The Weekend of Saying, “Yes”

Most of us get up and go about our day without planning how much we will accept others’ ideas or determine how many times we will say, “yes.” It would probably feel odd to sit at the kitchen table early in the morning and write out how often you will agree with someone or support their ideas. Yet, we either do that throughout the course of a day or we don’t. And many times it’s human nature to: not even hear what someone has said because we’re tuning in to our own thoughts and concerns; hear what someone says but instantly say “no,” or “yes, but….” wasting no time to critique their idea and offer what we would do or say. That’s habit for many of us. This past weekend was all about saying “yes,” for me and the nearly 300 people I shared my message with.

Through my business, Laugh to Live!, I have the self-appointed pleasure of standing in front of people, sharing some humorous material about my life – like how I live next door to my parents who love me but don’t quite appreciate the disorganized state in which I keep my home, a method I like to call the poor woman’s security system because if someone breaks in they’re sure to think the place has already been ransacked and go right out the door – talking about the research that states how valuable laughter is for our well-being, and then leading the group in some laughter yoga exercises or some improvisation activities, depending upon the group and what I was hired to do.

Ladies Love to Laugh

This past weekend I was able to share laughs with nearly 300 people – 98% of which were women – in a 26-hour span of time. And once again, I can say to you, “Yes” laughter works and I can’t wait to share more with the next group –  a small club of retired women who gather monthly for lunch in a resort community – this Thursday.

Fear, anxiety, nervousness, doubt and self-scrutiny are the emotions I feel before I interact with a crowd and 9 out of 10 times, it’s satisfaction, pride, relief, affirmation, and joy that I feel after my encounters with participants.  Friday morning I had the pleasure of sharing some humorous stories and interactive laughter yoga with a group of nearly 200 child care workers at an end-of-year celebration. This group of mostly women came from four different counties to share in festivities at the Lackawanna County baseball stadium. Yes, we had a glorious view of the baseball field while sharing some “ho ho ho’s” and “ha ha ha’s.” While it took a little while to get everyone warmed up, by the end, I felt that the majority of participants were bound to feel better than before they started laughing – even if they did think these laughter exercises seemed a bit odd.  One woman made a point to tell me after the presentation that she really enjoyed it and even though she liked to talk a lot, she didn’t think she could get up and do what I do and seem so comfortable. She thanked me and gave me credit for what I do. That meant a lot to me and I told myself, “Yes” you do have skills and talent to share to help enrich people’s lives and it’s time that you truly believed that.

What Better Place to Laugh than Happy Valley?

Then I was on the road to State College to present at an IAAP Conference, which was a gathering of administrative professionals from across Pennsylvania. I presented to one chapter of IAAP last year and those women enjoyed it so much that I was asked to present something a bit different for the larger group. I was very excited to present my relatively new program: “Using Improvisation to Address the Three Cs: Communication, Conflict Resolution and Collaboration.” I was eager to share the golden rule of improv, “Yes, and…” with these women and to see what we could create together. I was equally excited to be back in Happy Valley. I am a 1993 graduate of Penn State University and have been back to visit about a dozen times but I never seem to have enough time to get fully reacquainted. What I do notice, is how much the campus continues to grow and change. I found myself feeling a bit like a stranger among modern, glass buildings for chemistry and science that clearly replaced something that I was familiar with back in the early 90s.

After settling in to our room at Tofftrees Resort where I would be presenting on Saturday, my boyfriend and I walked around the grounds, which had very green, finely manicured grass for the golfers and hosted an assortment of creatures from ducks to chipmunks and squirrels to a number of gophers. Yes, we talked about “Caddyshack” and Bill Murray. How could you walk on a golf course, see not one, but four go-pher go-phers running across the grass and not reference that classic movie? On our way back to our room we spotted an archway and rows of white chairs set up for a wedding the next day. Within minutes I had posted the picture to Facebook asking “Should I say, ‘I do’ in 15 hours, or run in 15 minutes?” I couldn’t resist putting that out there as a social experiment of sorts and fun. By Saturday there were mostly positive affirmations of congratulations and best wishes with a few women and men encouraging me to run. Even though my event Saturday was not to say “Yes” to getting married, I did say “Yes” to sharing the concept of improvisation with about 70 women who all experienced similar barriers or conflicts in their workplaces.

