Why “Yes, And” isn’t always as easy as it seems

The concept of “Yes, And” is the cornerstone of Improvisation.

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with my friend Mark Guay on his podcast,”The Traveling Cup” about what “Yes, And” means… both on the Improv stage and off.

The gap between knowing what “Yes, And” is, and actually enacting this principle and making it a part of our daily life is admittedly difficult and requires a solid amount of practice. Six-plus years after my first Improv class I’m still working to understand its nuances.

Lately I’ve been toying with its application to major life decisions. On the surface it’s normal to assume that “Yes, And” would encourage us to say yes to everything, to face our fear and do what scares us. It might encourage us to act, instead of think…to push us out of the plane before we are ready to sky-dive. It might propel us in to over-drive, over-load, or over-kill.

“Yes, And” could get us out of our heads and pull us from languishing in a well of emotion and indecision to a quick reflex response of “yes, of course”, or “yes, I’m in”.

But relying too much on this reflex and of the literal meaning of “yes, and” could keep us from trusting our instincts. And it takes courage to realize that saying “No” is just as strong a choice as saying “Yes, And” – in fact, they can be the same thing.

On stage we don’t have time to react. There, the reflexive “yes, and” serves us well to support our partner and support the scene.

As an Improviser I feel obligated to be a “Yes, And’er”. When the decision of what or how to “yes, and” something off-stage feels more personal and singular in scope, “yes, and” isn’t always as black and white. The stakes can feel incredibly high. Sometimes “yes, and’ing” the unpopular choice or the one most people wouldn’t choose can be met with confusion. Maybe you are taking the risk that others are scared to take.

At the end of the day, its important to remember that a “No” is just another way of saying “Yes, And” as long as it feels true to you.

What Improv helps us do, for better or for worse, is think less and feel more. You’ll become attuned to how you feel so much so that you’ll know what to say “yes” to and what to pass up with a polite “nope”. It’s the verbalizing it and committing to the choice that can be the most difficult.

But, just like on the improv stage, your fellow Improvisers will support you no matter what your “yes, and” looks like, even if it comes out as a “no’.  A “no” is another way of saying “Yes, And” – because by doing so you are accepting what feels right and true for you in the moment, and making room for something else to say “yes” to.

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