Stephen Colbert on Improv in Life

YES!In performing improv, the first rule is to say “Yes”. Well, many rules of improv apply equally or better to life. In a commencement speech to Knox College last year, Stephen shares this tidbit with the graduates.

So, say “yes.” In fact, say “yes” as often as you can. When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, “yes-and.” In this case, “yes-and” is a verb. To “yes-and.” I yes-and, you yes-and, he, she or it yes-ands. And yes-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what’s going to happen, maybe with someone you’ve never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you’re doctors—you’re doctors. And then, you add to that: We’re doctors and we’re trapped in an ice cave. That’s the “-and.” And then hopefully they “yes-and” you back. You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other’s lead, neither of you are really in control. It’s more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure. What happens in a scene is often as much a surprise to you as it is to the audience.

Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say “yes.” And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say “yes” back.

Now will saying “yes” get you in trouble at times? Will saying “yes” lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes.”


Personal Challenge #12: Five a Day for Good Health

Fruits and Veggies.My fiancee has offered the next personal challenge: To eat a total of five servings of fruits and vegatables each day. She is planning on doing this for a whole month, but the challenge is only for two weeks. We are hoping that eating more good food will fill us up and leave less room for junk food. With our wedding rapidly approaching, maybe we will be heathier and fitter for our big day too.

We can still eat chocolate and ice cream. She hasn’t gone completely crazy.

Personal Challenge Recap

Managing GoalsHere is a recap of challenges that have been posted on this site in the last month.

I’ve finished most of the first half, and most of the second half is in progress or wrapping up. You can join pick any ones you like and join in anytime.

Dressing Up for Interviews or a New Job

Work Clothes.Getting Started
If you are a male who is interviewing for or starting a job that requires a suit and tie, go to Brooks Brothers. Take a good look at the suits. Take a good look at the ties. You want suits and ties that look like these, but do not buy them there. They are overpriced for someone who is starting out.

Brooks Brothers’ shirts are a different story. The quality and value are exceptional. They cost twice as much as other shirts, but they look three times as good and last four times as long. Also, when you take them out of the dryer, they look great. This feature saves a bundle of money on dry cleaning and saves a bunch of time on ironing. Most of the shirts here will be blue and white with some sort of stripe pattern. Any dress shirts that you find here will be appropriate for work.

For suits, you can go somewhere like Men’s Warehouse. A safe foundation is a dark blue suit, a black suit, and a charcoal grey pinstripe suit. Do not chase current trends. Buy suits that you think would be in fashion either ten years ago or ten years from now. The suits at Men’s Warehouse are reasonably priced, but the shirts, ties, and accessories have high markups. As a result, the sales people have become masters at cross-sell you ugly, overpriced shirts, ties and accessories. They will happily push shirts, ties, and suspenders on you in green, purple, and cream. They will sound convincing, but do not fall into their trap.

For shoes, I recommend Bostonian. They are a good balance of quality, price, comfort, and appearance. Shoes and belt should be the same color. I’ve used the rule that one should wear dark brown shoes (not tan!) with a blue suit, but since then, I’ve heard the rule is to wear black shoes with a blue suit. If you do some searching online, you will find many people who are strongly in one camp or the other. I am going to go out on a limb and say that you can wear either (but keep your eyes open to see what your colleagues are wearing).

For ties, I recommend simple ties in red, blue, or yellow that are bold in a conservative way and conservative in a bold way. Here you have more leeway to follow current trends. Andrew’s Ties and Benetton have good-looking, good-value ties. Your local department store will have a wide selection of good and bad ties. So, do not go there until you have an idea of what constitutes good and bad.

Learn to tie a nice solid knot. If the tie is thinner material or the gap in the collar is wide, use a full Windsor. If the tie is thick material or the gap in the collar is narrower, use a half Windsor.

I am not a fashion expert. These are just my personal observations and recommendations. I haven’t had to wear a suit to work in several years. (I do think Brooks Brothers shirts are great for business casual too, but I am at a loss for suggestions regarding business casual pants or shoes.)

Challenge #9: Now We Never Need to Clean Again?

[Need to Clean]Wow, I was naive about this clean for a week challenge! I did use my egg timer. I did do good things. However, the time spent cleaning made such a tiny dent in the things that I wanted to address.

After this week, I have a better understanding of the problem, which is this: There is maintenance cleaning and there is deep cleaning.

Maintenance Cleaning
Maintenance cleaning is the laundry, dishwashing, incoming mail, vacuuming, garbage, and recycling. Yet, all this stuff can easily take up those 15 minutes a day. So, after following this challenge for a week (or a month, or a year), you are no closer to where you want to be. The original challenge wasn’t supposed to be about this stuff.

