Improvisation: Flexibility and Creativity for Mental Wellness

Improvisation: Flexibility and Creativity for Mental Wellness


Improving Mental Wellness with Improvisation

What is improvisation, anyway? Google a definition and you’ll get “the act of improvising” – helpful, isn’t it? Let’s try looking up “improvising” then: “producing or making (something) from whatever is available.”  There we go! That we can work with. Improvisation, broadly speaking, is the art of making something from what’s available. There’s a good chance that thinking about improvisation brings to mind comedians like Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, or Wayne Brady and their run on “Whose Line is it Anyway?” for some folks. You might think of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, or Kate McKinnon. Saturday Night Live is probably up there. Some of the best moments in movies were totally unscripted and improvised. Pretty much all of Robin Williams’ lines in Aladdin (heck, most of Robin Williams’ work). Miracle Max in The Princess Bride. Willie Wonka’s summersault. The jewelry scene in Pretty Woman.

Responding, Not Reacting

So what the heck makes improvisation a good pick for this week’s theme? It’s right up there in that definition – making something from whatever is available. It’s about taking what you have on hand, what you’ve experienced and know, new things and old, and making something else from it all, to deal with whatever it is that’s going on. It would be easy enough to get hung up on the idea that improvisation is just reacting to the situation at hand and hoping for the best. But those folks listed before? What makes them really good at what they do? It’s not reacting but responding. It’s taking everything they’ve done before, everything they’re noticing in the moment, and thinking – very quickly – and offering up a response. It doesn’t form in a vacuum. It’s forged in the furnace of experience.

Some Practice Ideas for Mental Health

Getting through life, in a lot of ways, is about learning to improvise – make something from whatever is available. If you’re a parent, you probably improvise all the time. Forget to go grocery shopping and have a kid’s lunch to put together? Are you in a relationship? Ever forget something important and have to come up with something on the fly? As I sat down to write the theme for this week, I did some online digging about ways to be a better improviser, and I chuckled at how many of those tips mapped perfectly to ways to have a better life or to improve your mental health:
  • Learning to embrace your power and your fear
  • Feeling confident that whatever exists inside you is enough to deal with any situation that arises
  • Being a good, active listener
  • Being a better collaborator
  • Learn to be adaptable
  • Work on creativity and curiosity
  • Being in touch with your emotions
  • Be patient and practice
  • Think about the audience, if it doesn’t make sense to you, it won’t make sense to them
So this week, spend some time practicing those things. Let yourselves be curious. Work on being better listeners. Embrace your power and your fear. Really work on NOTICING. And when something comes up that you need to deal with, remember to take a deep breath, think about your audience, and respond to that situation by drawing on everything you’ve got at hand. For some inspiration, watch just about ANYTHING with Robin Williams in it, especially his live stuff where he interacts with the audience. Google “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and watch an episode or two. To really stretch your muscles, take an improv class some time (a lot of places have ‘Drop in’ nights where anyone is welcome to come.)
Weekly Theme: the Hero’s Journey

Weekly Theme: the Hero’s Journey

Hero's Journey concept - woman in cape standing at top of hill

Allies and Adversaries

We are all heroes, though dormancy does settle in now and again. Waiting dreamily, many of us, for something to rouse us from our slumber so that we may fully awaken into our Hero’s Journey. That moment can be now. Adversaries will be easy to find, as will allies, if you know how to look. Adversaries usually take a form starkly similar to our own, and are driven by a similar, yet slightly jilted, force. Our allies, unexpectedly, may seem foreign, because the truth that our allies often show us is shocking and unlike anything we have stood up to in the past. Our enemies await us in hard-to-reach places. That is where the Kraken, the Grendel, and the Minotaur make their nests. In dark mazes, far beyond the comforts of what we know.  Our allies and friends and trusted advisors are usually right here. Always closer than you think.


The Hero of Our Own Lives

We all, every one of us, have an innate destiny to be the HERO of our own lives. Waking up and breaking through to a newer understanding of who we are and who we choose to become.  And yes, there will likely be many Hero’s Journeys once we get the hang of it. Each one brimming with new meaning and vistas and friends. Sometimes the journey ends badly. Too often, the hero never reaches the point of defeating her nemesis. Many times, the hero gets lost in the labyrinth or the dark forest and he is never seen or heard from again. Sometimes the hero takes the wrong advice and ends up lost before they ever had a chance to find.


The Mission of Barn Life Recovery

On the other hand, sometimes, against insurmountable odds and uncanny turns, the hero penetrates deep within and vanquishes the darkness around them. Our wish, hope and, practice at Barn Life Recovery is to improve the likelihood of this far too rare outcome. Everyone is the hero of their life. We are all on a journey of self-discovery and “meaning-making”. We all stand at the brink of transforming our lives and mental health forever. We’re here at Barn Life to help each other and support one another in this noblest of human endeavors: to do better, to feel better, and to be better. Even if it’s just a little bit better.


Cultivating the Hero Within

What makes a hero? Is it what heroes say that makes them different or what they do? Are heroes defined by their actions? What aspects or characteristics do most heroes share? Is there a way to cultivate heroic qualities in ourselves? Joseph Campbell is a good place to start when talking about the significance of heroes. Also exploring the world of Marvel and DC comics, who have created many of the modern-day archetypes for superheroes, is a good place to explore.  The mirror is a good starting point too. Who were your first heroes? Who were your last?