Get Out Of Your Thinking Rut with Improv



BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN

It’s a lovely afternoon, and you finally have time to sit down and focus on your big project. You’ve got a snack prepped so you can really power through some of this work, a beverage of choice, and a comfy spot where you can focus.

In my case, I’ve usually got some kind of crunchy snack, a kombucha or tea, and I’m far away from my dogs and plants, because you know I’m going to play with one and check on another.

Finally! You can get through that brain block, come up with something actually creative and interesting. Let’s go!

Writes an idea down.

Stares at the paper.

Writes a different version of the same idea.

Over, and over, and over again. 

This might not even be for a creative task! You might be thinking about a solution to a problem, a way out of an argument or disagreement, a gift for a friend or spouse…you name it, it’s that brain block that allows you to just think of the same thing over and over and over again. Whether you’re stuck in ideation or overthinking a negative thought, it’s the dwelling that hurts.

Worse – even when you think of something different, that “different” thing is somehow basically just a cousin or ancestor of the thing you couldn’t get out of your head in the first place!

If you don’t feel like rolling this one idea through your head until you get so tired of it you just do it or shut your brain off completely, you can tap into the art of improv to get yourself out of it. While many people associate improv with “Whose Line is it Anyway?” the improv I’m talking about taps into listening and responding to the world around you – which is actually the same kind of improv that gets used on stage, just on an elevated level. Here are three improv tips for breaking this rut:

Failure Isn’t An Option

One of the most beautiful parts of improv, in my opinion – failure doesn’t happen. You’re taught to follow the fear; that is, you pursue the thing that scares you the most. By chasing that fear, you’re looking into growth, change, something different – all things that can break your rut.

How does thinking about failure as impossible pull you out of a rut? Well, when you’re convinced that certain solutions and choices are wrong, you avoid making them. By brainstorming with the idea that you cannot possibly fail, and all ideas are possible, you’re pulling yourself out of the loop you’re in. 

Stream of Consciousness

Still stuck? Write down what you’re working on. Right under it, write down the first thing you think of when you read your previous statement. Now under that, something that you think of when you read that next statement. For example:

I need to know what to eat for dinner.

This makes me think: Recipes are really fun.

This makes me think: Oh, I haven’t read my favorite food blog lately.

This makes me think: Remember that easy rice bowl I made a few months ago? I should eat that.

While this example is really simple, you’re following a stream of consciousness and working on breaking the loop of the first two or three ideas – you’re letting yourself have the grace to head down a rabbit hole in a calculated manner.

Yes, And

Perhaps the most powerful phrase in improv, “Yes, And” can help you move forward with the previous two statements.

Basically, you take what you said, add a YES to it to affirm the idea or suggestion, then add an AND.

Using our “failure isn’t possible” as well as the stream of consciousness suggestion:

I really want to come up with a new idea for a work project.

Yes, and that work project idea is going to get people excited.

Yes, and that excitement will be genuine because it will tap into what folks are good at.

And so on and so forth – if you keep this going, you’ll see ideas in a new light and be able to get out of your rut.


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