Deep Cleaning
Deep cleaning means dealing with all that stuff in your various junk drawers, all that stuff in piles or boxes, all that stuff that you don’t know what to do with. After you take care of this stuff, your life becomes simpler and happier. The physical clutter is hidden in the back of a closet is manifested as clutter that you carry in the back of your head.

Updated Challenge
I am extending this challenge for two more weeks and I am adding a new rule. The new rule is that you have to spend at least half of your time doing non-maintenance cleaning.

Remember, organizing isn’t import because it helps you find your stuff. Organizing is important because it helps you find your peace. (I just made that up. It sounds famous. Doesn’t it?)

Completing Challenge #8: Learn to Play a New Song

A GuitarThis musical challenge has a surprise ending, just like the “I see dead people” movie and the “guy crying in the bathtub” movie. To compete this challenge you need to perform the song that you just learned this week for someone else.

If you need chord charts or lyrics for the performance, I suppose that is OK. If you are really dreading this, your alternate option is to perform this song for yourself by making a recording of it.

Me? I’ll be playing a Damien Rice song for my fiancee. I don’t like performing, but I am crazy about her.

Psycho Runs Manhattan

Jogger.Here is a woman who made a ridiculous plan without thinking about it first. She wants to run the entirety of every street on the island of Manhattan.

She has no idea how many miles this is. She doesn’t know how long it will take. She decided to do this, but without any idea of what she could possibly gain from it.

What do I think of this crazy and ill-conceived plan? It is brilliant! Inspired! Inspirational! Many years from now as she tells her grandchildren about her accomplishment, I will be telling my grandchildren that I flossed everyday for the span of two weeks.

Good Luck, Ridiculous-Plan-Girl! I am adding you to my “blogroll” so we can check on your progress.

That reminds me. I have to start saving up money so years from now I can afford to buy my grandchildren expensive gifts so they will like me and not think that I am a loser (even if I do still have all my teeth). Either that, or I need to start some better challenges!

Personal Challenge #11: Memorize All Your Vital Information

Numbers! Numbers! Numbers!For this challenge, you have a week to memorize all the numbers for your primary credit card, checking account, driver license, and social security. (Am I missing anything?) Maybe you already know all these of these, or maybe you just moved, got married, opened a new account, and went into witness protection.

When I used to know this stuff, it came it handy. These days, the Internet remembers these for me, which is nice until I visit a new site or when I try to use my credit card over the phone. It is strange that I still know more of my old long-gone numbers than my current numbers, but NOT FOR LONG! In one week, I will know them all! Hopefully, so will you!

Good luck!

Personal Challenge #10: Complete a Crossword Puzzle

Crossword!I suspect that most people have never completed a crossword puzzle before. Maybe you’ve picked one up and filled out a few answers and gave up, but have you really completed one?

I’m planning on doing next Monday’s New York Times crossword puzzle. I’m doing the New York Times one because it is considered by many to be the best. I’m doing the Monday one, because it is the easiest.

I’ve give everyone a week for this challenge. Try to find one close to the level of difficulty that you can handle. Spend a few sessions hammering away at it. Don’t forget to get the next day’s paper to get the answers (but put it away until you are really done with the puzzle).

Good luck!

What Happens When You Fail?

CookiesExcuses are the biggest obstacle to adopting and maintaining good habits.

For this reason, these “Do Something Everyday” challenges are easier than a “Do Something Three Times a Week” challenge. The absolute nature of these “Do Something Everyday” challenges apply tremendous positive force to integrate new habits into your life. They are bulletproof to excuses. You can’t say, “Maybe I’ll skip today and do it tomorrow instead.”

There is a flip side to this though. The problem with these “Do Something Everyday” challenges is that every once in a while you will really, really need to skip a day. That skipped day isn’t even that big a problem. The problem is the day after that and the day after that. As soon as the challenge loses it absolute nature, it looses its teeth.

This is like the dieter that has two pieces of chocolate cake, and then says, “Oh well. My diet is ruined. I might as well have a few more pieces.”

Failing one day does not mean that you have failed the challenge. It means that things just got harder and it is up to you to overcome, persist, and prevail.

Before you start a personal challenge, make up sensible rules and even escape clauses. For example, if you are trying to give up caffeine:

  • “I can have X units caffeine if I’ve had less than Y hours of sleep” is a sensible rule.
  • “I can have X units of caffeine if I am driving and staying awake is a safety concern” is a sensible rule.
  • “I can have caffeine if I’ve had a bad day” is the type of bad rule you would make up in the middle of a bad day. Don’t let yourself do this.

So, make your rules first and stick to them. If you miss a day, don’t give up. You haven’t failed. Stay the course and try harder.