When We Say Yes, The Possibilities Are Endless

It’s interesting how we encourage children to try  different things that require bravery but adults tend to be quite scared to venture outside of our comfort zones. While everyone in the group did participate in the exercises I shared Saturday, very few volunteered later when I wanted to conduct an activity at the front of the room to further illustrate the value of listening, supporting and contributing. I eventually employed the teacher in me and “called on” a table of people who seemed to be good sports and were the closest to the front of the room. The women who volunteered on their own to play some “Yes, and…” games with me seemed to really come alive when they were forced outside of their comfort zones. And the group I volunteered to play something called the “Ad Game” with me, seemed to have a ball, especially when the audience showed their support of their work through laughs, applause and squeals of delight. Our group task was to reinvent adult diapers so we created Dignity Diapers that were purple and changed colors when wet. With Arnold Schwarzenegger and Caitlin Jenner as our designated celebrity spokes people, we were set to launch the product in Philadelphia to Elton John’s  “Philadelphia Freedom.” Yes, we were free. Free to share any idea no matter how silly or unrealistic it seemed. It was our job to brainstorm and to fully support one another.

Sure this was just an exercise, but it was a lesson to show the workshop participants how important and influential our individual roles can be in group dynamics. The quieter contributors were not always heard while the louder, more confident ones were. And some people talked over others. The game showed the value of listening, accepting and really supporting one another with an enthusiastic cheer of “yay, great idea” every time anyone said anything, the value of giving and taking and of all being on the same page. It was a great way to practice being in the moment, focusing on one shared goal rather than being distracted by the ticker that runs across our minds almost constantly each day, reminding us of both personal and professional “to-do lists.”

Be Not Afraid, Say Yes

As I told the group a few times throughout the afternoon, doing these exercises may not change anything substantial but if it gets you thinking a little differently – even for a little bit – especially about how we support one another in groups and relationships, then we’ve achieved success. I felt rewarded and validated when two women came to me after the workshop to ask about using “Yes, and…” in two completely different, yet equally valuable ways. One wanted to learn how to say “Yes, and…” to her kids because she was always telling them, “No,” while the other wanted to help the gentlemen she worked with learn to work better together using improv but she said it would require each of them tying up their alpha dog traits for a bit.

Do I believe that the rules of improvisation can teach everyone a thing or two about themselves and about working with others? Yes, and… I hope that people continue to be open to accepting it and sharing it with people in their offices and homes to make life more fun and productive!

Yes, and… Five Rules of Improv Help in Work and Play

I used to get a knot in my stomach on Monday afternoons as I anticipated that evening’s comedy improv class about nine years ago. I wanted to be in the class and loved performing in the shows at the Comedy Dojo in Scranton (when people laughed at what I did on stage) but I was still a ball or nerves before class. I was doing the exact opposite of what improv represents. I was not being in the moment. I was worrying ahead of time about what I would say and do, what interesting choices I would make that night in class. But to quote my instructor at the time, Chris Barnes, (and I believe he was quoting someone else when he said this) “You have to walk through the fire to get to the cooling water.”

No matter if it’s an improv class or some other activity or event that takes us outside of our comfort zones, we need to get through the pain, discomfort, difficult stuff to get to the other side where we get to feel cool, calm, relaxed, even proud and let out an “ahhhhhh.”

As I prepare to present a workshop at a conference for administrative professionals using improvisation to address communication, conflict resolution and collaboration, I’m reminded of the valuable lessons the rules of improv can teach all of us… for life.

