How Does Improv Help with Anxiety?

I get asked that question all the time. People are curious, intrigued, and a little too polite to ask what they really wanted to ask, which is, “Does improv help with anxiety?”

Because to be honest, I don’t know how much we care about the how. It’s like cell phones. Don’t care how they work, just as long as I have mobile access to cat videos.

If I said I invented a machine that helps you travel through time you might politely say, “Interesting, how does it work?” In other words, I’m very skeptical, and I’d need to see just a little bit of proof, or I’m calling bullshit.

But if I said I invented a machine to help with anxiety, sure you might be skeptical, but depending on how desperate you are to be free of anxiety, you might just skip to, “Great! Hook me up!”

Anyway, to answer the question you didn’t ask, yes, improv does help with anxiety. 

“Interesting, how does it work?”

I get it, you want proof. Why? ‘Cause improv seems scary as hell.

If I said eating cake helps with anxiety, you might be through your second cake before stopping to think, “Wait… how?” then shrugging and going back to eating. #deliciousselfimprovement.

But if I said skydiving from space helps with anxiety, it becomes, “I’d need to see a little more evidence before fully committing to this plan.” Improv feels closer to that one.

 i mean, cake does help. 

i mean, cake does help. 

If it puts you at ease at all, the idea of improv is scary. Improv itself is way less so. When you’re doing it, it’s actually fun. (Fun like the space dive scenario?)

Before we move on, I just wanna quickly make sure we’re talking about the same thing by explaining what improv is. Or isn’t.

It isn’t stand-up comedy. Some people confuse the two. Main difference is, you’re not alone in improv. You build ideas together with at least one other person (who you can share the blame with if it sucks). With stand-up, you’re working towards crafting a really funny joke. In improv, if the stories you build together are funny, great! But often what makes them funny is the unpolishedness and mistakes.  

The idea of making mistakes in front of people sounds genuinely scary, and me saying it isn’t probably won’t change your mind. Because when it comes down to it, fear isn’t persuaded by logic. You can tell me planes are the safest form of travel, but that doesn’t help me not picture going down in a flaming ball of terror. Now that I’ve said all that, here’s some stuff to try and sell you on improv.

First up, science. The idea of improv helping with anxiety is fairly new. Which means it’s still early in the research phase. Results are good so far (here’s one study by Kristin Krueger), but there’s probably not enough scientific evidence yet to really persuade someone either way. Still it’s exciting, and there are many more studies to come. (Some I’ve even been a part of.)

Next up, personal experience. Some of you know me and my story, some not so much. (Though a quick Google search of anyone will always let you know too much.) Long story short, I’m proof. I’m evidence. I was anxious for decades, tried a bunch of stuff, then took improv, and now I’m not. It wasn’t the only thing that helped, but it was a big one. I wouldn’t be wasting your time with this post, or wasting my students’ time in classes, if I didn’t truly believe in it.

But I’m pretty biased. So ask around. Find people who’ve taken improv and ask them. Not just the anxiety classes, any improv. I’ve seen it help people go from being too scared to enter the classroom, to performing on a giant stage in front of hundreds of people (including friends and family). Google around. (This is basically an ad for Google.)

When it comes down to it, it’s hard to talk you into doing something that seems terrifying. I only took my first improv class because I felt suicide was my other option. And I spent longer than you’d think doing a pros and cons list for both. I eventually decided I was more scared of suicide, so I took an improv class. And now I’m not anxious. But how?!

Okay, this was all to get you open to the idea that improv can help with anxiety. Now to answer the original question… Improv helped me in two ways, The Work and The Play.

THE WORK

 Just one shelf's-worth. He bragged. Through tears. 

Just one shelf's-worth. He bragged. Through tears. 

If you take an improv class to help with anxiety, chances are you’re there to get better. Seems pretty obvious. You’re anxious and you’re hoping the class will make you less anxious, or not anxious at all (if you believe that’s even a possibility).

It’s the same reason we read self-help books and go to therapy and do meditation and write down our thoughts and breathe deeper and snap elastics on our wrists and all the things we do to try and make anxiety go away. It’s “The Work.”

Improv is a great chance to do the work in a fun way.

Acceptance

Improv is built around the idea of “Yes, and…” The “Yes” part is simply agreeing to each other’s ideas. When we’re building a world together out of nothingness and imagination, it helps that if I say we’re dragons, you agree that we’re dragons. In other words, you accept that reality.

I kept reading stuff like “accept yourself as you are” but I hated myself and was scared that if I accepted myself as I was, I’d be stuck that way, or lose motivation to change/fix myself. But acceptance is just saying “Yes” to this moment. Is my body this way right now? Yes. Is my mind the way it is right now? Yes. Is my job/relationship/financial situation/cat video addiction the way it is right now? Yes. I’m accepting reality. But that doesn’t mean it can’t change it going forward. Just that fighting against this moment is a waste of time and energy.

Stay present

Speaking of saying “Yes” to this moment, I had read all about being in the now, and would consciously try to do it (despite the fact that you can’t physically leave the now – as Hale Dwoskin says, if you don’t believe it, try it some time).

But it wasn’t long before I’d be back to future-thinking and daydreaming about a version of me who could be present, and how happy he was, or will be.

In improv, you go line-by-line with a scene partner. So you don’t have time to think about “Where is this going?” or “What do I do next?” Because you’re focused on listening to your partner right now to find out. It’s like having a conversation where instead of waiting for your turn to talk, you have to listen to find out what you’re going to say next.

Mitsakes are gifts

Anxiety is built a lot around judgement. We judge ourselves to keep ourselves safe from ridicule. If I’m perfect, then people have nothing to judge me on. So I’ll judge myself constantly to make sure I’m always perfect. It’s exhausting.

