It's Not About Being Funny, It's About Being a Better You

Many psychologists and researchers believe we have five core personality traits; openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. It may help to remember them with the acronym, OCEAN. Like any other personality typing such and Myers-Briggs, these traits provide a range of  behavior, from high to low. They are a convenient way to look at how we are "wired" but they do not dictate how we will always react. There is also evidence that we can re-wire our traits through activities and life experience. Our experiences can actually lead us to either end of the spectrum.

In the context of improvisation, I can see three areas where the skills of improv can help us become more open, secure, and agreeable. Improv teaches us to accept all gifts and build upon them. It's the basic Yes, And of improv. Since I cannot deny a partner's offer, I must take their suggestion and integrate it into our scene. What this does is enhance our integrative complexity. Integrative Complexity is the capacity and willingness to accept that there is more than one way to look at an issue, and to acknowledge that these differing perspectives are all legitimate. It is also the ability to form conceptual links among these perspectives. I train myself to open up and make connections. Through improv, we become more open and inventive. Studies have shown that openness to experience is driven by optimism. By hanging in and trusting the process and the team, you know you will succeed. 

Another basic tenet of improv is "follow the fear." Dr. Mark Pfeffer, director at Panic/Anxiety Recovery Center writes, "Every time you learn to be unafraid, your brain changes." The Center uses improv as a way to heal patient's anxiety. Their motto, "Do something scary today."  Neuroticism is about how secure or nervous you are. By facing your fears and conquering them, you are re-wiring your brain to be less timid and more secure

A third rule of improv, make your partner look good. Improv is about playing on a team, not being the funniest person in the room. Agreeableness measures how trusting and helpful one is. By learning to focus on others instead of yourself, you are growing in agreeableness. 

Would you like to be more open, more optimistic? How about less afraid and more secure? And which is better, detached or separate? You can practice you way into a new way of thinking and being. You can be more open, optimistic, secure, supportive, and fun. It may seem scary at first but the pay-off is worth it. Go out and find an improv workshop. Sign up, show up, and just play. Don't worry about performing or being the best, just do the work. You'll be glad you did. 


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