Navigating Uncertainty and Socially Connecting in a Time of Self-Quarantine and Physical Distancing through Improv Lessons

Last month I shared that I hover in the middle of the introvert extrovert spectrum and tips for introverts to stretch their comfort zone. This month, extroverts are asked to stretch outside of their comfort zones by staying away from others in order to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In fact, as I edit this blog post, my governor issued a stay-at-home order for my county. The introverted side of me loves the opportunity to catch up on reading and personal projects, but the extroverted side misses attending networking events and meeting up with friends.  Whether you are introverted or extroverted, I know we are all being impacted in some way.

Improv takes place in a world of uncertainty and never knowing what comes from the audience’s suggestion to your partner’s gifts and twists. In this month’s posted, I wanted to share how I applied some of the key improv principles to help me navigate the current situation.  

1) Take a Beat

On stage improvisers appear to seamlessly find inspiration in the moment. Sometimes the immediate next step is unclear. It is not uncommon for an improviser to “take a beat” on stage unknown to the audience. It might be mirroring a scene partner or taking on an emotional state which gives them a brief moment to think of what they might say or do next.   

The same thing happens to us during times of crisis when need to take a beat to assess our current situation before taking the next step.  For me, taking a beat included activities like coloring, cleaning and journaling. This brief pause helped me clear my mind from the immediate loss of income and fears about the health of my family.  It enabled me to really become present into the moment and make the most of the next concept: “yes, and”.

2) “Yes, and” 

The concept of “yes, and” is the cornerstone of improv. On stage the players accept their partners’ reality (yes) then build upon it (and) to create great scenes. This translates into life and the current situation. A question an improviser will often ask themselves on stage is “if this is true, what else could be true?”

For me, the yes meant that I needed to accept being at home for the foreseeable future is my new reality. It didn’t mean that I was happy about it. It meant blocking out panic and listening to credible sources and guidelines. It meant realizing that if what the experts were saying was true and what I saw unfold around the world were true, the consequences of not following the guidelines would be ones that I would not on my conscious if I inadvertently became a carrier. It meant remembering this will pass, like so many pandemics have throughout history.

The “and” made me think about what I can add in order to help make the most of the situation. The result was new ideas for adapting my workshops and coaching for an online platform. As a solopreneur this will take a little bit of time as I prepare my makeshift home office to welcome my online guests and adapt a highly interactive program to an online medium. The hours of self-quarantine will also allow me to start on my very first book. And on a personal front, I can finally finish unpacking some boxes to get rid of a great deal of clutter that I haven’t touched in years and maybe even be able to have a fantastic yard sale in late summer.

3) Got Your Back

I think this is the improv concept that I love the most. Backstage before each performance, a team will tap each other on the back and say, “got your back.” It is a reminder that we are not on stage alone. You can’t mess up because we are there together to help make the scene its very best.

Got your back means a lot of things these days:

  • Following guidelines for self-quarantine even if you are skeptical to reduce the risk of spreading to others, especially those who may not survive catching the virus.
  • Hosting a virtual party or happy hour that can give highly extroverted friends and colleagues a way to “get out” for a social event to attend.
  • Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while and simply chat about anything and everything.
  • Check in on a neighbor or friend who might not be able to leave their house.
  • Volunteer at a local charity such as a food bank or make donations to charities that are working to provide services to those in need.

Improv skills can help us adapt to many changes and growth opportunities. Crises like COVID-19 is an example where we need to quickly change and adapt. I sincerely hope these principles can help you to navigate the uncertainty of these times as well inspire you to find the positives to emerge stronger.

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