Improv loves failure. When things go “wrong” the most fun and funny happens in the scene. It shifts your mind into a jester mentality, where when you act silly and people laugh you see they’re not laughing at you, but because of you. Your silliness brightened their day!

Putting others first

Brightening someone else’s day becomes something you care about. Anxiety requires you to think about yourself. How do I look/feel/think right now? Constantly checking in. In improv, your attention has to shift focus to someone else. Your job is to take care of your scene partner. Make them look good. When you really focus on someone else, it’s a nice break from thinking about (constantly judging) yourself. 

Anxiety can be very isolating and lonely, and it was nice to bond with classmates. Being silly and vulnerable together creates a feeling of trust, and leads to new friendships. The majority of my friends now are from the improv community.  

I could go on and on. The “and” part of “Yes, and” is about sharing your voice instead of being too scared that your ideas and opinions are wrong. With improv characters you get to wear a mask and do silly things you might be too scared to try. You also get to move around and shift your body and do mind-body connection stuff. And you play characters who can feel things - I had numbed myself in real life, because I thought emotions were bad - and be okay with that. (This is me not going on and on.)

Basically, any self-help therapy stuff I was learning, I was seeing the connection to improv.

Just being able to make a mistake without beating myself up about it for weeks was huge! I was doing the work and growing from it. But looking back, the key was that I wasn’t aware that I was doing the work.

Doing the work is great. Doing the work without being consciously aware you’re doing the work? Well, that’s something else completely. Segue!

THE PLAY

 "Adults" playing. 

"Adults" playing. 

If you take an improv class to help with anxiety, chances are you’re there to get better. Seems pretty obvious. But wanting to be better than you are right now, is a judgement that you’re not good enough right now. Wanting to be better will never end, and no matter how hard you work, there will always be more work.

I saw anxiety as a problem I had to fix. I needed to get better, and that meant working at getting better. So I’d wake up and do the work. Meditation, self-help books, seminars, CDs (pre-podcast days), you name it, I tried that technique. My plan was to do that every second of every day, 24/7 until I got better. 

But the idea of always striving towards “better” is what broke me. Instead of becoming anxiety-free, I was simply spending all day focused on what was wrong and what needed to be fixed and what was shitty. And because it was all I focused on, it was all I saw and thought about. Shit, shit, shit. I felt like shit. Life is shit. So I worked even harder. Until I hit rock bottom.

Fighting anxiety is exhausting. It’s a constant battle to stay sane and appear sane. And you’re scared to let up the fight even for a second, because if you do, the enemy will take advantage of that moment and start winning again.

You say jumping from space will help? Great! It’s gotta be better than this.

But improv threw me a curveball. Because it allowed me to do the work without doing the work. In other words, it gave me a break. A vacation from the full-time job that was fixing myself. Like any exhausting job, I just needed some time off. I needed to laugh for the first time in years. I needed to be silly and not treat everything like it’s super serious and the Most Important Thing Ever. Including anxiety. I needed to take it down off its pedestal.

This, to me, was what changed everything.

I had walked into that first improv class to help with my anxiety. To help fix the problem of my anxiety and get better. But instead, I got a break. Instead of “fixing” a “problem,” it was laughing and playing. Instead of focusing on my problems, I was running around and acting goofy. It wasn’t a break because I knew a break would help me grow. It was just a break. When I walked in the door of that improv class, I was okay not growing, or achieving, or getting better, or being less anxious for the next three hours. Instead, it was “I’m just gonna be who I am right now and play with that. After class, I can go back to work. But for now, let’s just have fun.”

And in that moment, I enjoyed life.

And that moment IS life.

 Me at the office. 

Me at the office. 

I used to see anxiety as a problem because it was destroying my life. And problems are solved by working on them until they’re fixed. Improv has shown me that recovery time is just as important as work-out time (gym analogy). That sleep is important. That vacations are important. That you can grow from downtime just as much as… uptime?

Improv is play. Goofing around. No right or wrong. No judgement. Just be silly. And you grow without trying to grow. In other words, it's actually a lot like eating cake. 

So to answer your question, How does improv help with anxiety? It lets you do the work without doing the work. It gives you a break from thinking you’re a problem that needs to be fixed. The work works. The play works. And the play is fun!

Essentially, I played my anxiety away.

Doing stuff is exhausting.

I’m a big proponent of taking breaks. Or just not working at all. But a lot of people feel like they have to earn their time off. Work hard, then you can have a vacation. I’m not going to argue with that, but I’m going to remind you how much work you do every single day. Let’s take this simple task: You need to get milk. To give your character a motivation, you want cereal and you’re out of milk.

Here are some of the steps involved in getting milk:

1) Look in the cupboard for soy milk or something.

2) Beat yourself up for letting the milk get this low without a back-up plan.

3) Think about how much you want cereal and if you could do without it.

4) Think of how long it’ll take to get to the corner store and back.

5) Psychologically prepare yourself for the idea of leaving the house.

6) Might as well think of other things you need from the corner store. Sure, it’s adding work, but it’s working smart.

7) Check the fridge to see what else you need.

8) Check the pantry to see what else you need.

9) Check the “secret” snack cupboard above the fridge to see what else you need.

10) Write a grocery list in your phone.

11) Think about whether the corner store has all of these things and decide whether to go to the grocery store instead.

12) Check the weather to see how to dress and whether to bring an umbrella.

13) Shave?/Make-up? Am I going to see anyone I know?

14) Get dressed to go out. Put on stuff that you’ve already worn, cause you’re “just going to the store.”

15) Think about the fact that you might run into someone.

16) Change the shirt to a clean one. Bummy jeans are still fine.

17) Drive? Bus? Bike? Decide to walk.

