On a route that I travel each week, I usually phone one of my sisters for a chat. However, there's a stretch of about two blocks where there's interference with my cell reception, and I either lose parts of the conversation, or the call drops altogether. When we reconnect, we have to find where we got cut off and try to pick up the thread of the conversation. A similar thing can happen when people are talking face to face. Have you ever been having a conversation where it felt like, instead of listening to you, the person in front of you was waiting for you to finish so they could take their turn speaking? Of course, an interesting conversation will spark ideas and responses, but when we stop listening because we're busy thinking about what we're going to say next, we've dropped the connection. I facilitate a few different improv games that are structured so that people cannot respond until they've heard the last word their partner speaks. It's good listening practice, and a good reminder to make sure you don't drop the call when you're having a discussion. In this article, Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School discusses how improv exercises can improve leadership and team morale and effectiveness: Using Improv to Unite Your Team.
It might be hard to admit to feeling lonely, but research finds that people are increasingly isolated, and that loneliness is harmful to your health. We tend to have busy lives, and time with others is an area that often gets cut back as a result. In a large-scale study, researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad found that social integration is a stronger contributor to longevity than exercise, or quitting smoking or alcohol. Social integration means face-to-face interactions, even with strangers. Research also shows that in older people, social engagement is related to a higher level of cognitive function.
The Global Council on Brain Health makes several recommendations, including:
In a New York Times article, "How to Build Resilience in Midlife," Dr. Dennis Charney, a resilience researcher, advises that you can increase your own resilience by going outside of your comfort zone. "There is a biology to this. Your stress hormone systems will become less responsive to stress so you can handle stress better."
Being positive or optimistic is another key, and this is something that can be developed. In his book Everything's an Offer, Robert Poynton talks about how improvisers on a bare stage must use all ideas--even accidents--to create the seen. When you can frame setbacks as offers to be explored, more possibilities open up.
So say hello to a stranger, wear something fun, extend an invitation, and get out of your comfort zone!
However you may refer to it, forgetfulness happens. Causes can be as simple as dehydration, fatigue, or high blood pressure. Some medications can can cause forgetfulness, as can anxiety or depression. But there is a lot that you can do to keep your synapses firing smoothly.
This is a great article on the link between play and innovation. Play is a place of openness, experimenting and surprising ourselves.
Among the primary interventions identified to ward off dementia are increasing physical activity and social contact, and decreasing depression.
An idea that came to me early in my applied improvisation training was that these exercises were like brain-training games, but instead of an individual alone with a screen, they are instead experiencing physical activity, social engagement, and the benefits of laughter. And all three of these elements are key in combating depression. And these are only a few of the benefits of improv! Cool, huh?
I think of Bernard De Koven as the Godfather of Play. I've written earlier about his lifelong dedication to giving people the gift of cooperative, joyful play. In this one-minute video, Bernie makes a simple distinction between game communities and play communities.
through spontaneity we are re-formed into ourselves...the moment frees us from handed down frames of reference, memory choked with old facts and information, and undigested theories and techniques of other people's findings. Spontaneity is the moment of personal freedom… In this reality the bits and pieces of ourselves function as an organic whole." Viola Spolin, the mother of improvisation training
How does a physician learn to read body language, listen with full attention, and deal with the unexpected? The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago offers medical students a four-week improvisation class called "Playing Doctor." Students gain an opportunity to look at status, to practice collaboration instead of competition, to think creatively and act, rather than freeze, in rapidly changing circumstances.
Read more about medical improv here and here.