When I’m speaking to audiences, I can never be sure what might happen, and Murphy’s law generally applies.

If something can go wrong, it usually does. Sometimes, the technology fails (this happened twice recently), I turn up to a room that’s badly configured, find out people are joining me online as a surprise (trust me, this is hard to manage!), or someone asks a particularly gnarly question.

If I’m not fully present in those moments, things can get ugly quite quickly.

Plus, I had an extremely uncomfortable date a few weeks ago when my anxiety escalated to such a degree that I became more concerned about whether someone liked me than whether I liked them. We all know it pays to focus on the latter, but that’s hard to do when you’re percolating in self-judgment.

So, I decided to sign up for an improv acting class to loosen me up if things go awry when I’m on stage, running a workshop, or if I ever go on another date.

Improv is like a regular acting class but without a script and only the slimmest of directions. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

You work in pairs and it’s all very spontaneous. Now I’m a meticulous planner. I don’t do ‘spontaneous’ unless it’s a surprise drinks offer from a friend. Improv felt like both a bridge too far and perhaps just the trick for getting me out of my head.

So, let me tell you how it’s going …

As far as I can tell, there are only a couple of rules.

  1. Say ‘yes’ to whatever your partner says or does. Don’t say ‘no’ to what they’re giving you in the moment, and
  2. Respond from your heart, not your head. Feel your way. Overthinking is death to improv.

Being in your head makes it much harder to respond. When you relax into it, not only do you have more fun, but so does your audience.

An audience (as we all know) can sense inauthenticity a mile away. Much like people on dates.

And even though I’m only acting out roles (e.g., I might find myself playing someone’s cheating boyfriend or a grieving sister), whichever character I take on, it always has a flavour of me. How could it not?

Initially, I thought improv would feel kind of weird, and uncomfortable and I’d be super anxious. I’ve taken acting classes in the past and I can tell you this, I was a terrible actress. The worst in the class by a long shot.

It didn’t help that I fell in love with the teacher on the first night, which was an extremely awkward position to find myself in, especially ironic as I’d sworn off tall bald Americans… (but that’s another story).

Put it this way, trying to impress my teacher ensured I constantly choked on stage, which hurt my ego as I always fancied myself as a bit of a thwarted Meryl Streep.

However, when it comes to improv, turns out, I’m nowhere near as bad as I imagined.

I’ve surprised myself. I’m having fun, enjoying it even. I’m certainly not great (and there is much to learn) but I’m not horrible either.

Most of the time I’m quite relaxed which allows me to access my emotions and playfully respond from my heart.

I think plenty of adults could do with a good dose of improv.

While there’s nothing wrong with thinking, overthinking makes you miserable because the human mind evolved in such a way that it naturally creates psychological suffering. Stay in your head for too long and you’ll find yourself cut off from your emotions, the world, and the people who matter most.

Without conscious awareness when your mind wanders, it’s designed to go negative. This is not a design fault; it’s simply doing what it was designed to do, trying to be helpful, keep you safe, and avoid unpleasant experiences at all costs.

In this modern world where most of us get paid to think we can end up privileging thinking and bypassing feeling altogether. Your heart (emotions) starts to feel like a foreign country. You find you no longer speak the language.

Many of us have forgotten how to feel, and when we do it’s uncomfortable.

Instead of seeing emotions (especially uncomfortable emotions) as helpful signposts, we push those suckers down. We resist, avoid, numb, and delegate them to our dirty little secret file.

Then, all our emotions can do is fester. But you can’t negate or get rid of your emotions, eventually, they’ll make themselves heard.

Someone smart once said ‘if you don’t listen to your body when it whispers, you’ll eventually hear it scream.’

I’m happy to report my improv class is helping me get out of my head (legally) and back into my heart. I’m relearning how to access my emotions in the moment. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Perhaps all this mindfulness stuff that I’ve been practicing for years is helping too!?

If you’re spending too much time in your head and lost contact with your emotions, improv may be a solution, but mindfulness is too. It’s great for reconnecting.

Hopefully, I’ll see you on the mat or the stage with me. Which one would you choose?

In case you’re in Wellington and want to know more about improve go here.