Why do improvisers say “Yes! And…” all the time?
For decades, improvisers have been studying and practicing the best techniques for creating action from unlimited possibilities to “create something wonderful right away.” When we begin a scene we have absolutely no idea what is going to happen. We simply get a suggestion from the audience for inspiration and we just begin acting. And acting, by definition, is doing. We make a single choice or “offer” and build on it over and over again. In effect, we are rapid prototyping on stage! We do this every single show and never run out of new material. Sometimes it is wonderful and sometimes it isn’t. The more we practice it and enjoy this process the more often we are happy with the result.
We have discovered that the best way to create “something wonderful” night after night is to respond to absolutely everything with a “Yes! And…” response. This means we always:
- Accept whatever idea/choice/action is made by one person
- Add something to the idea/choice/action they made
For example, if I walk on stage and begin a scene by saying “I love your new car!,” my partner might respond by saying “Yes, it’s fantastic! I got it for my birthday.” They have agreed to the reality I have created — that they have a new car and it is great —and adding something to that creation — that it is a birthday gift.
Believe it or not, this simple phrase is the “secret” of improv. What seems like super fast thinking and clever responses on our part is basically just two ordinary people using the core improv tenet of “Yes! And,…” If you did only this on stage, you, too, could create a scene that would be pretty entertaining to watch. If you embraced the “Yes! And…” mindset in your day-to-day communications, you would see monumental changes in your life and in the way people respond to you. If you allowed yourself to say “Yes! And…” to your OWN ideas, choices, and actions, you would certainly create more wonderful things for yourself in your life.
Do you act on ideas or think “Yes! But…”?
When you think of the career you wish you had or the city you wish you lived in, do you first think “yes, but I don’t have the right work experience,” or “yes, but it would be so expensive”? We use the words “yes, but…” as a soft “no.” And, we let that phrase keep us from taking action. It’s true, you might not have the right experience (yet!), and that may be an important factor in how much action you can take.
What action can you take right now? “Yes! I am lacking in experience, AND I am able to gain experience by asking to assist someone that has experience in that position.” A simple change in phrasing helps us embrace and add to our ideas instead of stifling them. You have a successful job in sales, but what you really want is to start your own business? You don’t need to say, “Yes! And I will quit this minute and organize an LLC!”
Start by agreeing to the reality that you could own your own business without letting the evaluation of this idea stifling your current thoughts (yet!). Say “yes” to the reality of you owning your own business. Have you truly honored that idea and given it space to exist? Turn the stage lights on it and go ahead and applaud it. Then, let your mind wander a bit with the “yes! And…” mind set and ask yourself what you can add to that idea. “Yes! And I would work only from 7am to 3pm” “Yes, and I would sometimes work remotely during the summers to take the kids to National Parks.” “Yes, and I would find a partner with more experience than myself to help get the business started and rely on when I need a break.” Consider what other skills or strengths or ideas or people you could add to develop this idea further. What might your business be? Who might be involved? What might be great about it? Where might it take you? This is the power of “and”, instead of “but.”
The point isn’t that you have to say “yes” to starting your own business, but rather that you open up new possibilities for yourself and gain practice developing and taking those possibilities further. You may discover when you say “Yes! And…” to yourself that you don’t actually want to start your own business. Maybe what you really want is to continue in your current job, but have more freedom and flexibility in your schedule to spend more time with your family. The destination does not need to match your first impulse. What you are beginning to develop is the improv mindset. This is the core of how improvisers think. Before jumping to “No”, we first say “Yes, and…”
The best part about “Yes! And…” is that you can start it immediately. It takes no special equipment or training to begin, only your attention to the opportunities and ideas that arise and a willingness to explore. The next time someone in your life throws out an idea—be it your boss, your spouse, an employee, a child, or, most importantly, YOURSELF—just try agreeing to it and adding to it. Notice how often you say “Yes, but…” to yourself or others and see if you can switch that “but” to an “and” now and then. Discover where “Yes! And…” leads before you judge and stifle the ideas you have. You will discover possibilities that would have lain dormant if you had said, even very reasonably, “Yes! but…”
Step out on that stage together (or yourself) and see where “Yes! And…” takes you. I hope you are as pleasantly surprised with the results as we are each time we improvise a show.