  • Yes, and… is the one unbreakable rule in improvisation. It means that we say “yes” to what our fellow actor has given us. We accept their words as a gift or treasure and we add “and,” which shows our commitment to contribute something just as valuable that will help us move forward.  Consider saying “Yes” in life more often. Imagine the possibilities. Too many times we disagree with ideas and just say “No.” Or, we want to appear agreeable so we say “Yes, but…” which is basically saying, “I hear what you’re saying but my way is better.”  So the next time your coworker asks “Are you looking forward to that meeting?” Instead of rolling your eyes and saying “No,” try smiling instead and say, “Yes, and I think I’ll suggest we start the meeting by each sharing something fun we did this weekend so we can start on a happy note.”
  • Make unusual or unexpected choices. This improv guideline isn’t something you can apply to every part of life. Attempting to pay your bills with magic beans is not likely to work but there are many instances in which you – and people around you – can benefit from a choice that is different from the status quo. Instead of complaining that it’s Monday and you’d rather be in your garden or on the golf course, CHOOSE to be happy that you are working and doing something that not only affects people’s lives but also allows you to buy that new driver you’ve been scoping out online.  Or, instead of putting in your headphones at your desk so you can tune out your loud, gossiping coworker in the cubicle next to you, listen! Maybe you can learn something that will help you improve your relationship. Take an opportunity to engage her in conversation about a movie, new local restaurant or any topic other than the number of different cars she sees in her neighbor’s driveway on the weekend.
  • Be in the moment. This popular advice is key to the success of improv performers on stage because the scene they create for their audience is so much more interesting when it happens right there and doesn’t reference a past that the audience cannot see or a future that has yet to unfold. Search through any list of self-help books and this theme appears. Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” effectively addresses the value and absolute necessity of living our lives in the present. It boggles my mind how simple an idea this is but one that eludes so many of us. It just makes sense that we can only live in the present moment but I can’t tell you how often I live in the past as thoughts in my head (usually negative) race around as if on a track like horses trying to win the Triple Crown. All those hooves galloping kick up quite a bit of mud. I am far, far away from mastering the concept of being in the moment. It takes effort to make sure you are in the moment. Practice it. If you’re like me, you can read a magazine article and not know the full meaning because your mind went somewhere else by the second paragraph. “I have to call to reschedule that doctor’s appointment. I wonder if the new “Orphan Black” is On Demand yet; I want to watch that tonight. Oh crap, I forgot to get gas last night, that means I have to leave the house early today so I’m not late for my meeting.” Practice being in the moment!
  • Show. Don’t Tell. When improv actors create a scene on stage, this is key to believability and much more interesting to the audience if they show activity rather than talk about. For example: Actor A says, “I am not going to walk toward you, place my hands around your neck and pretend to choke you.” Actor B responds, “I’ll stand here and wait for you to do that and as you approach I will bug my eyes out as if I have a look of fear on my face.”  The scene should just happen. If you see it, you will have a much better experience than if you hear about it.  In life this comes in handy when we communicate. Many of us have different communication styles and we may not get someone’s wordy explanation but if they show us how to do something we might have a better time understanding.  And at a higher, loftier, Ghandi-esque level, it’s a good idea to SHOW, not TELL in the manner in which we live our lives. It’s great to teach your children to be honest. It’s good to tell your employees to be productive and do their jobs with integrity but SHOW-ing your children what honesty looks like and SHOW-ing your coworkers what integrity looks like, are much more effective. Ghandi said it simply, “Be the change that y0u wish to see in the world.”
  • Bring something to the party. This is something that improv instructor Barnes used to say to us as we were about to enter a scene. He would remind us that we should bring something to the scene. Yes, it slightly contradicts the idea of not planning what you will do or say in an improv scene but it worked and made sense. He wanted us to think about what we were seeing on stage. What did our fellow actors create already in this scene and what could we bring to it to help it move forward?  When you are hosting a party and everyone brings chips and dip, your menu is going to need help. The next time you enter a room, whether at work or at a social gathering, see what you can add.  Is someone upset, recounting a story about her husband leaving her? Is someone consoling another person who just received bad news from his doctor about cancer? Is someone raising his voice at another person who just offended him?  Your attitude and words can help or hurt the people you are about to engage with. Be aware of other people’s feelings and the situation in front of you and bring something to this party that will help, not hurt or destroy it.