18) Grab your reuseable bag.

19) Picture yourself proudly/smugly saying “No thanks” when they robotically ask “Bags?”

20) Worry that the reuseable bag has the logo of a competing grocery store and hope they won’t hate you for that.

21) Grab your keys and phone and headphones to play music while shopping.

22) Open the door.

23) Put the reuseable bag down and grab your non-offensive-logo’d backpack.

24) Leave and lock the door.

25) Check to make sure it’s locked.

26) Wait for the elevator. Think about moving to a place with a faster elevator.

27) Ride the elevator with someone in silence, then as you’re leaving say, “See ya” to whoever that was.

28) Find a good Walking Down The Street song. Or listen to a self-help podcast.

29) Cross against the lights and feel bad as someone with a kid judges you for setting a bad example, even though nothing was coming and your kid should be learning to think for themselves and not follow the “rules” laid out by the traffic “man.”

30) Think about all the things on your mental to-do list and what you should be doing with your life.

You’ve spent your energy doing 30 things already, and you’re not even at the grocery store! Look at you, workaholic.

Ignore this milk-related video and stay focused.

31) Think about how you wish so many things were just a little different than they are, and wonder how to bridge that gap.

32) Basket or cart? Carts are too cumbersome. Benedict Cumbersome, amirite? Grab a basket.

33) Look at the basket and hate its design. Do I carry or roll this? Sure, it’s cool they have wheels now, but it’s so narrow and deep at the bottom, and grocery store trips start with produce and bread, and end with 2-litre bottles of pop. Squish.

34) Look for an older style basket. Complain in your head then move on.

35) Grab an avocado. Not on your list, but still good. You remember that the smoothness is a good sign of whether it’s good or not. Also pushing down on the nub. Also, the colour. So much avocado advice.

36) Grab… oh hey.

37) Run into someone you know. But you can’t remember their name. You’ve met like 10 times so it’s too late to ask. Shit, they remember your name.

38) Think about the cleanliness of your jeans.

39) Spend the “conversation” trying to place where you know them from and their name and anything you can ask about them, and wondering if they can tell that you’re in your head wondering about their name.

40) See organic carrots are on sale. Still a dollar more than the regular carrots, but aren’t they better?

41) Think about money. How to make more. Can you afford organic?

42) Dream of a world where you can buy whatever you want without looking at prices.

43) Realize Greg’s still talking and he just asked you a question.

44) GREG!

45) Apologize for being distracted, Greg.

46) Greg waves goodbye as he wheels his cart away. So Greg.

47) Grab the organic carrots.

48) Think about putting the regular carrots down in exchange, but they’re in a different section, so you’re either putting the wrong thing in the wrong place or you have to go all the way back to where the “normal” produce is.

49) The basket feels heavy and you wish you’d grabbed a cart instead.

50) Go find a cart, and just drop the basket in it.

51) Drop off the GMO pesticide carrots as you make it back to where you were.

52) Get past produce and decide which aisles you can safely skip, but still look down for sale stickers.

53) Fly through the aisles checking off your list. Non-Kleenex brand Kleenex, granola cereal to pretend to be healthy, those spicy beans for some reason, frozen wild blueberries.

54) Look at your list and feel like you’ve forgotten something and plan on being mad when you get home.

55) Get in line. The lines are long and they’re not sending new cashiers out to help. Why? Because they want you to use the self-checkout. In fact, they’re pushing those so much, I can only assume by the time you’re reading this you’ll have forgotten that there used to be a human at the end of the grocery process.

56) Get in line for the privilege of checking yourself out.

57) Scan the first item. It says “Place item in the bagging area.” Don’t even bother trying to get that “area” to understand your backpack. Just put your stuff over there then pack it later.

58) Wait through all the “wait for attendant” moments as the machine doesn’t like the way you scan things.

59) It says “ring for attendant” but you don’t want to be “that person.”

60) How many bags are you using? Nobody around to look smugly at. And to be honest, you bought enough extra stuff that you could use a bag.

61) Type in “0” because, hey, I just did your job for you, the least you can do is give me a free bag!

62) Put a few items into a bag, feeling guilty and acting suspicious as hell while darting your eyes around to see if anyone is paying close attention.

63) Grab your receipt and put it in the bag.

64) Don’t draw attention to the bag!

65) Walk out quickly.

66) Get outside and it’s raining.

67) Get mad at the weather app.

68) Wait it out for a bit.

69) Worry about the frozen food.

70) And the milk. Did we get milk? Are you fucking kidding me?

71) Think about running up their stupid escalator maze and grabbing milk, but then they’d see the bag. And you’re tired and have other things to eat now anyway.

72) Walk home in the rain.

And that’s just to get milk!

Can you imagine how much you work every single day? And I’m not even talking about work (as in, your job).

Sure, maybe you didn’t do all of those things. But maybe you did some I didn’t mention. I didn’t even go into driving and having to find parking and getting gas and all of that stuff. So if you ever feel like you need to earn, or deserve a day off, keep in perspective how much emotional, mental and physical work you put into every single little task you do.

You deserve a break. Take this moment to laugh and play. You can always go back to work the next time you need to pick up some milk.

*For those who need closure:

73) Get home and aren’t sure where to put the wet bags down cause it’s a wood floor.

74) Leave the groceries in the hallway, and take off your wet shoes.

75) Quickly dry your hair with a towel while worrying about how safe your groceries are in the hallway and who would take them and what are you even afraid of?

76) Get the bags and put the bags on the counter.

77) Take the receipt out of the bag to file it somewhere so that someday you can try and figure out your food budget.

78) Put everything away.

79) Put the plastic bag in the bag of bags to reuse later for picking up dog poop, or to put litter in, or whatever. So many uses for plastic bags, what was I thinking only bringing home one?

