The Health Benefits of Practicing Improv
In this week’s blog post I’m going to review the article:
“The Health Benefits of Practicing Improv” by Kristine Crane – @CraneKristine
As always the articles we review may or may not directly talk about User Experience and that’s OK. What Jim and I will do with our article reviews is pull out the main improvisational themes being talked about. Then we’ll give our perspective/take on those themes and how they relate to and support User Experience.
Kristine’s article speaks to the health benefits of getting involved in improv. Many people take improv classes as a way to:
- Try something different
- Get out of their comfort zone
- Get better at speaking in front of people…etc.
What a lot of people discover once they start taking classes though, is that improv is a kind of therapy too.
“The biggest joke is when we ask for evaluations, at least one student will say, ‘It’s cheaper than therapy,’”
-Mark Chalfant, Washington Improv Theater’s artistic executive director
The main person in Kristine’s article, Alyssa Marciniak, originally decided to take improv classes because she was asked to give a presentation at work (but she suffers from social anxiety disorder). What Marciniak discovered was that all the fun she was having at improv classes was helping her to break through her social anxiety issues. A large contributing factor for Alyssa was that she was in a room with a group of people who were all doing something “weird” in front of other people. The non-judgment that improv teaches goes a long way to helping its students open up and get out of their comfort zones.
Marciniak points out at the end of the article, along with another article subject, Meredith Whipple, that she has already seen improvements in their lives at work, one of the main improvements being an increase in their confidence.
The overall improv points of the article are:
- Overcoming Anxiety
- Risk Taking
How it relates to Improv:
I would break the points of the article into two groups of two:
1) Non-Judgment and Mindfulness
2) Overcoming Fear/Anxiety and Risk Taking
IMHO I think the first two points, mindfulness and non-judgment, are things that improv exercises help you “do” better. What I mean to say is that the exercises focus on the improviser being mindful and being non-judgmental. The improvisers actively have it in their minds that I’m going to be mindful of my fellow players. Improvisers will listen to their fellow players and support what they have to offer in a scene and in a show. Going along with mindfulness is the non-judgment. Having the mindset of non-judgment lets the two improvisers in a scene explore an idea fully. The scene will go to more interesting and unexpected places when the improvisers aren’t judging what their fellow players are saying and doing. Also, that non-judgment applies to the players judging their own actions in a scene. We can be our own worst enemies when we constantly doubt our ideas.
I think the second two points are things the exercises help you overcome or become more comfortable with vs. things you’re actively doing like being mindful and non-judgmental. Overcoming anxiety and being willing to take more risks all boil down to fear:
- Fear of looking bad
- Fear of not saying the right thing
- Fear of not being creative enough
- Fear of failure…etc.
Improv helps you deal with those fears in a fun and supportive atmosphere. Everyone in the class is going to be up there doing the same exercises. Everyone in the class supports each other and the decisions they’re making during scenes and exercises. Knowing that everyone is going to be out there makes it easier for each individual to get out there. Taking that first step puts you on the road to being more comfortable with what your fear is keeping you from doing. As far as getting on stage goes you’re never going to be not afraid or nervous but you become comfortable with not knowing what will happen. You know you have the support of your fellow players and that together you’ll build something AMAZING.
How it relates to UX:
So connecting this up to UX…
Bringing mindfulness and non-judgment to your workplace is going to naturally make you a more valuable teammate. Your fellow teammates are going to feel like you value their opinions and ideas and that you respect their input. Again, for the business world, that doesn’t always mean everyone’s idea is going to be the one implemented. On a project you still have to deal with budgets, timeframes and technology (i.e. can the platform even support what is being proposed?). However, by acting purposefully to be mindful and non-judgmental you are going to build a foundation of trust that will allow for more honest debates on what might work and what might not work. You’ll be able to focus on the idea and not make it personal, you’re just focusing on what is the best way to solve the problem you’re facing.
Now to address the last two items. If you have an atmosphere of trust and respect then people are going to be far less afraid and far more willing to add their ideas and thoughts to the mix. The people who might normally be quiet during meetings will start to participate because they know there is support in the room for their input. People will be more willing to throw out riskier or “wilder” ideas because that idea could be the answer or the spark that leads to another more innovative and creative solution. It all depends on everyone really looking out for his or her fellow teammates and having the mindset of “I want to make you and your idea look like a rock star”.