Use the Rules of Improv to Improve Your Life

Do you wish you could deal with change more effectively?

Live in the present moment?

Be more confident in situations where you feel out of control?

Trust yourself to think on your feet?

As a professional improviser, I’m always finding connections between the skills that improvisers practice and use and the skills that many of us strive to cultivate in our professional and personal lives.

Improv requires you to:

  • Become more comfortable and adept at thinking on your feet
  • Stay present
  • Feel more confident
  • Silence your inner critic
  • Make decisions more easily
  • Adapt to and manage change flexibly
  • Develop strong connections to others
  • Become more confident with the “unplannable”
  • Access your innate creativity
  • Let go of control and let go of the picture you had in your mind
  • Listen well
  • Build trust
  • Collaborate effectively
  • See possibility in all “offers” from others
  • Improve communication

That’s quite a list, right?

How would developing those skills serve you in your professional and personal relationships?

The more I work with my clients who want to enhance their skills in those areas, the more I see how many connections there are between improv and life.

So today I want to teach you the fundamental, number one, golden rule of improvisation:

Say Yes.

What does this mean?

To answer that, here’s a little background terminology.

In improvisation, an offer is anything that is added to an exercise or a scene by any player. Offers can be verbal, physical, energetic/attitudinal, or any combination of those.

In improv, to accept—or say yes—means to take in and incorporate an offer as truth. This is the cornerstone of improvisation—to say yes—to take in and incorporate all offers.

Not just the ones you like.

Not just the ones you would have thought of yourself.

Not just the ones that don’t get in the way of your idea or your plan.

Accept all offers.

Interestingly, when the actors say yes, this is not necessarily the same as the characters agreeing or getting along! The characters can be in conflict even as the actors are in agreement.


A: (hoisting a bag onto a top bunk and rubbing teary eyes) My baby girl—your first day of college! I can hardly believe it!
B: Muh-om! (putting down a box) Please, lower your voice! I don’t want everyone on the hall to hear you calling me your baby!

Here, the actors are in agreement while the characters are in conflict.

What’s the opposite of accepting?


To block is to ignore, deny, or not incorporate an offer. This compromises the truth of the scene and the rapport among the players and with the audience.


A: My baby girl—your first day of college! I can hardly believe it!
B: What are you talking about, old man? You’re not my mother!


A: My baby girl—your first day of college! I can hardly believe it!
B: This isn’t college—it’s a circus! Don’t you see the elephant?

On stage, blocking may generate a “cheap laugh,” but always at the cost of the scene and the relationship between the actors.

Fine–that’s what blocking looks like in improv. So what does blocking look like in real life?

Many communication challenges in “real life” are due to blocking.

In life, as in improv, we tend to block when:

  • we want to stay in control.
  • we aren’t really listening—we’re busy in our own heads, laying our own plans, or don’t believe the other person has anything of value to add (you can’t say yes to what you can’t hear or don’t even notice!).
  • we are afraid of moving forward; saying yes means we might have to change, get unstuck, or venture into the unknown (something might actually happen!).

How do we normally block people?

  • We throw up walls and refuse to talk.
  • We say  “BUT…”
  • We dismiss or ignore input because “this is just the way I am/things are.”
  • We dig in our heels and hold tight to our rigid view, sometimes repeating our own idea over and over and over again.
  • We shut the other person down with sarcasm or mocking.

And often, just as in improv, blocking injures the rapport in our relationships and brings progress to a screeching halt.

If you want to learn 3 simple improv exercises you can try to help you practice saying YES and to develop the other skills of improv, listen to my recent radio show, YES! and…Use the Rules of Improv to Improve Your Life.

You’ll also get 5 more rules of improv, and find out how to use these rules to improv your professional and personal life. Click here to listen and learn how these rules can help you in dating, family relationships, partnerships, and professional relationships.

In what area of your life or relationship do you want to start saying YES? Tell us in the comments.

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