Borrowing a Big Idea from Improv Comedy to Master Life

By Dr. John Schinnerer

One of the best ways to heal from pain and deal with the vicissitudes of life is laughter.  Over the years, I have made a conscious decision to be quicker to laugh; to be more open to poking fun at my self and to seeing the humor that is all around me.  And research has shown the benefits to doing so are massive – less depression, less anxiety, better cardiovascular health, higher quality relationships and more satisfaction with life.

One of the ways I’ve cultivated more laughter is by going to see live improv comedy as often as I am able. I’ve been to see Whose Line is It Anyway live several times. I go to stand up comedy clubs. I seek out top of the line comedians like Kevin Hart, Christopher Titus, Louis C.K. Sarah Silverman and more. I’ll even go with my teenage children to  watch improv at their high school.  The last time I went, I was really amazed how often I laughed at the teenagers – teens who had little comedic training or experience.  And this made me wonder, “How do improv actors build on other actors’ lines to create laughter?”

The answer is that improv relies on building upon whatever the last person who spoke provides you.

Imagine you are on stage performing improv comedy: It is your turn to speak next in a ridiculous scene where you are at a dentist trying to numb up a patient with a shot of novocaine. The patient is nervously waiting for the shot and asks you how often you use the laughing gas. For improv to be successful and funny, you must build on that premise. You don’t question it. You don’t negate any part of the scene. You build upon it. So, one possibility is to tell the patient that you had a large dose of laughing gas that morning and you begin to act drunk; shooting the novocaine into your own arm, and then your leg, and then you have a numb arm and leg (a la the classic Carol Burnett sketch).  The main rule is that you build upon what came before.

This is seen in daily language as “Yes, and.”

As in…

“Yes, I hear you, AND have you tried this?”

“Yes, I would like to go to the movies, AND I’d like to see a comedy.”

This approach draws other people closer to you, gets you engaged in life and generates stories which you can share with others, particularly when you say yes to fun activities with friends and family that lay just on the other side of your comfort zone.

On the other hand, one of the thoughts that fuels depression and pessimism is ‘Yea, but…” I hear this frequently with certain clients who are anxious, angry or depressed. For example…

“Yea, but I’ve tried all those things.”

“Yea, but that will never work for me.”

“Yea, but I could never do that.”

“Yea, but that’s too much work.”

As I’m teaching certain clients proven tools that could alleviate their suffering, they are ‘yea, butting’ me. This error in thinking prevents people from actually trying new tools which could improve their lives. It shuts down the flow of ideas. It kills conversations. And it keeps people safely in their comfort zone. Unfortunately, real personal growth only happens outside of the comfort zone.

Here are some examples of better ways to reframe these ‘Yea, but…’ statements:

“Yes, I tried that before. And perhaps I didn’t grasp it entirely. I’m going to try it again!”

“I haven’t had much success with that. And I know people don’t always learn on the first try. I’m open to another attempt.”

“I haven’t done that in the past.  However, what I’ve done in the past hasn’t worked so well for me. Let me try something different. I’ll give it a shot!”

“It seems like that will take some work. And no change has ever come without effort and perseverance. I’ll try it!”

In the 2008 comedy, Yes Man, Jim Carrey plays Carl, an introverted, pessimistic single guy with a dead end loan officer job (the ‘Yea, but’ guy).  Carl hides from life and friends in his apartment until he attends a personal growth seminar with a ‘Yes Guru,’ Terrance. Carl makes a reluctant ‘covenant’ with Terrance to say ‘Yes’ at every opportunity. And this simple change to ‘Yes, and’ transforms his life. Carl has a series of adventures which make his life more interesting and fulfilling – even when the story isn’t altogether pleasant. When life hands you an invitation, accept the invitation.

Life is all about the story. Today’s story may be good or it may be bad. Regardless, it’s an interesting, emotionally-compelling story to share with those you love.  And stories are the main way in which we connect with others. And connection is key.

So try saying ‘Yes, and’ to life. Pay attention to what you say for a week. When you hear ‘Yea, but’ change it to ‘Yes, and’. It takes practice. It will push you out of your comfort zone. This one tiny change has lead to impressive improvement in the lives of many of my clients. Try ‘Yes, and’ for yourself for one week. Be a Yes Man (or a Yes Woman). Your future self will thank you for it down the road as you will be significantly more satisfied and happier with life.

 

The First Ever Issue of Happier – Positive Psychology for All

I thought you might like a sneak preview of the new magazine I’ve been working on in which I’m sharing the latest secrets from positive psychology!

Positive Psychology Magazine – Happier: Being Happier with Less Via Positive Psychology by John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Go ahead! Check it out! I’m quite proud!

To a happier life,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide to Self, Inc.

Danville CA 94526

www.GuideToSelf.com 

Positive Emotions Unlock Anger, Boost Innovation and Improve Physical Health

The evidence is mounting…

evidence that positive emotions exist for a reason…

evidence that evolution has selected positive emotions for specific reasons that help our species – reasons that help you in every area of your life.

Positive emotions include feelings such as awe, curiosity, gratitude, compassion, calm, love, joy, interest, passion and happiness.

Evidence is mounting to support the importance of cultivating positive emotions for success in a variety of areas in your life.

Creativity, Innovation via positive emotions

A comfy nesting bed with egg pillows

At the beginning of every session with a new client, I make a point of sharing a short, humorous video clip. One of my personal favorites is the popular Mother’s Day video by Barats and Bereta (www.BaratsAndBereta.com)…

The reason for sharing a humorous video with new clients is three-fold.

First, the funny video unlocks any negative emotions the client may be holding onto such as anger, irritability, anxiety or sadness (Fredrickson, The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions, 2004, The Royal Society).