80) Wipe the counter down.

81) Put the box of cereal back in the cupboard.

82) Order pizza. I mean, at this point, you’ve worked up quite the appetite.

Next post: the ordeal of ordering pizza.

Be gentle.

Double meaning.

1) It’s my first video, so be gentle.

2) That’s the point of this video. Be okay failing and love yourself afterwards. There are times where we want to do something, but we think “What if I fail?” But we don’t take the time to answer. Yeah, what if? Get out there and find out the answer! Fail it up.

Here’s the vid.

100 ways to play (in the real world) - Animal Edition!

otter.gif

Couldn't do a list of ways to play without checking in with the experts. They make it look so natural.

51) You otter learn how to play!

You throw a couple of rocks on the ground and this otter’s like, “Whoa, are you done with those?!” then schools you on how to have fun.

52) Start horsing around!

You’re like, “Ugh, it snowed last night,” and this horse is like “Imma roll around in that shit right now!”

53) No business like crow business!

I’d go tobogganing, but ah man, it’s so tiring to climb back up the hill. What? Just fly!

54) Greatest Of All Times!

What the hell is that? I have no idea... let’s play on it!

55) Sorry about the animal puns. Bear with me!

Hay ain’t just for horses.

56) Only fox news I watch!

Oh man, would you look at that? Hey, I’ve got an idea for a commercial.

57) Care for some play, my deer!

It not about the ball, it’s the idea of the ball maaan.

58) I’m dolphin if you're dolphin!

“Surfing’s the source man.” – The dolphin from Point Break.

59) Rhino, rhino, you don't need to keep telling me to play!

Find a friend that you really just click with. Have fun.

60) Giraffe pun!

The most beautiful thing they’ve ever filmed. – the bag from American Beauty, still going strong.

Thanks for reading. See you next 10!

100 Ways to Play (in the Real World) - Holiday Edition!

Ho, ho, hope these help make this time of year a little more fun. This post is a bit different in that it’s not exactly ways to play, but how to play in those somewhat stressful holiday situations where you might not be playing.

41) Family!

Spending time with family can suck. I can say that knowing my family reads this. Which I appreciate. Love youuuuu. But when it comes down to it, they have the same faults as me, and flaunt them around. So instead of thinking, “How am I going to deal with my family?” think “How am I going to play with my family?” Get them to play an improv game, a board game, a card game, whatever kinda game Charades is, even a video game. When you’re having fun with your family, you stop focusing on past grievances and irritations, like the way Cousin Ted always chews with his mouth open. (Sorry, Teddy.) And bring booze. Lots of booze. And drugs. Jokes! Jokes?

42) Work!

Be your own personal fun committee. Do a Secret Santa with coworkers. Over-decorate your cubicle. Maybe get some of those crazy coloured lights that make your house strobe. Set up mistletoe around the office and watch the weirdness. Put some Baileys by the coffee machine. You know, force work people to be fun people!

43) Work party!

It’s sold as lots of fun, but it often feels like a social nightmare. Some of us aren’t that great in regular social situations. Add our co-workers and boss(es) to the mix and hell, you might as well invite some high school bullies to pants me, or worse yet, my family. Jokes! Jokes? So how do you play at the company party? Talk to someone you’ve never met. Ask them about their favourite show (if they don’t say Breaking Bad, feel free to walk away. Jokes! Not jokes.) If you’re in charge of organizing the party, why not break with tradition and make it a costume party? Or an Ugly Holiday Sweater party. Wear a Santa hat with a bell on it. Have sex with a coworker. Too far? Maybe just some heavy petting. Okay, moving on.

44) Shopping!

Oh man, those line ups are craaaazy. People running about looking for anything to give to anyone. Here’s a tip: while you’re there, shop for yourself. Try things on. Try things out. Try every sample those sample people have to offer. Or here’s a fun challenge: try and get something for everyone on your list all at one place. Then get to that toy store and play!

45) Travel!

They say getting there is half the fun. I say make it all the fun! You don’t need to save it up or build a reserve, there’ll be more fun waiting wherever you’re going. Especially if you’re going to a beach without my family. That sounds fun. Oh man, I could go for a beach right now. Warm sand. Anyway, make the travel part the warm sand part by playing travel games.

Planes? Play on those movator rides. Is “rides” the right word? Yes, yes it is.

Trains? Go to the communal car and set up a card game with strangers. Automobiles? Play “I spy” or pretend you’re in a race with other drivers and check in with where they are every 20 minutes or so.

“They” also say life’s a journey, so enjoy that ride!

46) Alone!

If you’re alone this holiday season, don’t focus on the fact that you don’t have family to visit, celebrate that fact that you don’t have to visit family. Jokes? I’m probably uninvited to my family’s place at the point, so if you wanna hang, I’ll be around. Make yourself a fancy meal with all your favourite stuff. Make videos of how to Xmas or Hannukah or Qwanza alone, for all the other people who are Xmassing or Hannukahing or Qwanzaing alone. Or just use this time to write the next Hamilton.

47) More Work Stuff!

Some companies give you a bonus at the end of the year. If you get one, use it for what it is, a bonus! Have fun with it. That’s pure play money right there. Buy a game to play with the family, or a drum kit, or a haircut. Fun!

Then again, some companies do their layoffs at this time. If you get let go, first, that sucks. And second, take a deep breath and enjoy the forced time off. Chances are you’ve been working hard for months, maybe years at the same place. Enjoy some down time and pamper yourself. Go to the movies and enjoy the theatre to yourself while everyone else has their nose to the grindstone. Get the big popcorn with extra butter. Or rent Horrible Bosses and vent your frustration on whichever one reminds you of yours.

