practice of those experiences. What we call “practice,” Rubin calls “habit.”

She writes, “With habits, we don’t make decisions, we don’t use self-control, we just do the thing we want ourselves to do – or that we don’t want to do.”

The same is true in the best improvisers. They aren’t thinking about their next move, they are acting their next move. The “habits” that they have instilled over many years emanate from the same improv games we’re teaching to businesses all over the globe.

Rubin talks about the importance of self-knowledge as a starting point to habit formation. That’s true in our work as well. In the earliest classes, individuals are dropping the self-sensor and self-judgement part of themselves in order to discover their unique point of view.

She notes, “We don’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.”

We see this when fairly green performers audition for us for the first time. They will literally pull a Chris Farley or Tina Fey move in a scene – sometimes actually quoting those performers or their characters. It never works. It’s not their material. It’s not their habit.

Knowing who you are – in relation to the world, to your friends, to your co-workers – and adopting the kinds of habits that work for you is key to being the person you want to be.

why improv


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