Below is a collection of the exercises we have used in the workshops, accompanied by some studies that supports their use.
|by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP|
Improvisation is a powerful way to become aware of mental habits and patterns. Reflecting on our inner experiences after engaging in an improvisation exercise provides an opportunity to decide whether our mental habits are effective and useful or self-limiting and obsolete. The tensions of the creative process and this kind of interpersonal interaction are a fast-track to greater self-awareness, which is associated with high emotional intelligence. By "following the fear" in a conscious, purposeful way we become more aware of our mental structures and defenses and at the same time experience what life might be like if we were able to be less encumbered by them, and more spontaneous.
Our automatic, subconscious structures and defenses are challenged almost immediately by the process of improvisation. Simply not knowing what is going to happen next in a scene, for example, or joining in a game that seems silly and pointless can and does trigger tension, and for that reason it can be uncomfortable. But properly structured improvisation exercises are deceptively profound. They can reveal to us our reactions and default positions when faced with change of any kind, information that is mostly hidden from our day-to-day awareness but plays an enormous role in our day-to-day interactions and decisions. The process of developing emotional intelligence is exactly the same – becoming aware of the defenses and self-protections we employ to feel a sense of psychological safety and making conscious choices about how to manage them.
- Reflect on a personal experience with "following the fear" that turned out well which demonstrates one of the tenets of both improvisation and emotional intelligence;
- Build up group cohesiveness through personal sharing;
- Experience the group support and the "music" of an interaction, which is central to understanding emotional intelligence;
– Review the “hook” of musical themes from movies that most people recognize, including movies that feature heroes who do incredible things, e.g.: Mission Impossible, Theme from Superman, Theme from Rocky, Theme from Magnificent Seven; relationship or interpersonal issues: Theme From The Odd Couple; Sing each theme together to rehearse.
- Disrupt automatic mental patterning;
- Focus on the here and now;
- Promote group cohesion;
- Demonstrate the core improv principle "take care of each other";
- Provide an experience of disorientation that is safe and supported, which promotes creativity and openness to the development of new thinking and skills;
- Experience the impact of eye contact in silent interaction with others;
- Experience the impact of eye contact on emotional states and emotional connection;
Eye Contact and Social Interaction, PsyArticles.com
- Increase spontaneity;
- Produce mind/body dissonance* which enhances creativity;
Social Psychological and Personality Science December 10, 2010
- To practice accepting offers of ideas in collaboration with others*
- To build on the offers made by others;
- To tell a story beat by beat, which increases cohesion on the team;
"We don't become socially competent by authority figures telling us how to behave, we gain those skills by interacting with our peers, learning what's acceptable and what's not acceptable."
"Although research usually emphasizes the positive effect of play on the developing brain they have found that is important for adults too. Without play, adults may end up getting burned out from the 'hustle-bustle business' that we all get in involved in," says Marc Rekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Boulder. Adults who do not play may end up unhappy and exhausted without understanding exactly why.
"I think play is the major mechanism whereby higher regions of the brain get socialized." “The Serious Need For Play” Scientific American Mind Special Collector’s Edition, Winter 2014:
- Focus on listening without interpretation to what another person is saying;
- Develop creative thinking;
- Foster interpersonal skills of attentive listening and responding without judgement
- To explore the process of defensive emotional distancing or emotional closeness through physical movement;
- To observe emotional responses to others’ efforts to persuade;
- To observe emotional responses when someone from our “side” is persuaded to move closer to the “other side”
"Spontaneity is the way to get past defenses and to get to the true self." Keith Johnstone, author of Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre Routledge Press, 1987
- To identify different psychological defenses and the ways they may be expressed through movement and words;
- To explore the dynamics between an influencer and a person who expresses their reluctance to make a change through defensive behavior and conversation;
- Practice expressing a specific emotion in a live interaction;
- Cultivate listening and receiving emotional information from a partner in a scene;
- Demonstrate the phenomenon of emotional contagion
"The perception of an emotional expression can cause the viewer to mimic elements of that expression and, consequently, to experience the associated feeling state. Emotional contagion is a multiply determined family of psychophysiological, cognitive, behavioral, and social phenomena in which eliciting stimuli arise from one individual, act upon one or more others, and produce emotional responses that are congruent (e.g., smiling response to smiles) or complementary (e.g., withdrawal from a threatened blow) to the eliciting stimuli. Responses may include experiential, physiological, and/or behavioral changes characteristic of the emotional expression being mimicked. Susceptibility to emotional
contagion may, therefore, be measured as the frequency with which emotional stimuli elicit an emotional expression characteristic of the eliciting emotion. The emotional response may be expressed cognitively (experiential states, appraisals, appreciations, fantasy, and perspective-taking), physiologically (neurophysiological arousal and patterned ANS activity), and behaviorally (expressive and instrumental behaviors).
Doherty, R. W. (1997). The Emotional contagion scale: A measure of individual differences. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 21, pp. 131-154.
- Experiment with the expression of different emotional states;
- Demonstrate the phenomenon of emotional contagion through an improv game that involves adapting to new emotional tones entering into an ongoing interaction;
- Experiment with sharing the same content or material with a variety of emotional tones;
STORY STRING or STRING OF PEARLS
- Full engagement with others in a creative process;
- Practice skills of listening, accepting and building on the contributions of others;
- Self-awareness-building through observing reactions to the tensions of this process;
Jude Treder-Wolff is a trainer/consultant and writer/performer. She is host and creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS storytelling slam. Follow her on Twitter