Why are these 3 skills ALL you need to navigate through life?

Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

La Comédie de Toulouse, Toulouse, France, September 2018

The small bar was packed with people. All of them are here for one thing only: jump in the arena of Improv comedy.

It was a Tuesday. I remember the feeling of starting a new thing that I always wanted to do. Then he arrived, our master for these lessons. I present to you Cedric Asna aka Ced.

I always wanted to be on stage and humour is a great way for me to cope with my life and release the stress both in my personal and professional life.

Thus I decided to go on that trial class and see if it is something that I would like.

At the end of the trial class, I came to the conclusion that I did not like it, at all.

I love it. It was an amazing experience. I signed right away and I was impressed by Ced as an artist and also as a teacher.

Ced is a well known comic book illustrator in his daily life. He has even a Youtube channel where he illustrate stories told by his daughters:

On top of that, he is also a renowned comedian, part of a team, “Le Trio d’Impro”, with a monthly show where he can showcase his improv skills and his illustrations live on stage!

Since that first class, each Tuesday, I cannot wait to go to the class and be on stage.

At 6:00 pm, after working all day long, I take the tram and the subway to go for 2 hours of pure magic with Ced at La Comédie de Toulouse from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

By the time I get back home, it is almost 10:00 pm. When I arrive at home, my son Noah Ali is already at bed.

Rain, hail or shine, I will never miss this long exhausting and exhilarating day for nothing.

THis year is my second season of Improv comedy classes with Ced. I am preparing my show. Well it’s a long project. For the moment all I have is the title: “The One Mad Show”. It’s a good start.

In this article, I would like to share with you the 3 main rules of improv comedy. As life, improv comedy is all about, well, improvisation and exploring the unknown.

A great improv scene has 3 main ingredients, which when followed by all involved people, will make it a success.

I believe that those same ingredients can be applied in our lives and can yield huge benefits.

Ced taught us the 3 magic ingredients. Here they are:

A as Accept

In Improv Comedy:

The first and only cardinal rule of improv comedy is to always accept what was said before.

In our first trial class, back in September 2018, this was the first thing that Ced said: In improv comedy, there is only one rule, which is to accept the premise, always.

That rule is also better known as the “Yes and” rule.

If one of the protagonists on stage said that you are a pink elephant having some weight issue, your answer must be: Yes and that is why I started the savannah weight loss programme this month.

Accepting the premise and saying “yes and” to the other person’s proposal is a gift to that person. On top of that, it will move the action forward and you will explore uncharted territories.

“No” and “Yes but” have no place in improv comedy.

By saying no to a proposal, you are breaking the momentum of the scene and denying the other character the premise of its own existence.

By saying “yes but”, it is another way to say no.

The “Yes and” rule applied in improv comedy is where the magic is.

In Life:

Me: Yes, you did not get a salary raise this year. However, you are healthy and with what you are earning today, your living standard here in France, you are richer than 75% of the world population.

Him: Yes but…(add whatever, the government, others, my wife, my boss, my children, the weather)

We all have that one colleague who seems to not be satisfied with the gifts of life. Every time you come with a solution, they will always find a problem.

I call those people the “Yes but” people. I try to avoid being around them both in my private and professional life.

I am more drawn to the “Yes and” people.

I grew up with limited resources in Dakar, Senegal. And even then, I was quite lucky that I was living in Dakar. I went to a private elementary school, “Collège Notre Dame Du Liban” and then in a public high school, “Collège et Lycée Lamine Gueye”. Then I was lucky to be able to come to France and pursue my engineering school with a scholarship from the Senegalese government.

I learned to accept what life handed over to me. I am grateful for everything that happens for me. My mindset is the one of adding value to myself and to others.

I am not a “Yes” person. I am a “Yes and” person. I like to take what I was given, add my part and hand it over to the next person.

The “Yes and” people spend less time complaining about what happens to them, why them and not the rest of the world.

They know that their time and resources are limited and that action kills fear, always. THey feel more in control of their life and ultimately, they are happy.

“ Life doesn’t happen to you. Life happens for you.”

Tony Robbins

L as Listen

In Improv Comedy:

In improv comedy, as the story goes, new characters, new objects and new objects are constantly introduced.

As a comedian, I have to both accept the premise, add some color to it and hand it over to the other person. Each of us on stage is adding flaws to their character, giving them some props, etc.

Generally, when performing on stage, we are 3 comedians. To start the first comedian will come on stage and set up the scene, while the 2 remaining are back stage.

When I set up the scene, I will give hints on the location. It’s my room, the door is on the left hand side of the stage, I have a big eating table in the middle of the room. I will make sure to show clearly where it is.

Imagine that you are the public, watching the scene. As you are not in the action, you will see the room, the table, the window, the door location as I staged it.

Now the 2nd person comes and enters my room on the right hand side, where there is no door because this is where my bed is.

