The First Rule of Improv

By: Billy Weil

I’m a big fan of improvisational comedy – it’s great fun to watch how the actors play off each other and how creative they can be when they do. My kids and I have watched hours of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and marveled at the talents of Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles. I’ve never done improv and I’ve always wanted to try it. The only thing I know about improv is the “First Rule” which is to never say “No.”

In Pathwork, the guide teaches that we’re programmed to respond autonomically – more of an involuntary, unconscious reaction – despite how conscious we may think we are being. Moreover, we have an overwhelmingly negative bias.  So many times we respond with an automatic “no.”

Most of us live more like life is scripted, than improv. I know I do.  If something doesn’t flow right into my comfort zone, I’m too often an automatic “no.” Or at least I’m a “no” first. Maybe if you come back to me, I’ll open my thinking, but if you don’t, the subject will be closed.

Saying “no” shuts everything down – the conversation and the energy. As with improv, it doesn’t allow your partner(s) to move the scene forward.  It stops the flow.

Often, this is our vain attempt at control. Saying “no” is safe. Saying “no” gives us the final answer.

But as the guide teaches us, having control is really the booby prize. It has no intrinsic value, and it robs us of a more free and flowing energy and connection with others, and with the universe.

In Pathwork, our first main step is to become conscious and actually see who we are and how we function.  It could be powerful to see how often we automatically say no, and how this creates an illusion of safety.

What delights might be possible if you were always a “yes” first, rather than an automatic “no?”

Can you imagine the difference in your energy level, happiness and feelings of connection if the people in your life responded to you with “yes, and…” (not “yes, but…”) instead of “no” on a constant basis?

So much happens in the pauses in between – in that fraction of a second when someone says something to you, and your brain (mostly unconsciously) makes up its mind how it’s going to respond. What if we just took a breath in that pause? What if we just considered a “yes, and” – how might that change things?

This is my New Year’s Prayer. I’m setting an intention to take a pause after people speak with me, observe my tendency to respond negatively, and make more conscious choices about how I do respond.

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