Improspectives

Improv skills lead to success

Never Lie, Especially Not to Yourself

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In improv, like other arts, the audience wants to see a glimpse of the performers’ true selves. Those expectations make it difficult to deliver a truly satisfying performance when you’re not honest with yourself. That means being honest about your likes, dislikes, habits, crutches, and motives. It also means of being honest about whether you succeeded and to what extent.

Outside of the improv context, I have found it very useful to be completely honest with myself and others about whether I win or lose money when I play poker. I used to play pretty seriously, heading to Atlantic City or Vegas several times a year. Yes, this was before I got married. In the mid to late 90s I was a consistent winner, mainly because poker was just starting to get popular and my skills were a couple of years ahead of the pack. As time went by, the field got tougher and my results suffered. I analyzed my play, decided I no longer wanted to work hard enough to stay ahead of the game, and made the transition to playing recreationally.

I monitored my own play and results, and of course you should as well for whatever you do, but most improv groups have someone who is in charge of giving notes or notes are offered in a group session after a performance. Performers are expected to accept the notes, evaluate them, and incorporate them into their work. Improv notes, like performance reviews in an office setting, have a strong subjective element. Poker wins and losses, though of course guided in part by luck, are much more straightforward. If you leave with more money than you brought, you are a winner.

Where most performers, business people, and poker players trip up is by lying about how they did. Pretty soon the little white lies that save your reputation create cognitive dissonance, especially when someone sees a show or watches you play cards and the results don’t match the image you’re projecting. This realization can strain a friendship or promote distrust among colleagues.

My rule is to never lie to anyone, especially myself, about my performance. I don’t care if it’s about my work on stage, my writing, or at the poker table. I reserve the right not to answer a question (unless my wife asks, she gets to know everything), but I will never lie. This policy keeps cognitive dissonance to a minimum and forces me to deal with unfavorable results. That sounds pretty grim, but it also means I get to revel in what I do right.

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