That person was not present, they were not listening. This is the easiest case. In reality, you will do your improvisation with other people and they will say things as they come in their head.

The scene might only be 3 minutes. Yet a lot of things can happen in 3 minutes. A successful improv comedian is the one who can listen, not only with the ears, but also with their eyes. Indeed they have to know to not walk through walls, unless their character is a ghost. In that case, it totally makes sense

And comedians are genius at saying things in the beginning of their show. . At some point further, they will do a recall, which will always guarantee them a laugh.

Why?

Because they have mastered the art of listening, remembering and calling back things that you, yourself, already forgot that they said earlier.

In Life:

Often in life, when interacting with people, we don’t really listen to the other person. We are just waiting for our turn to reply.

This happens often to me when arguing with my wife. While she’s talking, physically I am there. In my mind, I am digging back in my head to find the one sentence to use as a counter argument

Lot of conflicts and situations in our life are the results of a lack of listening. When we are seeking to rely, we are not present. We are missing the clues that the other person is sharing that would help us understand better their feelings.

Sometimes it happens to me that I am talking on the phone to a person. Well I am not really listening. They will tell me that they are working in this area. 5 minutes later, I would ask them again about what they are doing in life. I can hear their frustration as they repeat louder what they have told me earlier.

Empathic Listening is the way to show the other person that you see them and that they matter, that you are here for them.

By listening really, and remembering the information shared by other people, we are able to have genuine, trust based conversations and connections.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Stephen Covey

L as Let go

In Improv Comedy:

In improv comedy, you have to follow the flow as the story is being written live. And it is not as easy as it might seem.

Indeed as a comedian, you will try to fit your character into a certain type with certain skills and flows. However if you are not the 1st person on stage, when you enter, the already on stage comedian will give you another character, far from what you were expecting.

You don’t really have time to challenge that proposition.

Remember the 1st rule of Improv comedy: “You don’t talk about….”, no!

“Yes I accept your gift and I will go with the flow”.

Improv comedy has no place for censorship. And we all have that voice in our head telling us that we cannot be a woman persona, wearing skirts and heels. We are a male, successful accountant in a 3 piece suit.

The biggest challenge is to go with the flow, to free our mind from the chains of reality and what should or should not be.

If we try to anticipate too much what will happen, after, the improvisation will fail. What makes the magic of improv comedy is that it’s a live experience.

Both the comedians and the public have no idea what will be the end of the story at the beginning.

For the action to move on, we cannot hold on to the dogma of our own personality at the expenses of the character we are playing. We have to silence that censorship voice and take the risk of embracing our spontaneity.

This is what is required by the improv comedy art, a total devotion to the spectacular now without any bound to this universe and its reality.

In Life:

I got married when I was 37 years old to a white, non muslim partnner. Coming from a traditionnal, muslim tribe, the pulaars, this was a huge step for me.

Since I came to France in 2000, I always had white girl friends. I was not forcing the fact to date Black Muslim girls. I was in the flow of my circumstances.

What were they?

I was always evolving in environments where most of the people I hang out with were white, be it in Engineering school or at work after.

All my relationships always have the same storyline. We will start dating. We will build our relationship up to a certain point. Then comes the sabotage where I will do anything, find any excuse to end our relationship. And not letting go hurted them and I apologise for that.

Why so much self-flagellation?

I will not go through the religious analogy both in Christianity and Islam. For me it was just that I did not let go of the image of what a life for a pulaar, muslim, balck man should be. Holding on to the expectations of my parents, the pulaar community, the muslims and the black people, I could not allow myself to be happy with a person that did not fit that predefined reality.

Eventually I found the courage to let go by acknowledging that what matters at the end, was not the color of my love. What matters most was the intensity of my love, its genesis, its genuity.

Finally I was free. Finally I was me.

We all go around our personal or professional lives, always trying to fit ourselves to a hypothetical vision of what we think the others think we should be. We spend our life trying to anticipate things, elaborating some complex plans on which we know deep down we have no control over.

Of course I am not saying that we should relinquish control of our life. I am just saying that we should take ownership of who we are and go with it.

“Letting go takes a lot of courage sometimes. But once you let go, happiness comes very quickly. You won’t have to go around search for it.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

There you have it. By accepting what happens to you, by listening with more empathy, by letting go, you will be close to the true self. You will spend less energy complaining, fighting with others or holding on to things which will try to put you in a cage.

When we are born, we cry while everybody is smiling. By using ALL the ingredients of improv comedy, we will make sure to leave this world with a smile while everybody is crying.

Do you have a “Yes and” mindset?

Are you developing your empathic listening skills?

Are you writing your own story?

Leave a comment below.

If you find this article of value to you, please like it and share it within your sphere of influence.

#Dare2Care #Dare2Share

#BIOS #BringInyourOwnSoul #LeadHeartship #Leadership

You can read my previous article on Have you met CBI, the hidden son of the marriage between the CIA and the FBI?

Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

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