Second, those few, fleeting moments of laughter, mirth and smiling  reduce depressive symptoms and improve your well-being and  satisfaction with life (Sin & Lyubomirsky, Enhancing Well-Being and Alleviating Depressive Symptoms With Positive Psychology Interventions: Practice-Friendly Meta-Analysis, JOURNAL OF CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY: IN SESSION, 2009).

Positive psychology of innovation

Combination stairs and slide for young ones

Third, science has known for over a decade that chronic anger, anxiety and depression put you at an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease (Suls & Bunde, Anger, Anxiety, and Depression as Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease, Psychological Bulletin, 2005). Most people go through life with the sympathetic branch of the ANS stuck in the ‘on’ position. The sympathetic branch is similar to the gas pedal in a car. Negative emotions (along with stress, exhaustion, and lack of exercise) activate the sympathetic nervous system which leads to increased heart rate, pulse and higher levels of cortisol into the blood stream. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response.

On the flip side, positive emotions activate the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which acts like the brakes on a car.  The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is in charge of calming the body, reducing heart rate and pulse, and bringing the body back to a resting state. The extent to which you can activate your PNS predicts your emotional and physical health. It is intimately related to how well you can self-regulate your own emotions.

Lower levels of PNS activity are related to higher levels of depression (Chambers and Allen, 2002), anxiety (Friedman and Thayer, 1993), aggression (Beauchaine and others, 2007), and hostility (Virtanen and others, 2003).

On the other side, higher levels of PNS activity are associated with better psychological flexibility, health and resiliency. Individuals with higher levels of PNS activity are related to more resiliency to stress (Britton and others, 2008) as well as greater mental health in children in the face of chronic conflict between parents at home.

Gum shoe - outside the box thinking

How do you come up with such an idea? Start with passion and curiosity

Importantly, the frequency with which you experience positive emotions is related to a more active PNS. Individuals who were shown humorous video clips demonstrated faster heart rate recover after experiencing intense negative emotions (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998). In addition, simply asking people to think about a time when they felt grateful activated the PNS.

Other ways to ‘turn on’ the PNS include exercise, laughter, mindfulness, massage, yoga, walking your dog and taking fish oil.

Positive psychology John Schinnerer PhD

You’ve gotta’ be inspired to come up with a bedroom like this! 

The success I’ve experienced with clients in my private practice is directly related to how well I can make them laugh. With laughter comes opportunity…

opportunity to unlock stale old anger,

opportunity to teach critical new skills,

opportunity to think outside the box, and

opportunity to transform your life for the better.

How do you proceed from here?

Begin to become more aware of the percentage of time you spend in a positive emotional state as compared to a negative state. This simple realization, this basic level of awareness will begin to produce massive tectonic shifts in your life. And you will reap the benefits…on a number of levels…physical, relational, and emotional.

To life, love and laughter,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.

Award-winning author of Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought (for a free PDF version, visit http://www.GuidetoSelf.com and enter your name and email address)

Award-winning author of The Shrunken Mind – the blog on positive psychology

Free online anger management classes which incorporate humor and positive psychology at WebAngerManagement.com

Top 30 Ways to Piss People Off Loved Ones & Coworkers! (Humor)

(Anonymous)

  1. Leave the copy machine set to reduce 200%, extra dark, 17 inch paper, 99 copies.
  2. In the memo field of all your checks, write “for sexual favors.”
  3. Specify that your drive-through order is “TO-GO.”
  4. If you have a glass eye, tap on it occasionally with your pen while talking to others.
  5. Stomp on little plastic ketchup packets.
  6. Insist on keeping your car windshield wipers running in all weather conditions “to keep them tuned up.”
  7. Reply to everything someone says with “that’s what you think.”
  8. Practice making fax and modem noises.
  9. Highlight irrelevant information in scientific papers and “cc” them to your boss.
  10. Make beeping noises when a large person backs up.
  11. Finish all your sentences with the words “in accordance with prophesy.”
  12. Signal that a conversation is over by clamping your hands over your ears and grimacing.
  13. Disassemble your pen and “accidentally” flip the ink cartridge across the room.
  14. Holler random numbers while someone is counting.
  15. Adjust the tint on your TV so that all the people are green, and insist to others that you “like it that way.”
  16. Staple pages in the middle of the page.
  17. Publicly investigate just how slowly you can make a croaking noise.
  18. Honk and wave to strangers.
  19. Decline to be seated at a restaurant, and simply eat their complimentary mints at the cash register.
  20. TYPE IN UPPERCASE SO THAT THE RECIPIENT KNOWS YOU ARE SCREAMING AT THEM
  21. type only in lowercase.
  22. dont use any punctuation either
  23. Buy a large quantity of orange traffic cones and reroute whole streets.
  24. Repeat the following conversation a dozen times.
    “DO YOU HEAR THAT?”
    “What?”
    “Never mind, it’s gone now.”
  25. As much as possible, skip rather than walk.
  26. Try playing the William Tell Overture by tapping on the bottom of your chin. When nearly done, announce “No, wait, I messed it up,” and repeat.
  27. Ask people what gender they are.
  28. While making presentations, occasionally bob your head like a parakeet.
  29. Sit in your front yard pointing a hair dryer at passing cars to see if they slow down.
  30. Sing along at the opera.
  31. Go to a poetry recital and ask why each poem doesn’t rhyme.
  32. Ask your co-workers mysterious questions and then scribble their answers in a notebook. Quietly mutter something about “psychological profiles” while walking away from them.

 Have a wonderful weekend!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Founder Guide to Self, Inc.

Big fan of humor

John Schinnerer Ph.D.