Be Obvious. Getting unstuck by writing down the facts.

I make a deliberate effort to post only things that I feel add positivity to the world, so you may mistake me for an-always-optimistic-person. That’s the benefit of having such a curated online existence! But as an unedited human, living the day-to-day off the screen sometimes I too hit every red light, burn the toast, snap at the sales rep, or feel down for no clear reason at all.

In the early days of my interest in mindfulness and deliberate living, I thought the goal was to eliminate the down days and maximize and multiply the up days. But now I realize that the down days make the up days up and that I can experience the down as part of the beauty of the human experience with the full knowledge that I’ll get out of it.

Getting out of it, though, is something that I’m mystified and intrigued by. It eludes me a little less with this practice inspired by improvisational theater (improv).

Gary Hirsch gave an improv workshop at WDS and wrangled all 3000 of us into what may have been the world’s largest improv scene. It was awesome and Gary’s energy and enthusiasm was inspiring. If I hadn’t already signed up for an improv class having caught wind of how amazing it was from a different conference, I would have ridden the wave of inspiration and done so immediately after his 3000 person improv session. Gary was walking around in a shirt that said, “Be obvious.”

It struck me in that moment as incredibly insightful. In improv being obvious relieves the mental pressure to come up with something funny. Watching some professional improvisers do their thing the other week, one gal (or, rather, her character) completely misunderstood when her scene partner called her a “working girl.” We all understood it to mean “prostitute,” but she took it at face value. The entire scene then developed around this character’s naïveté. They just went with what was given. That’s the beauty of improv. It’s all “and” and no “but.” There’s no “you misunderstood me”; it’s all an opportunity to build something hilarious.

I started to notice the value this principle had off the stage in my daily life.

For example, I’ve recently moved to Portland, Oregon. It’s quite a transition to be in a new part of the country, to live in a city after 5 years of rural living, to be working again after 9-months off. Mostly it feels great, but as with any moment of growth (or just life), there is some pain. Some loneliness. Sometimes I feel anxious or sad or worried or irritated. So I started this practice of just listing off, in the most matter of fact way possible, the things that are happening in my life or my day. Be obvious.

In being obvious I might say something like: There’s sunshine today. You are looking out a window onto four rows of food and flowers growing out of the ground, you are sitting in your yellow room that came fully furnished in a house that feels good to be in.You’ve just moved yourself to Portland, Oregon. (And then I often marvel for a second that I actually did that, got myself here, and that everything is fine. Better than fine, even! Miracles happened…then I’m off in the vivacious circle of goodness in no time! Well, at least some of the time that happens.)

I try to start out with facts that are simple with a tinge of positivity, but nothing over-the-top optimistic or enthusiastic. I do steer a bit away from facts that give momentum to pouting, irritation, etc. And it turns out that it doesn’t take that many slightly-positively-tinged facts to start to shift my mood and my outlook.

Be obvious. What do you see in your life right now?

Let go. Notice more. Use Everything.

“Let go.
Notice more.
Use everything.
…since each of these phrases is also an action, you could start practicing now without even getting into specifics. In the very next conversation you have, you could let go of trying to control the outcome, devote more attention to what other people say or make an effort to use anything that happens to feed the flow of the conversation—including interruptions, disagreements or misunderstandings that you might normally ignore. A small shift perhaps, but one that, if taken to heart, can create a big difference.
The advantage of this simple practice is that you have less to remember. It relieves the pressure of keeping up with the explosion of new ideas that abound in the management literature (or the self-help books). You can exchange the restless search or a quick fix for the quiet patience of a practice. Whatever happens, you can go back to the same simple, familiar ideas and apply them again. Over time you deepen and internalize your understanding, so that you can bring these ideas to bear quickly and easily, without even thinking about them consciously.”

A longtime believer in the power of practices (as opposed to changing behavior through sheer willpower or “step” systems) and a newcomer to the world of improvisational theater, I nearly cheered aloud when I read this passage from Robert Poynton’s Everything’s An Offer: How To Do More with Less , a book on using improvisational theater in everyday life.

I started to think of my big 3 practices for life in a new light. Less to remember! Bypass information glut! Yay!

My guiding practices are:

Nonviolent communication. (Practicing mostly informally for about 3 years.) It helps me with authentic participation and connection.
Improv. (Practicing for 3 weeks.) It further supports this by helping me practice non-judgment and acceptance (saying yes).
And Vipassana Meditation (practicing for 7 months) forms a solid foundation with perhaps the most general and seriously useful practice of equanimity (seeing things as they are and not blindly reacting).

Do you have practices that you find you keep coming back to?