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4 Improvisation Techniques to Help Everyone Cope with COVID-19
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March 18, 2020
4 Improvisation Techniques to Help Everyone Cope with COVID-19
Mary Olivieri
Mary Olivieri

We find ourselves using new phrases these days – like “in these uncertain times” and “you may be feeling overwhelmed” – all in response to having to cope with the “new normal” (there’s another one) of doing business in a world with the coronavirus.

At CBD, we consistently try to find the silver lining in order to remain positive and to forge ahead for the sake of everyone we care about. Our families. Our co-workers. Our clients. And part of our culture is to embrace the “Yes, and…” philosophy that, as a Chicago improviser, I am personally so passionate about.

In improvisation you are immersed in “uncertain times.” You really have no idea where the scene will take you. But there are tips we leverage in improv that couldn’t be more relevant, so I thought I would share them with all of you:

1. TRUST

Because we get thrown into the unknown, unscripted universe, improvisers must learn to trust. We trust our scene partners (co-workers) to have our backs. We trust our instincts about what to do and where to go next. And we follow those instincts to some unexpected, but often deeply positive outcomes. So trust. We’ve all got your back.

2. AGREE

As mentioned above, “Yes, and…” is a philosophy that not only serves you well in improvisation, but also in the business world. With everything so fakakta we need positive attitudes that are committed to fresh ways of thinking and new solutions for old habits. Say “YES” to the latest communications technologies…to Slack, Trello, Google Hangouts, Facetime, etc. Say “YES” to the blockers that feel like they’re fighting our productivity.

For example, my home printer is a huge blocker right now. It works at a glacial pace. The past couple of days I’ve wanted to pull an Office Space and crush it to tiny pieces, but once I accepted/agreed that there was nothing I could do to change it, I now send something to the printer, and then spend the next 10 minutes catching up on emails until the document is ready.

3. FOLLOW THE FEAR

There’s nothing more terrifying than walking onto a stage and not knowing what will come next. Now, we can all shrink away, run offstage and hide, but if we do, there is no scene. There is nothing. Conversely, we can follow that fear and see where it will take us. I find that when we do that, we become a great deal more creative. New ideas spring up that you may have never entertained before because you’re so used to the rote behaviors of day-to-day life. Right now we are all being challenged to follow our fear and think differently. This is actually incredibly helpful to shake up our pre-programmed brains. Plus, you may be surprised at what you discover about yourself and how these new discoveries can impact your work.

4. GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD

We use this phrase in improv a lot. To be in one’s head means to be stuck, to have an agenda, to be closed to new ideas. When your head is in that space, it’s a huge blocker to creativity and productivity. You don’t need to allow what’s currently happening in our world to paralyze your thinking. Yes, it’s easy to succumb to that, but it’s not very helpful. One trick improvisers have for getting out of our heads is to free associate. Normally done in groups, you can also do this quarantined at home. Simply write a single word down on a piece of paper. (Yes, paper and pen. It’s old school, but it works). This is your starting point/prompt word. Then, take 1-2 minutes to free associate. You start by writing the first word that pops into your head based on the prompt word. Then, write down the next word (or phrase) that pops up based on the word you just wrote down…and so forth.

For example, my dogs make it difficult to do conference calls these days – they bark at anyone who walks by the house. I’ve begun to obsess on this and am playing the constant mute/off-mute dance with my phone. It’s clouding my thinking and putting me too deep in my head. So to help free myself, I free associated as follows:

  • Dogs
  • Bark
  • Tree
  • Outside
  • Walk
  • Sunshine
  • Katrina and the Waves
  • God, the 80’s
  • Madonna
  • Blessed Mother
  • Mary

And that’s my name.

Fear not fellow humans. We’ve got your back.

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