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Often people say, “don’t ask me to change. I’ve always been this way, I can’t change”. If you don’t believe you can change, you can’t.
Not only is possible to do things differently, you can learn to experience life differently. I’ve seen my clients go through significant life transformations. Let me tell you how they did it.
Imagine you’re an actor in play. You’re having one of those days where everything goes badly, totally wrong. You’re frustrated, irritated, and angry. Now it’s show time, the moment to go on stage and perform. You have to perform so that the audience experiences the emotionality of your stage character and not the emotionality of your “bad” day. We are all capable of this.
The Freudian myth
Our culture is based on the Freudian myth that our emotionality, how we “feel” this moment is the result of what happened to us; 5 seconds ago, 5 minutes ago, 5 years ago, 50 years ago. “Of course, I’m angry, I just got a traffic ticket”; “I was abused as a child”; “my spouse left me”; “I have this condition”; fill in the blank.
The belief that “I feel this way because of what happened to me” is a significant myth of our culture. Nearly everyone believes it. However, the fact is we all have the capacity to perform other than our habits. We can perform the character we want to be. We can perform at any given moment and every moment of our lives. We can be present in the moment and create with what is happening now. No matter what happened before.
Recent discoveries in psychology have shown that everything we do is a performance. What we “feel” to be natural are, neurologically speaking, old habits. By performing how we want to be, we create our emotionality and who we are becoming.
“Isn’t that faking?” Performing in a new way is no less genuine for being a new activity. It feels different because you’re doing something different, something new.
We are who we are, and simultaneously who we are becoming. If we do what we always do, we become who we have always been, that is, we remain the same. If we do something new, we stretch, we grow, we develop, this how you can create a new way of experiencing you.
Break out of your rut – Learn to play again
Our culture unfortunately separates work and learning from play. This is a big mistake. It is why so many people hate their jobs and never like school. It’s how people get caught in a rut of routines. We can break out of our ruts. Recently, there’s been an increase recognition in the significance of play, not just for children, but for adults.
Child’s play is very different from adult forms of play. If you ask an adult to play a game, the adult will ask, “what are the rules”. Adults like to play by the rules. Psychologist call it ruled governed play.
When children play, they make up the their play as they play. No rules. They create new social environments. This is what leading psychologists are now saying is what helps us grow emotionally. This is the secret to learning and developing: create new social environments. Child’s play.
All animals learn from play when young. Watch puppies, kittens, monkeys, and cubs. The significance of play in the socialization of our children has long been recognized. More recently, the significance of play in learning is being advanced. Many corporations are now providing workshops for their top executive on how to play. Why? It creates teamwork and creativity.
What is important for us to discover is how we as adults can re-learn the value of play and use it to perform our lives differently. We can grow to experience life differently. We can play in developmentally valuable ways. So, how can we integrate play into our daily lives at home, at work?
The value of improvisational play for adults
There is in the theater world a form of performing that captures the growthful elements of child’s play. It’s called Improv. And, it is something everyone can do.
An important element of my therapy practice is developing my clients’ improvisational skills. Which doesn’t mean trying to be funny; it means being present and responding to what’s happening now. Improvisation has many therapeutic values as it engages the mind, fosters cooperative interaction, and relieves stress.
When using improv games, you must play collaboratively with others; as we should at work and at home. It builds interpersonal connections while simultaneously producing creativity and confidence. An environment of openness, acceptance and trust is created. Creating these environments is growthful and will make life joyful.
How is playing Improv growthful?
In the environments created through improvisation, you are free to take on new roles, be silly and make mistakes. These are elements of life fundamental to growing and developing.
We often get stuck in our roles as parent, student, boss, subordinate. Our roles are scripted, “Don’t talk to me that way, I’m you father.” “I can’t say that to him, he’s my boss”. Stuck in our roles, we can’t be intimate, we can’t create, we can’t grow.
Breaking out of our roles allows us to be present and responsive with others. It allows us to create something new with others.
As a therapist, I have found that people who have difficulty being silly, have difficulty trying new things.
It’s understandable that we don’t want to be embarrassed or humiliated. Still, when that’s the overriding concern, it holds us back from trying to do new things. We become self-conscious. We become unnecessarily cautious and in our “head”. That keeps us distant from others.
If you are willing to be silly, accustom yourself to laughing at yourself with others, you are more likely to be open with others about personal matters.
Which Emotions are too powerful to keep private?
Often, people who don’t share their feeling of shame, guilt, humiliation develop a variety of kinds of emotional difficulties. In my therapy practice I have met numerous clients who suffered being depressed, isolated and guilt-ridden. Why, because they kept private, secret, somethings that in fact was quite ordinary.
When you keep something a secret, it becomes exaggerated in importance. You come to believe there is something seriously wrong with you. Thus, all the more you don’t want to tell anybody. This is one of the leading causes of emotional difficulties.
Try this simple exercise. Say and do something stupid and silly in an unexpected moment. If you have a strong resistance to doing so, or can’t, then you need to practice being playfully silly.
Making mistakes is good for you
Improvisation is a form of play that allows for mistakes because there are no mistakes in improv.
We are mis-educated in school not to make mistakes. This makes us conservative in what we are willing to try. We don’t want to make mistakes. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “those who haven’t made mistakes haven’t tried anything.”
If we are not making many mistakes daily, we are not placing ourselves in opportunities to learn and grow. Many people will only stay within what they already know. They stay with what they are sure they will get “right”. There is no learning and growing in sticking to what you already know.
Now I’m not recommending that you take Improv classes as a form of therapy, rather do it for the fun of it. You can learn to perform and be different. It can only be good for you.