Changing ‘Yes but’ to ‘Yes and’ – Lessons in Life and Problem Solving from Improv and Brainstorming

One of the great lessons from theatre improvization (improv or impro) games is the rule of ‘Yes and’. All too often in life we ‘yes but’ everything. This is especially true of people who solicit advice for their problems only to block any suggestion. Sometimes people don’t want solutions, they just want to justify their position of not doing anything about their problems. Be clear,  ‘Yes but’  always means ‘NO’.

In improv, the basic principle is ‘yes and’. That is, we accept what’s being offered and add something to it. Offers can be anything from words, expressions, body language, descriptions and so on. The idea is to endow your fellow players with qualities and for them to do the same in return. It’s a collaborative, cooperative process. Together you spontaneously create a scenarios and characters. The humour arises from the surprises and not contriving clever lines. It’s not about making yourself look good it’s about making other people in the scene look good.

When first creating scenes in improv it’s common for beginners to block offers. So for instance, a fellow player may say ‘Would you like this balloon?’ Following the ‘yes and’ rule, you accept the balloon and expand upon it. So it may lead to a scene at the fair or a birthday party. However, if you say ‘No I hate balloons’, then you have blocked the offer and halted the scene. It may be mild panic and ‘no’ was the first thing that came into your head. It may be that you had your own idea of how things should turn out. Either way, it’s easy to see that if everyone blocked offers then no scenes can ever develop. It’s the same with solutions to problems in everyday life.

There are parallels between this basic improv principle and brainstorming for problem solving. It’s a standard practice that there should be no premature censoring of ideas.The first stage is to collect ideas however preposterous they may seem. The second stage is to sift through them. Sometimes an idea that at first seemed unfeasible, or downright silly, may inspire another idea that may lead to a solution. If we dismiss ideas prematurely we may unwittingly be dismissing solutions that spring from these ideas.

The idea of playing a ‘yes and’ game has great applications in real-life especially in times of ‘stuckness’. The crucial question to ask yourself is whether you are being a ‘yes butter’ or a ‘yes ander’? The ‘yes and’ approach will undoubtedly create options you may not have thought of,  especially in times of stress. When stressed we tend to see things in black and white and our responses become focused on survive rather than thrive. It’s amazing how our perceptions change when we relax. In fact it’s  the optimal state for learning and is why I begin my confidence building workshops with relaxation exercises, a few improv games and occasionally balloons! It gets everyone in a receptive ‘solution-focused’ mindset.

So the upshot is that it’s difficult to find solutions for life’s problems from a position of stress where you vision of the possible paths and outcomes may be limited. Solutions will emerge if you relax, adopt a ‘yes and’ approach and don’t prematurely censor possible solutions.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

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Dealing with “Stuckness” – Tips For Making Decisions In Times of Overwhelm

Stuckness, choices and overwhelm

Inevitably at some time in our lives we will experience “stuckness” – the state when we feel overwhelmed by choice. It could be we have to choose between to equally bad choices (the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place’) or two equally positive choices. Alternatively we can be swamped by too many choices. It could also be that we need to take action to generate choices. So how do we break out of a state of “stuckness”? Here are some suggestions to help to create a shift.

Dealing With basic survival needs in decision making

We are better equipped to make decisions if we are fed, watered and rested. So making sure you eat healthily when the temptation is to hit the junk food.  Drink some water when you’re more inclined to reach for the coffee. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. A little fresh air such as walk in the park can do wonders to clear the head. Exercises has also been shown to boost cognitive abilities. In short, look after yourself and your body and a clearer mind will follow. All of these are the basic building blocks for dealing with mental fatigue as well a basis for building confidence.

Dealing with unfamiliarity in decision making

Just asking two simple questions can help to create a shift in perspective when faced with choices. It does help if one of your core values is learning. Do you like to try new experiences? Will the choices ahead contribute to your personal or professional development? When experience demands on my time presented as ‘opportunities’ from other people I always asked these questions. Of course, I try to help whenever I can, but sometimes I just need to set my own priorities. This sets me up for the next tool.

Apply the ‘Absolutely Yes’ or ‘No’ Rule

If I’m trying to deal with competing demands on my time I ask the question ‘Do I want/need to do this, ‘absolutely yes’ or ‘no’? If I can’t say ‘absolutely yes’ then it’s automatically ‘no’. Sometimes I need to ask myself ‘am I just saying no because I’m scared or because it’s a challenge or a new experience?’. This helps me to make sure I’m just  saying ‘no’ out of fear. Often the difference between fear and excitement is about perception.This brings me to the next tool.

Which choices best match my core values?

Having a sense of my values helps with decision making. Two of my values are ‘learning’ and ‘making a difference’. Knowing your values can help to eliminate some choices and increase the attractiveness of others. Your values are a statement of ‘what you stand for’ in life. Linking goals and values means that we gain a lot of intrinsic motivation to complete them.

And finally if all else fails. . .

Toss a coin

If you are faced with two equally compelling (or repellent) choices then just toss a coin and try one out. Really commit to the decision and put effort into it to make it work for you.

So there you have a few coaching techniques and a few personal insights to clear a sense of ‘stuckness’.

