I know.

Jill Bernard’s Cute Little Book of Improv has a memorable idea: that we all walk around with imaginary placards that say ‘Perpetual self-doubt.’

This was true for me for a long time and cost me in quite a few opportunities not taken, relationships that didn’t grow and roads left untravelled.

Doubt has it’s value of course. It’s the foundation of a scientific worldview. But when it comes to the human scale, self-doubt (or worse…perpetual self-doubt) gets in the way of being fully engaged in the moment and trusting your impulses.

And trusting your impulses is one of the core tenets of improvisation. It helps us to be in the moment, to commit to expressing ourselves and supporting each other’s offers.

As Ram Dass said in Be Here Now “The mindless quality of total involvement only comes when the ego is quiet and there is no attachment.” When the ego is driving things there is usually a sense of fear and contracted energy. So if you choose to improvise on stage, in life then trusting yourself is vital.

Like all rules it suffers from rigid interpretation and has its limitations and statutes to prop it up. There are various moves afoot in the world of improvisation to dethrone ‘Yes and’ or at least to curtail it’s powers and stop it being obeyed as an absolute monarch with a divine right to rule.

From ‘Yes, and’ to ‘I know’

Saying “Yes, and” is one of the most common tenets of improvisation. It’s a powerful and valuable idea that is worth understanding. But when it’s taken on face value it can make it feel like you have to say yes to everything which can lead to a kind of bland acquiescence that lacks the vital spark of aliveness. Saying No, not yet, maybe, ‘yes, if’ can all be productive choices in life or on stage. The essential point from ‘Yes, and’ is to agree the reality and contribute to it.

There’s another idea that compliments ‘Yes, and’ and maybe could even replace it.

It’s a simple two word phrase: I know.

I learned of this from Chris Mead, who learned it from Craig Cackowski, who I believe came up with it.

‘I know’ is an attitude, an embodied way of trusting your impulses in the moment. You can say it out loud at any time – it fits naturally into dialogue – but it’s really a total form of involvement that helps you feel confident – like you really know – who you are, where you are, who you are with, what you want (or don;t want) and what’s happening in your relationships and environment.

It helps you know just how to respond in a way that feels automatic, ‘mindless’ and liberating. I find this a much more powerful idea than ‘Yes, and’ I’ve never seen it spill over into a kind of know-it-all arrogance. It feels more like a commitment to the moment, and a commitment to other people that make scenes seem more real and compelling.

It fits perfectly with Sanford Meisner’s adage that ‘Acting is living truthfully under imaginary conditions’.

A booster shot for improv

I think of ‘I know’ as a booster shot for people who learned to improvise with ‘Yes, and’. It’s like a vaccine for self-doubt. Or an antidoubt to perpetual self-doubt!

Try getting a nurse to inject you with that!

If you want to know more, read our post on I know & flow.

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

Thanks to Lydia Cooper for the conversation that inspired this post. Lydia did all the illustrations for Here & Now People. You should hire her to work some creative magic. She knows.

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