Tag Archive | Improv(isation)

Two types of thoughts

There are only two things you can control with certainty: your actions and your thoughts. So focus all your effort on improving those things and bringing them into true alignment.

Waste no thought on the things you cannot control.

We don’t control our thoughts.

We aren’t the ones who decide what thoughts to think. We just experience them and their consequences.

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How might we reconcile these two ideas?”

“There are two kinds of thoughts:

Voluntary Thoughts – within our control
Involuntary Thoughts – outside our control

Our thoughts create our reality, and most thoughts are involuntary.”

“Then where’s our control?”

“We can control our voluntary thoughts, and our response to involuntary thoughts.

Remember that beautiful quote about improvisation?

When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note you play that determines if it’s good or bad. (Miles Davis)

We cannot control our involuntary thoughts, but we can answer unresourceful involuntary thoughts with voluntary thoughts. 

The voluntary thought is the next note you play.


Impromptu Gratitude

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is impromptu gratitude?”

“It’s an unplanned micro-practice you can do anywhere at any time, improv style.

I like to initiate it with a mantra:

Thank you for my Gifts.

“Why not simply ‘Thank you?'”

“I’m working with representations [<link; medium read]. By thinking of something as a gift, you’re priming yourself to see and feel it as a gift.

After I say the mantra, I start mentally naming things and expressing heartfelt gratitude for them. I don’t try to control the process. It’s always the first thing that comes to mind, or whatever draws my eye in the environment around me.”

“How many things do you express gratitude for?”

“I don’t have a set number. Each builds upon the other, producing an emotional flooding [<link; short read] effect.”

“A micro-moment of positivity [<link; medium read]?”


Creativity Games: Making the familiar strange

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What’s the game about?”

“It’s a little imagination game I created for myself to practice creativity.

The game is simple.

Pick any object in the environment and say:

This is x

where x must be something imaginatively connected to the object. For every x, visualize it, and make up a little visual story.

There’s a principle of creativity which I call Alternatives – not settling for the first answer that comes to mind, and generating as many alternatives as possible. Viewed as a skill, it’s the capacity to generate large quantities of creative output. That’s the goal of the game.”

“Can you give an example?”


Let’s take this [physical] page I’m writing on. I might say:

This is snow.
This is a magic carpet.
This is a wall.
This is an undead tree.
This is a towel.
This is a slide.
This is a garden.
This is a toy.
This is a raft.

Another flavor of the game is generating random alternatives.

It starts the same:

This is x

but now x is this first thing that comes to mind.

This is a chimney.
This is a squirrel.
This is a needle.

The goal here is to discover connections between the object and the generated words.”

Impromptu Meditation

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What do you mean by impromptu meditation?”

“Impromptu meditation is an unplanned meditation that can be done at any time, anywhere, improv style.”

“Is that even possible?”

“It requires some mental magic.

We all form a default mental image of the minimum length a meditation session is supposed to have. I like to think of it as our default unit of practice. The larger the size of the unit, the less flexible it is. If my unit is 5 minutes long and I only have 1 minute, I’m unable to practice. 
This is a top-down process. I’m metaphorically trying to fit something into a small space.

For maximum flexibility, the unit needs to be smaller. I call the smallest atomic unit of practice micro-meditation. A micro-meditation is one embodied breath (EBreath [<link; medium read]). 
This is a bottom-up process. I’m metaphorically filling up the available space, however small it is.”

“Like water.”


So impromptu-meditation requires two things:
– a mental structure: the micro-meditation model
– a mental attitude: the Improviser mindset / model


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What kind of music do you like to move on?”

I like to move on music. I don’t need a certain kind of music. I let the music I like – whatever it is – dictate the movement.”

“An improvised self exploration?”

“You could say that.”

Celebration Optimization

Fragment from imaginary dialogues

“BJ Fogg’s book Tiny Habits is excellent.”

“Is it better than James Clear’s Atomic Habits?”

“It complements it beautifully. Tiny Habits approaches habit creation from the perspective of behavior-design. I hadn’t heard of behavior-design before. Now it’s something I want to master.

Let’s go back to James Clear’s four rules of habit-making:

Make it obvious. (Cue)
Make it attractive. (Craving)
Make it easy. (Response)
Make it satisfying. (Reward)

From Atomic Habits, I’d understood how important rewards are for habit creation. From Tiny Habits I got another piece of the puzzle:

When it comes to rewards, timing matters. 

In behavior-science, reward has a very specific meaning. Something counts as a reward only if it affects behavior, and it affects behavior only if it occurs either during the activity, or immediately after. That’s when dopamine is released and associated with the behavior. If the reward occurs outside this time-frame, it does not affect behavior, because the association with the behavior is lost.

One of the most powerful rewards is celebration. These ‘micro-moments of positivity’ – beautiful concept which I know from Brian Johnson – are essential for habit creation. In the words of BJ Fogg:

Emotions create habits.

“How can I optimize celebration?”

“What’s the main obstacle?”

“Remembering to celebrate.”

Celebrate remembering to celebrate.

Also, you can stack it with your Gratitude practice. I call this practice-stacking.

Every time you celebrate, say ‘Thank you‘ and, in the moment, improv-style, find one thing around you that you’re grateful for.

Games of Gratitude: Three Blessings

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What’s the game about?”

“It’s my own take on the practice of expressing gratitude for three things.

The game is played in the moment, improv(isation) style: at any moment throughout the day, anywhere you are, without thinking, come up with three things you’re grateful for in quick succession.

The natural tendency is to try to control the process and plan ahead. Don’t. If that happens, quickly think of something else.

You can vary the game by changing the context. This is an instance of what I call contextual priming.

For instance:
– things that are amazing in your life
– things you take for granted (what Patricia Madson called ‘Silent Gifts‘ in her wonderful book Improv Wisdom)
– things within reach
– things abstract
– things involving people

Coming up with contexts and combining them in interesting ways is a little game in itself.”