It’s hard to admit, but I struggled with learning how to laugh at myself when I would make mistakes. There were numerous times when I would break something or say something incorrectly and I would get defensive and angry, instead of just going along with it and laughing it off. I was afraid to make mistakes because I was worried that others might judge me…that I would be viewed as an idiot. This kept me uptight and serious for years.
Looking back, it seems so ridiculous that I would get upset over things like that, let alone over minor things. It’s OK to make mistakes.
Learning to laugh at myself gave me the power to disarm the feeling of shame due to my mistakes. I felt relaxed, calmer, more in control of myself, and I didn’t have to worry about always being right or perfect all the time. I developed tools to be able to handle potentially upsetting situations, without feeling angry.
“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.” – Heraclitus
Improv helped me control how I respond by forcing me to react in different situations. I was able to rehearse and build my confidence in being able to choose how I react. Deciding how to react in situations is a critical skill in improv and life. I realized that I had total control over how I responded to things.
It’s being able to say something like “I’m glad I’m a curator at the museum” if they break glass. You’re defusing the tension of the situation with humor (which is basic comedy). Realizing that it’s OK to have a light hearted view even when bad or upsetting things happen.
Finding the humor in something breaks the tension of the situation so others are not afraid of making mistakes. Being fearful of making mistakes because of how others will react or how you will react, is a worrisome place to be.
Who would you rather have as a boss or partner, someone who gets upset and bent out of shape when the tiniest thing goes wrong, or the person who can see the humor in the situation, laughs it off, and goes about finding a way to fix it?
Mistakes in improv are also celebrated. They are rare moments of unplanned goodness where neither improviser can predict what’s going to happen. Mistakes often contain ideas that are more interesting than what is expected.
It can force you (as it did for me) out of that comfort zone to have your mistakes highlighted. Improv helped me realize that sometimes making mistakes is funny and sometimes silly. (Crazy right?) Not taking things so personally about being laughed at on stage. Being laughed at is the hope of an improviser anyway.
“There’s power in looking silly and not caring that you do.” – Amy Poehler
Sometimes it takes seeing it from another perspective to recognize that what you might consider a mistake, is actually funny. It’s a pause in the moment to actually reflect on what happened.
It’s taken great effort, but I’ve learned to not take myself so seriously and enjoy those little moments of mistakes. Sometimes they’re the most memorable. Now, I look back on a lot of those mistakes and I laugh at myself.