48) Food!

Okay, temptations are gonna come. It’s the holidays, we’re supposed to celebrate. So I say do it. Gorge yourself on those treats. Dieting is what New Year’s resolutions are for. Nog up your drinks. Cookie up your ice cream. Ice cream up your bananas. Banana up your hammock? Instead of judging how many calories or how much fat’s in it, just enjoy that food, fully and completely. Yum.

49) Downtime!

I’ve talked in the past about how doing nothing makes my brain start noising. If it’s got nothing to do, it’ll try and invent stuff to do. I’ve also noticed that when there’s nothing to do, my body likes to get sick. Like it was running on adrenaline, then you let up for a second and… barf. So when your job or body says “Enjoy the break!” they’re assuming you can enjoy a break. You can! You just gotta book in some play. Schedule play the way work schedules your work. Take a class and learn something fun, visit friends you haven’t visited in months, make time for the previous 40 things on this list. Book so much fun you’ll wanna take a break. If you’re sick, read. Read everything. And watch Gags, obvs.

A calendar of fun from lalymom.com
A calendar of fun from lalymom.com

50) New Year’s Resolutions!

  1. Make time for play.
  2. Write down 100 things you enjoy doing.
  3. Schedule time to do some of them.
  4. Keep it going beyond January.
  5. Message me with your play stories, I’d love to hear them.

Remember, play is a mindset. Whatever you're doing, try and see it through those eyes. Turn “How am I going to do this?” into “How am I going to enjoy this?”

Happy holidays. And thank you for reading.

Love

(And here's 10 more if you're interested.)

 Photo © Nug Nahrgang

Photo © Nug Nahrgang

100 Ways to Play (in the Real World) - Part 31-40

Am I just going to keep going with my silly play list, and not acknowledge the joke-goes-here in the White House? Turns out yes. Not ’cause I’m ignoring it, or turning a blind eye, but because I genuinely think positivity is still really important to put out into the world. So despite how little many of us feel like playing right now, here’s the next instalment of ways to play. Enjoy!...?

31) Crafts!

Go to a craft store, buy some foam balls, pipe cleaners, puffy fluff, and sparkle stuff, then slam it all together. Crafts! Here's a video on how to put pictures on wood. Neat! Knit a cat sweater, add flare to your protest sign, personalize a mug. It’s fun, it’s art, it’s creative, what more could you want? Here's a photo of my friend Sean’s first felt. Cute as hell.

32) Potluck!

I don’t understand why all meals aren’t potluck. It’s like free food with friends. (Mental note, form a potluck group on Facebook.) Are you tired of reading your newsfeed and thinking about how terrible the world is and don't want to be alone? Also can’t be bothered making food? Well now there’s Potluck! Simply invite some foods over…er, friends over and enjoy some time together. Share a laugh, share a smile, share some food. Also, booze. Bring booze.

33) Chalk!

Don’t you hate sidewalks and walls with nothing on them? Ugh, like, what am I going to read while I walk with my head down to avoid eye contact?! Well, now’s your chance to make your mark. Chalk mark. Get it? Yep, you got it. Write a message of hope on the sidewalk. Or a joke. Or the world “love.” Or a joke with the word love in it that will bring people hope. Or draw a penis, those look funny. You get the point.

34) Secret clothes!

I remember hearing the story about Joseph Gordon-Levitt's mismatched socks. His was an homage to his brother, but you can just do it for fun. People won't necessarily see your unconventional attire, but you'll know it's there. Like wearing scandalous underwear. You know you have it on and it gives you that “I know something you don’t know” feeling. Here’s a video we did years ago. Notice my fancy socks. Unseen is that I'm also wearing very lacy undies. Shhhhh.

35) Pranks!

This is gonna be my second JFL Gags reference in the list, and hopefully not my last, amirite? Beyond the great music, there’s the gags. I love a good ole goof. I remember someone went away from the office for vacation, or sick (okay I don’t remember the details), and we gift-wrapped everything in their cubicle: computer, chair, stapler, pens, paperclip. What a joy to return to. Everything’s a present! Surprise a friend with a bucket of water over the door, call someone and tell them their fridge has run away, or turn yourself into a car seat. Looking for fun? Check your bracelet and ask, What Would George Clooney Do?

36) Snow!

If you live in a place that has snow, play with it. Pee your name into it. Make people out of it. Ball it up in your hands and throw it at a tree, or hit the “O” in a Stop sign, or recreate that moment where Bill Murray tries to recreate that moment in Groundhog Day. Slide on it. Ski on it. Listen to the crunching under your feet on it. I guess what I’m saying is, snow’s fun.

37) Escalators!

Run down an escalator going up, or run up a downscalator. It’s harder than it looks, and when you see people doing it, it looks hard. But it’s fun. There’s the challenge of being able to do it physically matched with the joy of “doing something wrong.” See if you can get all the way up before the next person needs to come down.

38) Stairs!

What fun are these non-moving escalators? Just race Rocky-style up every single one of them. Even if there’s only three. All steps are Rocky steps if you're sprinting! Run up stairs, alone or in pairs. Like Slinky! Though, like Slinky, I guess you can also do it in groups. Weird that never came up in the Slinky song as an option. Running down stairs is also fun. I can get from the 8th floor to catch the bus across the street if the app says less than 2 mins. I have long legs, though. And reckless abandon.

39) Make T-shirts!

You know those funny things you think would be funny on a funny T-shirt? Actually follow through on it. Make a funny T-shirt of your own. Then walk into a shirt store and say, “Do you have any more of these?” and they’ll say “Let me check in the back” and with a proud smile you’ll say, “Don’t bother, you don’t.” But then they’ll say, “It'll just make sure, really it’s no bother” and you’ll be like “No, it’s a joke” and they’ll be like “And a funny one, so maybe we just sold out” and you’ll be like “No, you don’t get it” and they’ll be like “The joke? I get the joke. It’s very funny.” And you’ll be super flattered.

