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A phrase that will change your life: Yes, and

I'm standing in a Saturday afternoon improv class in Hollywood that I've been dreading for weeks. I've signed up for a three hour introduction to improv that has my belly is in knots.

As a child, I was a musical theater geek, standing on the stage of our local community black box, rolling my shoulders and practicing dictation drills before belting show tunes to a small gathering of my parents and friends. Our warm up exercises became such an unconscious part of the fabric of my youth that it almost shocks me when my adult improv instructor calls for us to circle up and begin practicing with exercises I'd forgotten I knew: Passing an imaginary ball between us, clapping in rhythm, counting in order until we missed a number and had to claim a triumphant fail.

My classmates are equally awkward, dressed in street clothes and playing along with good humor if not enthusiasm, all of us desperately afraid of being the one to get it wrong and look stupid in front of strangers.

Much has been written about how the coaching industry - founded, in-part, by actors affiliated with the famous Chicago improv group Second City - draws many of its core principles and practices from improv. Improvisation is theater without a script, and coaching is all about dancing with the unpredictable parts of life that show up.

But perhaps no principle is as essential to both disciplines as the improv concept of 'yes, and'. Our instructor broke it down right away: "First rule," he said, "is you have to yes, and. When your scene partner throws out a crappy idea, do you point out that they didn't have a kimono, gun or grandmother three seconds ago? No! You say, yes AND you build off of whatever crazy direction they have just taken you."

I get this concept immediately because I've been "yes, and-ing" my clients and my life since I went through coach training three years ago, and it has changed my life.

"Yes, and" means you say YES to whatever the world throws your way AND you're willing to run with it and create from it. "Yes, and" is iterative. "Yes, and" is generative. "Yes" helps you to acknowledge what has just happened - be it someone else's contribution to a meeting, or your flat tire on the I-405; "And" lets you build off of it, take it in a new direction, create from what's here now.

How does this phrase work in real life? Take my client Marina for example. When Marina and I started working together, she had gotten a reputation for being a no person at work, though she couldn't figure out why.

Marina was usually the most prepared in her meetings, with a lightening fast, strategic mind able to run circles around most of her marketing colleagues. When her coworker presented fresh ideas their Monday morning meeting, Marina was quick to point out the (valid) reasons why they wouldn't work. When Marina started to eliminate "no/but" from her vocabulary and substituted it with "yes, and" she suddenly found herself able to genuinely validate a coworkers idea while asserting her own sense of what was needed strategically - ie. "Yes, I love that idea, and how about we slate it for Q2?" In a very short time her colleagues started to see her as a collaborator and partner instead of a know-it-all.

The first rule I usually give clients on this concept is getting rid of "but."

Try it right now by saying this sentence out loud: I'd love to [ insert aspiration/dream ] but ....Notice the energy?  But immediately shuts a proverbial door in your mind. Now try the same phrase, and substitute and for the word but.

Feel the difference? For example, "I want to become my own boss but I don't have the funds" becomes "I want to become my own boss and I don't have the funds." Tiny, subtle difference, and you may notice that by swapping in the word and, possibility opens up, creating a sense of openings and optimism.

All that is wanting now is a plan to make it happen.

If you find yourself struggling to execute on what you want, start by rewriting this simple pattern and swap out all your buts for ands. Watch your thoughts and verbiage and run an experiment with others by 'yes anding' every suggestion or situation that comes your way. 

When you lean into 'yes, and' you send yourself a strong message of self-trust: I can handle whatever the universe throws my way, AND I believe myself capable of creating from it rather than rejecting it.

You may just find that people in your life and working world will find you their favorite new improv partner.


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