Tag Archives: Managing fear

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Improvising and saying ‘yes’

Recently, I’ve been inspired by reading a gem of a book called Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson. Since drama club has always been my personal nemesis, I was surprised how strongly I connected with her ideas and how her writing felt relevant for my work as an art therapist.

Although I enjoy watching performances, I feel quite self-conscious as a performer. I have anxious memories of a teacher in secondary school who saw some comedy talent in me and insisted on me starring in the school play. In the originally planned play I would have been playing a queen – now that Olivia Colman won an Oscar for her performance in The Favourite I wonder whether I’ve missed a trick… But I ended up being a lion in a much shorter play with the added benefit of having no lines other than a roar.

What stood out for me was that all the thirteen maxims covered in this book felt so relevant for someone working with a relational approach. And in the end, aren’t we all working relationally, i.e. being in relationships with colleagues, clients, suppliers and collaborators during the workday. And we continue being in relationship in our private lives with partners, families, friends and kids.

Patricia Madson encourages us to improvise our lives. She describes the ‘improv world’ as people who are easy to be with. Who doesn’t want to be ‘easy to be with’??? She encourages us to say ‘yes’ and makes the important distinction that saying ‘yes’ doesn’t and shouldn’t turn anyone into a yes-person or doormat. But it can open up some spontaneity, it lets you risk stepping into the unknown and uncomfortable.

Improvising and risk taking are hard. Evolution has given us a solid planning instinct to make sure we make it over the winter and periods low on food. Modern life continues to incentivise those well organised and prepared, it even tries to sell us funeral insurance! I’m not opposed to some sensible retirement planning, and if it helps someone to juggle their lives meal planning is also fine. But I often feel that all this planning makes us less and less comfortable to sit with stretches of unfilled time, risk or uncertainty. Without a clear direction or next step, we easily start to feel fear rising in us. We fear failure and embarrassment when we take a risk that doesn’t pay off. We fear the lack of control when we have to improvise or abandon plans. We fear rejection when others might disapprove of a decision or action we take. And FOMO (fear of missing out) is of course a well-established fear that drives us to plan and fill our days to the brim with activities.

But when we manage to stop running away from fear (assuming there is no danger to our lives) and find out what fear is trying to alert us to it can be a very insightful and useful emotion. It can motivate us and inject energy to act in a certain direction. With the mindset of improvising and an awareness of the function of fear we can say ‘yes’ to something despite a sense of dread, anxiety or worry.

I’m saying ‘yes’ to running two workshops combining some ideas of improv theatre with art therapy processes. What are you saying ‘yes’ to?

Find out more about my work at Sensemaking Space