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“Self-knowledge is no guarantee of happiness but it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it.”   Simone deBeauvoir

by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP
An individual’s mind set has been found to be a powerful driver of perceptions about self and others as well as one’s capabilities and place in the world.  The perspective of a “fixed” mindset is that innate intelligence and talent are more central to successful learning and change than effort and commitment.  Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success argues that we can develop what she calls a “growth” mindset – which is founded on the belief that our most basic abilities can be enhanced through hard work and dedication, “that brains and talent are just the starting point.”  Research shows that even seemingly small social-psychological interventions that target limiting, self-negating thoughts, feelings can lead to deep, sustainable change.

Applied Improvisation and mindset: Shifts in mindset can occur rapidly through a combination of cognitive and emotional heightening with some form of action or experience. The research shows that durable, long-range change in behavior follows a shift in mindset, Applied improvisation, action methods, writing, storytelling, music and other creative forms are uniquely powerful for:
producing the interpersonal connection, expression of deeply-held values, examination of beliefs and creation of a supportive environment that the evidence shows promotes durable, long-range behavior change.
Improv experiences cultivate mental acuity and flexibility, social-emotional connections to others, the psychological “muscle” of exploring uncertainty with courage, heightened awareness of the possibilities of the moment, receptivity to the unpredictable and listening skills.

Dimensions of improv that promote shifts in mindset:

  • Commitment to the creative possibilities of a role or position is a pathway that reveals subconscious structures and beliefs;
  • Skills in listening, receptivity and focusing are subtle training to a more flexible, open  mindset;
  • Expressing ideas in imaginative, novel ways are engaging to the brain and enhance neural activity associated with learning and change;
  • A positive emotional, supportive atmosphere that rewards effort and commitment to challenging experiences combined an earned sense of belonging;


       Enemy/Defender – Participants secretly think of a color, then identify one other person in the group who is wearing that color. That person is the “enemy.” Secretly think of another color, then identify one other person in the group who is wearing that color. That person is the “defender.” All group members walk about the space making sure the “defender” is always between self and “enemy.”
     Objective;  to have an experience that explores the reality that we are often projecting onto others and being projected upon which produces a hidden dynamic in the life of relationships and groups. The way we are treated by others – e.g. those who chose us as an “enemy” - shapes our perceptions of the interaction, of the other people involved, our responses to the interaction and our feelings about ourselves. What we do to avoid the “enemy” can also be illuminating to discuss after this exercise, which expresses a defensive mindset that is very familiar to all of us.
     We went on a wonderful vacation – Yes..and exercises in which the memory of a vacation is developed one sentence at a time alternately by 2 partners. Objectives are to listen closely and build on the offers made by a partner to develop the story; practice making strong offers while also letting go of control of the process; become aware of defensive, i.e. trying to control or direct, game-playing.
3    3-line scenes – Objectives: to practice making strong offers and strong counter-offers; to develop mental agility; to open up imaginative possibilities in collaboration with others;
      In this game participants stand in 2 lines facing one another. Line A person opens with a line that gives as much information as possible, e.g “wow I can’t believe you agreed to see me again after I walked out on our disastrous first date exactly one year ago today not that I’m counting.” The line should provide at the very least a relationship between the 2 players, possibly a location and activity they are doing as well. Line B person responds based on the character the line has created and builds on the story line – 3rd person puts a dot on it with a closing line.

      Family Reunion – Objectives are to develop skills listening and responding to an unfolding and unpredictable narrative, which breaks up rigid mental patterns; to work toward a flow of creative energy with others through listening, responding and developing a narrative thread; to practice embodied emotions;
     In this game a narrator describes events at a family reunion backed by a “slide show”  produced by 2 other actors who assume poses that are then explained by the narrator. Both the slide-creators and the narrators try to pick up cues from each other to co-create the story.
s    Status Games – are useful in exploring the concept of mindset because there is a powerful interplay between status and internalized beliefs about self.  Improv makes great use of status to create interesting scenarios that explore human dynamics through real-time experiences. 
      Status Conflict: In this game 2 players are assigned role/relationship by the group (siblings, friends, co-workers) and improvise an ordinary, daily activity. The status of each player is established through the interaction. When one player makes a clear commitment to either higher or lower status, the other player responds by embracing the other status. The scene plays out until a natural point of ending or the actors come to a resolution of the conflict that develops.    
     Variation of status conflict: 2 players are assigned high and low status by the group but develop the role/relationship through their interaction. The objective is to fully commit to the status while trying to work out the conflict that develops. The value of this game lies in discovering what it takes to fully commit to a status position.

     Another variation of status conflict: In this game 2 players are given enough information to start a scene (character, occupation, setting, etc) with the further instruction to play lower or higher status than the other. The players are to play their status to the hilt, to the point of the absurd. The discovery lies in novel approaches to the conflict that emerge through fully embracing one’s status and working with is given by the scene partner.


    The "U" Theory proposes that the quality of the results that we create in any kind of social system is a function of the quality of awareness, attention, or consciousness that the participants in the system operate from.

     Going down the U: “Observe, observe, observe.” Stop downloading and totally immerse yourself in the places of most potential, in the places that matter most to the situation you are dealing with.
At the bottom of the U: “Retreat and reflect, allow the inner knowing to emerge.” Go to the places of stillness where knowing comes to the surface. Here you share and reflect on everything that you have learned from a deep place of listening, asking, ”What wants to emerge here?” and ”How does that relate to the journey forward?” So the key question is: how can we become part of the story of the future rather than holding on to the story of the past?
Going up the U: “Act in an instant.” Explore the future by doing. Develop a prototype. A prototype explores the future by doing something small, speedy, and spontaneous; it quickly generates feedback from all the key stakeholders and allows you to evolve and iterate your idea.  This content and graph from


"Retraining Our Reaction to Failure" Dr. Woody, FOXBusiness, June 3, 2014 

 “Social-Psychological Interventions in Education: They're Not Magic” by David S. Yeager and Gregory M. Walton, Review of Educational Research  June 2011, Vol. 81, No. 2, pp. 267–301 

“Traditional Lecture or Experiential Learning:Changing Student Attitudes” by Karen E. Pugsley, MN, RN; and Laura H. Clayton, MSN, R in Journal of Nursing Education, November 2003, Vol. 42, No. 1 at 

“Who Gets To Graduate” New York Times magazine, May 18, 2014 

Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP is a trainer/consultant and writer/performer. She is host and creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS, Long Island's first local storytelling slam.

Lifestage, Inc.  496 Smithtown Bypass * Suite 202 * Smithtown, NY 11787
                                                  (631) 366-4265


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