Here’s some T-shirts Sally and I made for peopleandchairs.com.

40) Dance!

How have I never said “Dance” yet? This is number 40?! This should be number one, baby. Or top 10 at least. Dance alone or in pairs. Like Slinky! Dance with your potluck friends. Dance in the snow. Dance on the stairs in your new t-shirt. Like Lady Gaga said, just dance! Dance to celebrate stopping someone who was harassing a woman or a minority. Dance to celebrate that you’re alive. Take this moment to focus on something good. Like the fact that dancing exists.

Thanks for reading. Share the love, share the play. Here’s the next 10 (aka the Holiday Special).

Before you go, if that chalk drawing was messing with your mind as much as it was mine, here's how they did it.

100 Ways to Play! (in the Real World) – Part 21-30.

Hey, you’re back! Sweet. Okay, stop juggling your new pets, you show-off. Let’s find some more fun for you to have. Luckily, I work at a place where people are silly all the time, so there’s no shortage of ideas. (If you work at an accounting firm or something, you can be the one bringing the fun.) So let’s keep playing! With lists!

21) Handshake!

Invent a handshake with a friend. Do you remember DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince used to have that greeting? Haha oh man… what, you don’t? Okay, how about the Blue Jays with the door knocking? Yeah, like that.

Find someone you know, and celebrate seeing each other with your very own handshake. Get the legs involved, maybe a spin, some fancy handwork. I had a complicated fish-dancing one with somebody and when we’d see each other there was the joy of anticipation, followed by the pride of getting it right, or the laughs of messing it up. Have a different one for everyone you know. Non-stop fun (especially if you run into a big group).

22) Read!

I just remembered I said I’d do this one this round. Can reading be fun? Hell yeah. Just find something that makes you smile – or even laugh out loud - when you read it. I’m usually reading non-fiction, ‘cause if I’m going to read I might as well learn some shit. But every once in a while it’s nice to just read something silly. Pure Drivel, My Custom Van, Scaredy Squirrel (might not count, ‘cause I learned some shit) are some of my faves. Oh! Also this blog. Thanks for reading!

23) Bananas!

Write on your bananas. (If you aren’t already.) Take a toothpick and draw or write something on your banana. About an hour later, it’ll go black and your artwork or message will appear. Write a secret message and leave it in someone else’s fruit bowl to surprise them. Amazing!

24) TV!

Oh man, how could I have left TV this far into it? I grin ear to ear when I’m watching Just For Laughs Gags. Not a quality show per se, but it makes me giggle every time. Also I can’t recommend Breaking Bad enough. Again, for giggles.

25) Movies!

Different than TV in that I mean, go out to the movies. I remember skipping off work to wait in line for tickets to an advanced screening of Fight Club. Lemme tell you, you haven’t really seen Fight Club until you’ve watched it with the kinds of people who were willing to wait in a line at Dundas Square for hours in the middle of a work day. The energy in that theatre was, um, intense? So much fun.

26) Comedy Shows!

While I’ve got you going out to see stuff, why not go see some improv? Here’s the reason a friend recently gave me of why not: “I’m scared it’ll suck.” Fair enough. And I’m not going to say there aren’t sucky shows out there. But even going to see crappy comedy can have its fun moments. You get to make fun of how crappy it is. And if it’s great, well then you get to enjoy how much you laugh. Definitely worth the risk!

Check out some shows at these places (in Toronto): Comedy Bar, Second City, Bad Dog, Social Capital, and more.

27) Reenactments!

Speaking of shows, you can have one at home any time you want. Something funny happen at work today? Act it out for someone else. Why just tell a story, when you can show them? (I’m sure there are probably occasions when you should just tell someone, like if you’re a doctor delivering bad news, but hey, give it a try and lemme know how it goes.) Play each of the characters, take on their physicality and do their voices. How was work today? Oh man, let me show you!

28) Invent a game!

This painting has over 80 different games. Most of them took just some imagination to create, because they’re all basically just using bodies, or maybe a stick and a ball at most. Or you take an existing game and change it. Even boring Monopoly can be fun if you change it, or turn it into a drinking game. (Please, play irresponsibly.)

29) TV Dub!

Going back to TV. If there’s nothing on and you just can’t turn the TV off, put it on mute and dub the voices of the characters you see. Interactive television. It’s the way of the future! Wave of the future? For advanced players, don’t even mute it. (Don’t ever mute JFL Gags, that music is gold.) Do a running commentary. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 built a whole franchise around it.

30) Sidewalk Boogie!

That. Try to do that on purpose! Oh man, I’m sending people out to create chaos. I love it!

Want more? There’s 70 more! Here’s the next 10!! Exclamation marks!!!

100 Ways to Play! (in the Real World) - Part 11-20.

I guess you knew more of these were coming, cause, well, I said a hundred, then only posted ten. So yep, here’s more. Main thing to keep in mind as you read the list, and do the list, is that just trying them will put you in a feeling of play. Play is a mindset. Anxiety is a mindset. Generally the two don’t get along, and it’s hard to do both. So if you’re feeling anxious, give one of these a try. You play enough, and that’ll become your natural mindset. Then, if you miss it, you’ll have to find a list of 100 ways to make yourself anxious again.

But that’s future talk. For now, this…

11) Juggling!

I avoided juggling because I don’t like the learning process part of things where you look like an idiot. (That damn guitar is still haunting me from the corner.) But it’s pretty simple to learn, (here’s a link to a tutorial vid) and the neighbours can’t hear how crappy you are, except for constant thumping as the balls hit the ground. Or chainsaws, or flaming chainsaws, or whatever you’re using.