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That’s Just The Way I Am! (& Problem Solving)

If the doors of our perception were to be cleansed, everything would appear to us as it is, infinite

– William Blake

Sit still for a moment and listen. What can you hear? Scan the environment for sounds. It could be the fan of your computer or the dull hum of traffic noise. Now that you’ve switched your attention to them, you can hear them. Moments before, you had been screening them out. Now focus on your other senses and find out what else you’ve been screening out.

Attention
You see, we can’t pay attention to every tiny bit of information that comes our way. If we did, our heads would have to be huge. Instead, in the interests of cognitive economy, we operate a filtering system that screens out a great deal of the information in our environment  So. you just have to pay attention to the ‘good stuff’. In reality we have a self-limited view of the world. Now this is great for keeping us focused on ‘the good stuff’ but it can also mean we miss opportunities and different ways of viewing the world.

Novelty and Consistency
So, it’s just as well that we have a drive for novelty that balances our need for consistency. Getting these competing drives in balance is crucial. Too much consistency and we need consider anything new and too much novelty and we lose all sense of consistency.

All too often routine consistency wins out and when faced with a problem we are inclined to keep trying the same old thing over and over again, just like the fly that keeps head butting the window to get outside. It ignores the open window.

Perceptual Filters
As anthropologist Ruth Benedict says ‘No one sees the world with pristine eyes’. Rather each of us sees the world in a slightly different way through a series of filters that colour our perceptions. Factors such as gender, culture, ethnicity, age, sexuality, peer groups, upbringing, environment and education all have an impact on how we view the world. To this list we can add mood swings, different situations, time of day, whether we are tired, hungry or thirsty, likes and dislikes, needs and values. We filter information on the basis of personal relevance but that doesn’t mean that other information is not available to us. It is. We just screen it out.

Attention and Perception
All of these things also have an impact on what we pay attention to.  All of these filters are used to let through the relevant and screen out the irrelevant or novel. It becomes a closed system, a cycle where perception determines attention which in turn determines and reinforces perceptions. In this way we maintain our view of the world. If we allow our perceptions to narrowly define what we pay attention to, then we limit opportunities for learning and change often characterised by the phrase ‘Well that’s just the way I am’.

Problem Solving
To paraphrase Einstein ‘you can’t solve your problems with the same level of thinking that created them’. This means you need a fresh mindset. So review the categories that define ‘the way you are’ and then imagine approaching the problem from the perspective of someone totally different from you. Think about things as a different gender, race, ethnicity and so on. Think of a resourceful person you know or admire, real or fictional and ask how they would approach the problem. Approach problems at different times of the day. Also, break your daily routine. Go a different way to work, eat a different breakfast and so on. Set your alarm clock half an hour earlier. Small changes in routine can yield bigger changes in perspective. Most importantly of all, focus on solutions. Spend 20% of your time defining the problem and 80% of the time looking for solutions. Consider any solution no matter how implausible or silly. Just write down as many as you can from lots of different perspectives without censoring your thoughts. Review the solutions later.

Whenever you use the phrase ‘That’s just the way I am’ you are denying access to an enormous capacity for resourcefulness.


[Explore your perceptual filters, values and strengths in ‘Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . .Swim Out To Meet It‘ ]

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So How Did You Get This Far? Solution Focused, Strengths Focused Learning

If you got 40% and passed a test, what would be your first question? Would it be:

  1. What happened to the other 60%, or
  2. What did I do to pass and get 40%

If it’s answer 1, then you’re taking a ‘weakness focused’ approach.

If it’s answer 2, you’re taking a ‘strengths focused approach’

Personal development often focuses on improving weaknesses but there’s a body of research that argues a ‘strengths-based’ approach is more effective. In short, we can’t all be fabulous at everything.To attempt to do so would require massive effort. It’s more economical to invest more time in what we are already good at, so we can specialize and excel (we can then manage the weaknesses).

I remember hearing of a child who arrived home with a staggering 96% on a maths test. The response of one of the parents was ‘What happened to the other 4%?’ Whereas they should have be celebrating the 96%. The questions they should have asked are:

  • What did you do to get that result?
  • Was there anything that you really think helped that you can do more of next time?
  • What strengths and qualities helped you get this far?
  • What did you do differently this time?
  • Is there something that you use to do that you stopped doing this time?
  • What can you let go of that didn’t help?
  • What else did you do?
  • What else?

With the strengths focused approach you concentrate on what you have already attained and then build on it, whether it’s 96%, 57%, 40% or 22%. This makes sense as it is the same approach we use with babies. After witnessing a baby’s first step, surely you wouldn’t dream of saying ‘And why didn’t you run around the coffee table?’ No, you’d praise them, encourage them to try again and focus on how they managed to take that first step. Now think about the staggering amount that babies manage to learn in a very short space of time.

You can apply the same to any goal you’ve set and tried for. If you didn’t get that 100% result, try focusing on what you have actually achieved and how you got there. Using the above questions you will use the feedback to build on strengths. If you obsess over what you didn’t get, you’ll probably lose motivation and give up! So go back and review previous attempts at goals and apply the strengths-focused questions. You have everything to gain.

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Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It!