Am I happy that it’s Monday and it’s gray and rain is predicted for tonight when I run a 5K?  Yes, and… I won’t need to wear my sunglasses or worry about getting too hot while I run. The rain will feel refreshing.

Give Humor A Job in Your Office: Five Roles Humor Can Fill

When most people think work, they don’t think fun. That’s why terms like rat race and daily grind are commonly used to refer to the office. Of course, I have also heard people use terms like circus and zoo to occasionally describe where they work and those are fun places to visit, but usually when someone says it was a real zoo or circus at the office, it refers to some kind of chaos that is not enjoyable. What I’m using probably too many words to say is that when we think of work, we don’t think of fun when perhaps we should. And I can’t think of a better time for this topic to be considered than April, which is National Humor Month.

I can tell you someone who didn’t have enough laughs at work. Jack Torrance. He moved his wife and son to the Overlook Hotel in the remote mountains of Colorado to be a caretaker for the desolate winter season in the movie “The Shining.” If you aren’t familiar with his film, the bottom line is Jack typed “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,” and by “dull” he meant violent, angry and nearly insane. I’m not saying that if you don’t laugh enough that you’ll become anything like Jack Nicholson’s character in this movie but I do agree that all work and no play tends to make us not only dull, but stressed out and less than what we can be.  Play, laughter and humor are great resources to help adults recharge, to awaken their creativity and work through stress toward healthier living.

Let Humor be the “new guy” in your office. Here are five roles that humor can fill at the workplace.

#1 The Mediator –  When there’s tension, discord, or personality clashes, a little dose of humor can work as mediator to get people talking. A good laugh can cut the tension and help people feel better physically and mentally.

#2 The Entertainer – There’s no law – at least none of which I am aware – that says it’s illegal to have fun for fun’s sake at the workplace. Employees who work hard deserve to be rewarded with a little entertainment. While it’s true that humor can be risky because some jokes are considered offensive and everyone has a different sense of humor, laughter and fun do have a place at the office. There’s no harm in telling a clean joke, reading the comics or watching a funny youtube clip. It makes for a healthier break to clear your head than having a cigarette or drinking your fifth cup of coffee.

#3 The “Empower”er – Humor isn’t just the class clown. Humor is a warrior of sorts, a survivor. When traffic is stopped, when the computer shuts down and you haven’t hit save in a hour, when the lid on your large coffee isn’t tight and it spills on your new pants …when all of these things happen, you might scream or curse. But then what happens? Do you stay in a bad mood? Do you pass that negative energy on to the next person you see? Humor doesn’t change what just happened but it does give you strength to deal with it and change your perspective. You don’t have to be a victim. You can be in charge. Feel empowered. Make a joke about your misfortune, clumsiness, life happening that happens to everyone and acknowledge that you are safe and will survive this small hiccup. People have used humor to survive much bigger challenges. People like author and psychologist Viktor Frankl tapped into the power of humor during his time in a Concentration Camp. He wrote, “It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”

 #4 The Connector – Humor bonds people. When we laugh at a joke with someone, we share an experience that brings us closer together. Camaraderie at work can help to boost morale, strengthen team work and ultimately help a company’s bottom line.  Experts say that humor can help couples in a relationship work through their issues and some of the same principles apply to other relationships like the ones in a workplace. Let’s face it, you spend a lot of time at work.

#5 The Communicator – Humor can be used to open the door to delivering difficult news but it must be done carefully. I’m not suggesting that you break really bad news through humor but humor can help ease tensions and get people talking. Humor puts people on the same playing ground or level.

Wherever you gather at your business, whether it’s near the water cooler or Keurig coffee maker, or in the board room, be sure to give the new guy, Humor, a chance. Don’t dismiss Humor until you’ve given him a fair shot around the office. Humor has great value. Put Humor on the job!