If you get really good, juggle with a friend. I haven’t done it, but I’ve seen it on TV. You can form a group and call yourselves Juggalos. What? It’s taken? Oh. Some other name then.

12) Cards!

So many things you can do with playing cards. I mean, they’re playing cards. You can flick them into bins. You can stack them into houses. You can do magic tricks with them. Actually, I think that’s about it.

Oh! Card games. Play Euchre, or Solitaire, or Asshole, or Cribbage, or Hearts, or Poker, or War, or Banana Jams, or Go Fish, or… you get the point. Pull out a deck of cards during lunch break and your coworkers will say, “I can’t, I’ve got a whole bunch of shit to catch up on…” but they’ll follow that up with, “…ah okay, one game.” (I made up Banana Jams, so feel free to invent that one.)

13) Throw things!

If someone asks you to pass something, throw it. That’s it. Enjoy the thrill as it’s in the air and neither or you know if it’s going to be caught. “Hand me the keys?” Throw ‘em! “Can I have one of those candies?” Throw it! “Can I hold your baby?” Throw it! Wait, scratch that one. Unless… nope, scratch that one.

14) Video games!

Oh man, I was a Rock Band god. I mean, I wouldn’t get perfect scores or anything, but on Easy I was good enough to unlock the next song and do an okay version of that one too. And while I didn’t really do any of the “missions,” I was quite the bad ass on Grand Theft Auto. Driving around listening to aggressive music, doing rolling stops, never indicating a turn. Also Wii. I played Wii.

Now I’m into whatever the current games are that people are into. Warcraft?

Anyway, find a game you find fun and play it. Remember, the person who laughs the most wins! Unless of course the game has some sort of alternative scoring system.

15) Improv!

Is it weird that I didn’t talk about this until now? Probably. But hey, that’s improv. Weird. But fun. So fun. If I could just take a moment to talk about how much it changed my life, this is the moment. It changed my life. Take a class or go see a show and be inspired to take a class. Look up some games here and play them, and check out People & Chairs to learn everything improv. Don’t wait, play now!

If you're interested, there's the Play Anxiety Away class, and you can try improv out with a drop-in class at wonderful places like SoCap, Second City, and Bad Dog.

16) Masturbate!

Play with yourself. Literally. Hey, if it’s fun and enjoyable, do it. This totally counts as play.

I don’t want to get all downer here, but I’ll just say be careful of porn. Remember, play is about enjoying what you’re doing and having fun. If you find yourself watching porn and not enjoying it, but needing it, or being numb to it, shut that shit off. Make sure it stays fun. Not sure what photo to put with this one.

17) Dancing!

Dance like nobody’s watching. How do you do that? Dance when nobody is watching. In your home. Alone. Blinds drawn. Away from all mirrors. In front of a camera doing a live feed to the internets. (Last part optional.)

Put on some music (some positive mood-boosting song you love) and just see what happens. If what happens is a head bob, enjoy that. If what happens is terrible dancing, great! In fact, dance terribly on purpose. That way if you naturally dance terribly you can tell yourself you’re doing it on purpose and laugh and laugh and dance and respond to the live comments streaming in. (Last part optional.)

18) Draw!

I know most of us hesitate to draw because we suck at it. But this is drawing for fun! One thing I do to break that scary blank page moment of “What should I draw?” is stamp a bunch of dots down on the page. Then I play connect the dots with those random dots and fill in what it is. This also works with scribbling. Scribble randomly, then start to turn it into something. That way, if it looks “bad” it’s not my fault, if anything I should be impressed that I made something so good out of what I had to start with. Here’s an example. Not bad for a scribble, huh?

19) Write!

Think of this as the writing version of scribbling. Just grab a piece of paper and a pen and write something. Anything. Do some stream of consciousness shit without stopping. If a judgement comes, write that down too. Get it all down, and some will be crap or some will be less crap. And who cares? Just enjoy the process of writing. Is that possible? I mean, I’m having fun writing this. Mostly I liked writing Masturbating as a form of play. Still happy with that.

Write calum-macaulay-60673.jpg

20) Clap last!

You know when you’re in a meeting and you have to clap for something? The next time that happens, try to be the last clap heard. And if someone else is doing it too, then throw in a random one, well after clap time is over. It’s a way to make the office tolerable! And even if it’s just you playing with yourself (not literally in this instance), it’s still fun to do.

Thanks for reading! Oh man, reading. That would've been a good one. Next time. Hey look, more playful plays to play!

100 ways to play! (in the Real World) - Part 1-10

Students often ask me, “Cam, this class is all great and fun, playing zombies and passing around imaginary balls, but how do you apply this in the real world? The world outside this class that seems to hate when people have fun and just wants everyone to ‘Get back to work!’” And I say, “If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that, and I do, because I charge a nickel every time, so I know how much…before I forget, you owe me a nickel.” “Now?” “Yes, now. Anyway, what was I saying?”

Then I ramble on about how to bring the concept of being in the moment, and allowing yourself to make mistakes, and taking care of others into their lives. And then they stop me and say, “That’s all great, but how do I play?”

And then it sinks in: How do you play?

So for my sake and yours, I’ve come up with a hundred ways to play. Simple things you can do to have fun in the “real” world. K, let’s do this!

1) Sports!

I’ve set the task of thinking of a hundred ways to play, and I’m going to lump all sports together in one?! Yes.

Mainly because it’s obvious, and while I do want to cover all the bases (haha solid baseball reference, though I’ve never heard it used during a game), I want this list to be about stretching my mind and yours into new and less thought about ways to play.

