By Mary Rogers McMaster
When you were a child, you did whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. If you wanted to cry, you cried. If you needed to use the bathroom, you just went. Wailing and running and jumping and laughing weren’t attached to any story other than, “I’m alive.” For a very short time, you were able to relish these feelings of aliveness and act on impulse, whichever way it led you. You were often applauded for your spontaneity! Your creativity knew no bounds; there was no logical argument that the cardboard box wasn’t a space ship or that the family dog couldn’t speak perfect English. You just trusted and played and followed your fun, and you honed your ability to listen to your inner child. The voice is still there. We’ve just forgotten how to listen.
I walked onto my first stage at age 6. I learned very quickly that a scene will only succeed if both people are listening to each other. Yes, we may be acting out a scene where we know the lines and know what’s coming next, but anything can happen, and in order to replicate life, we must maintain a perpetual state of aliveness. As actors we are required to practice being in the moment; otherwise, we seem inauthentic and immediately lose our audience. Improvisational theatre works with this same premise of aliveness; you walk onto stage knowing absolutely nothing about the scene ahead. Your goal is to listen to your scene partner, follow the fun, and be in the moment—to connect. Improv training, if done right, teaches a fast track to inner trust because, believe me, when you don’t feel you can trust yourself, your feet magically become glued to the back wall of the stage. When you don’t trust yourself, you don’t get involved. When you don’t trust yourself, there is no fun to be had because there is no flow of energy; you’re spending every ounce on being afraid.
When we don’t trust ourselves, we step out of the moment, and step away from our sense of aliveness. This is where worry lives. Shortsighted mistakes are made when the scene becomes about the actor or when you, as a superior to 40 employees, start making the entire company about you. This is bad improv because it’s ignoring half of the scene.
In another form of non-trusting, we sometimes completely ignore our part and make it all about our scene partner. Being an adult is tricky and full of conditioning, and we often don’t see the need to get back in touch with what makes us us. A lot of our energy as an adult is spent trying to be somebody else. This unreachable abstract version of us is often a product of the request of others, and not actually what we want. When we get back in touch with our inner child, we remember what we want. It’s when we activate our ability to play that we can find our flow, follow the fun and act on impulse.
In my coaching business, The Good Habit, we do a lot of trust work. I lead people back to trusting themselves through a series of one-on-one conversations and extensive inner work. I understand that in a session with me, my client needs to be unabashedly themselves, just like when they were little. Together we free the body and the mind from the excess conditioning that’s just sitting there collecting fear. Inner child work is a huge part of finding trust again. It liberates the mind from the need to do everything “right” and allows us to move quickly away from fear of failure and into the arms of true expression. Many of our greatest struggles can be resolved by spending time in a nourishing environment that encourages us to be honest, self-reflective, and present. Inner child work is one avenue that runs straight to the essence of what makes you you. And like a child, when you see your reflection in the mirror, you will be delighted.
When you trust yourself, the world opens up to you. When you trust yourself, you activate your creative flow and are able to follow the fun, unafraid. When we practice living in this headspace, we expand our capacity for presence, and our resistance to the moment begins to disappear. When our resistance begins to disappear, we can see ourselves more clearly. When we can see ourselves more clearly, we can show up in the world fully with both feet on stage.
Now that’s good improv.
My invitation to you is to hop onto your stage with both feet. Remember that the truest you is enough and the world will celebrate you in your state of presence. Every relationship you have will improve if you practice being present. Naturally, our energy is drawn to those in a state of presence because in our bones we know that we are designed to feel that same sense of freedom. Think of a dog—he’s never worried about yesterday’s conversation or how he handled an interaction, and we are fascinated by him! Children, of course, are perpetually in the moment. They don’t negotiate with their wonder; they simply move towards it. How many times have you looked at the child throughout an entire conversation with the adult holding her or him? You get it.
We are good at noticing connections.
We are just out of practice. So come on, try it for yourself. Focus less on the outcome and more on the moment. Make eye contact with someone and don’t worry about your next line. Give your scene partner a chance to surprise you! Trust that the moment you’re in is good enough, and watch as your resistance fades. When we invite play into our lives, we drop all expectations of what the moment should be and tap into what is. This is total presence. This is where your magic lives. This is where your fun has been hiding. And it has been there all along. Get ready to step into the moment in a big way; get ready to see the world filled with new colors. Wield the confidence of a 3-year-old and run towards your fun unabashedly, perhaps clumsily, and wholeheartedly. Join the revolution of being joyful.