5 Ways Improv Will Change Your Life


I have been teaching and performing improv for almost 18 years now: in New York City, around the country, and most recently in Mexico. Don’t ask. Improv changes the way you live your life.

What?, you say. That’s mad! Improv is entertainment, a thing “actors’ do, child’s play. Yes, it is all those things. It is also a lesson in bravery, communication, teamwork, clear thinking, risk-taking, and playfulness. It is a series of lessons for life and I believe people who improvise live thicker, fuller, richer lives (and have similar results with their eyelashes).

George Gershwin once said, "Life is a lot like jazz. It's best when you improvise.” Tru’ dat, George. I just improvised life for ten months in Mexico.

Improvisation offers a framework and perhaps more importantly, a practice that helps stop that voice of "self-judgment" and teaches us how to find and trust our best, most creative, most confident, authentic self.

Through games and exercises, improvisers learn to leap, to not think, to trust themselves and each other, to play.

How, you ask? Here are some of the basics:

1. Say yes

Improvisers learn the power of YES. YES is at the root of everything. We say YES to everything. YES moves things forward, keeps things in motion. We spend so much of our lives saying no. No time, no money, etc. What if you tried saying YES more?

2. Listen more

How many times in a conversation are you just waiting for your turn to talk, certain you know all your partner will say? What if you didn’t? What if you actually slowed down and listened? I am happier when I’m listening. Improv teaches us that everything we need is found in this moment. Just listen.

3. Make others look good

While improvising, your job is to make your scene partners look good, to worry less about your own ego and fears and more about them. In turn, they do the same for you — making you look good, better perhaps, than you could ever have made yourself look. Is there room in your life for that — taking the focus off of you and placing it somewhere else?

4. Follow the follower

In improv, there is no leader and simultaneously, we are all leading. I am, in fact, leading and not leading at the same time. We call that “follow the follower.” It has many real-life correlations in terms of leadership and living. How can you lead and follow at the same time?

5. Play

Is there enough play in your life? Improv reminds us all life is play. We are making it all up — our entire life! When we are playful, we are surprised, productive, see new ways and opportunities, are brave to risk and are ultimately more happy. Try it. Play changes everything.

So you can see why I’m an advocate of improv. Improv opens thinking patterns, can alter choice making and creates new possibilities where before there were none. Improv changes lives. I’ve seen it. In almost every class, there is always at least one student who has that awakening moment. They discover they are more than how they have been living.

I go into corporate settings and teach lawyers, accountants, pharmaceutical reps, property managers and others how to be more authentic leaders, how to work better as a team and how to bring more of themselves to their jobs. They are relieved, astounded and want more. I respond that this is a practice and they need to practice. Every day is an improvisation.

Here’s something: In class, I always tell my students this: there are all the things you know you know. Then there are all the things you know you don’t know. But there’s a third category — there are all the things you don’t even know you don’t know. Improv lives in there. It introduces you to all the things you didn’t even know you didn’t know. It brings possibility, where before there was only dull certainty. It brings breath, where before there was only stale air. It brings the permission to play, where before there were just tired rules.

Blogger Madisyn Taylor said, "Life is more of an improvisation than it is like a play whose lines have already been written, whose end is already known. Like an improviser, we have choices to make and the more we embrace the illusionary quality of the performance, the lighter we can be on the planet, on others, and on ourselves."

This is what I want for my life. How about you?

Kim Schultz is New York-based actor, improviser, and teacher. She runs a school of improv called Kim Schultz Improv, going into organizations to help create better companies, teams and people through authentic living. She will be teaching an improv retreat on the Riviera Maya in Mexico in June at www.taoinspiredliving.com. is also a playwright and author currently finishing a memoir on falling in love with an Iraqi refugee. She has also published articles on FieldReport, FutureTakes, and Policy Mic. For more information on Kim or her classes, please go to www.kimschultz.net or visit her blog at www.thisauthenticstory.blogspot.com.