Sick and feeble or fit and well? Its our choice


Tools of improv theater can boost our success in life.

During the past four years at the Pet Health Industry Summit put on by Banfield in Portland every year, a group called On Your Feet has facilitated the meeting. This group, whose members are trained in improvisational theater, conducts everything from icebreakers (“dog people on this side of the room; cat people on that side!”) to workshops where participants brainstorm solutions to some of the industry's most pressing problems. As one might expect when working with an improv group, much spontaneous hilarity occasionally erupts, leaving the audience of CEOs and executive vice presidents roaring and wiping their eyes.

This year On Your Feet went a step beyond facilitation to actually present a session, which turned out to be one of my highlights of the summit. They discussed how utilizing the tools of improv can change your outlook on life and even, dare I say it, your destiny. Here's a recap.

Sick and feeble versus fit and well

Improv is all about encountering the unexpected and taking it in a successful direction. To get into the proper head space, these actors have a philosophy of choosing not to be “sick and feeble” but rather to be “fit and well.” The former involves listening to head trash such as “Everyone here is out to get me” or “I'm going to fail miserably and everyone will despise me.” The accompanying “physicality,” as On Your Feet described it, is a hunched posture, tight-closed arms and legs, and looking down. Its focus is self. Not surprisingly, this attitude does not set one up for success, either in improv or in life.

In contrast, we can react to the unexpected by choosing to be “fit and well.” This means we have an inner monologue telling us something like “I could really help these people” or “Everyone here is so interesting!” The physicality of this attitude is open, chin up, shoulders back. Its focus is on others.

Maybe the whole idea of “Attitude makes a difference” is not revolutionary, but it never hurts to be reminded that we have a choice when we find ourselves grumbling about something.

Accepting, acquiescing or blocking

On Your Feet also discussed how improv actors react to ideas. Blocking is rejecting an idea outright. We don't affirm it or add anything meaningful-it's an all-out “no.” Acquiescing is affirming an idea, saying “yes” to it, but without adding anything new or taking it in an interesting direction. Accepting an idea is recognizing and affirming it and then doing something with it-this is the “yes, and” mentality that gives an improv sketch its wheels-and can carry us to new adventures in life as well.

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