So yes, get out there and throw a Frisbee, play softball, tennis, nerf stuff, Aussie rules football…whatever. I made a group called Funemployed just to find people to play with.

If you find yourself getting competitive and efforting, try holding a beer in one hand. That usually classes any sport down by a peg. Oh man, now I wanna play tennis while holding a beer. Here I come country club! “Oh, I’m sorry, is it the beer and belligerent yelling? It’s not? My shoes are the wrong colour? That is bad.”

 Funemployed at "work."

Funemployed at "work."

2) Pets!

Am I about to call living things a toy for human amusement? Ummm, sort of. I know pets are also about love and companionship and connection, but let’s not forget how stupid they are. We don’t watch cat videos because they’re being loving companions. I mean, some of them are. Especially when it’s a cat loving a dog, or a goat. The point is, I’m going to go watch cat videos!

3) Cat videos!

Is this deserving of its own number on the list? Hell yeah. If you’re ever feeling down, go watch some cat videos. Those little guys are hilarious. And if you’re not ready for the responsibility and upkeep of an actual living thing, you get to enjoy the fun without all the litter box stuff. If you’re laughing, I’ll count that as play.

4) Toys!

I’m talking sitting down with a pile of Lego and just having a field day with it. Yep, sit in a field with Lego. Or at home. They also work at home. Yo! Yo! You tried yo-yos? Ah man, walk that dog. (Literally walking a dog, also a form of play.) Or build a dog out of Play-Doh and walk that. If you don’t have any toys, walk yourself to a toy store and try stuff out and wreck that place. A toy store needs to know you’ve been there. Find something fun and fun it all the way home.

5) Exercise!

I know exercise is not a “fun” word, but I’m talking about skipping, mini-trampoline, swimming, cartwheels, anything you find fun. I know we’re supposed to exercise to stay healthy, but if that exercise is boring, you’re less likely to do it.

Walk somewhere beautiful and scenic, dance badly in the park, put a full-size trampoline in your backyard and do some Olympic shit on it. If you’re gonna work out, you might as well play out. (Drops skip rope like a microphone.)

Exercise austin-schmid-37423.jpg

6) Colouring books!

Colouring books, they’re so hot right now, colouring books. I’ve even heard the term “adult” colouring books. Which either means there’s sexy stuff in it, or that’s how much permission adults need to allow themselves to play like kids. “Are you colouring?! “Yes, but as you can see, it’s a colouring book for adults, so you can’t judge me for being too childlike and fun.” Bonus points if you colour outside the lines. Gauntlet thrown!

Colouring Book rawpixel-com-455993.jpg

7) Cooking!

Some of us naturally enjoy cooking. Others do it just for sustenance, and so don’t want to put too much effort into it. So how do you cook without it feeling like effort? Cook for fun! Try new ingredients, try new recipes, basically do the show Chopped in your own kitchen. Get four ingredients that don’t seem to go together, then create one dish that combines them all. In conclusion, watch Chopped. Great show.

Cooking katie-smith-104748.jpg

8) Board games!

Back when I was too scared to leave the house, I’d play Monopoly by myself. I didn’t play the actual game, I’d roll the dice and just race the pieces around the track. Car and boot were my faves. Couldn’t wrap my head around how cannon would win. Turns out board games can also be played with others. So try that, too.

Invite a friend to a board game cafe, or bust out Cards Against Humanity at your next family function. Maybe. You know what, lemme think on that one.

board games.jpg

9) Fart sounds!

Try out different forms of fart sounds. Blow on your forearm, or into the bottoms of your hands, or the side of one hand, or with your armpits, or just with your mouth, or hell, fart for real on cue. Nothing gets a laugh like a good braaaaafffpppt.

10) Paper!

Make paper airplanes. Always crumple it up and basketball shoot it into the recycle bin. Origami that shit! I can make a dove. I tried a frog once, too.

Here's a combo video of the last two. And on we go to more plays to play!

The Happiness Formula

I recently read this formula for marital stability in “Thinking fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman: “Frequency of lovemaking minus frequency of quarrels.”

So simple! Love it. For a stable relationship, you don’t want to be in the negative. Have more sex (or same amount, I guess) as fights, and you’ll be fine. Science!

I thought, is there a formula for happiness? I’ve recently been obsessed with the idea of doing/not doing, so I’ll start there. How’s this:

“Time spent playing minus time spent working.”

Play more (or the same amount) as you work and you’ll be happy.

In this instance, I want to explain what I mean by play (and work). Play, in my mind, is any time you’re doing what you enjoy. Even if you’re at “work,” if you’re enjoying that time (your job is to test the bounciness of balls?), that’s play. And if you’re “playing” (out for drinks…) but aren’t enjoying it (…with coworkers), I count that as work.

So while you may work 8 hours (or more) a day, make sure you don’t “work” that whole time. Either find a job you enjoy, or find moments you enjoy throughout the day. Take breaks, chat with coworkers, do what you need to do to enjoy that time, and make sure you’re always on the play side of the sliding scale.

Do I have proof this works? Is this science? Not yet. But Imma try it and see. I’ll look back at my day and roughly keep tabs on how much time I spent enjoying and how much I spent not enjoying, then see if it coincides with my mood. If I played more, was I happier than days when I worked more?

I’ll also play with it live. If I’m currently in a somber mood, I’ll take a moment to do something I enjoy. If I’m too happy and loving life, I’ll take some time to work. Purposely do something I don’t enjoy? Sure! Now’s your chance to clean the house! Clean it until it feels shitty, and as you feel the scale sliding towards “work,” switch and do something you enjoy, like messing up the house.

Enjoy life more than you don't enjoy life, and you'll enjoy life. Simple. Anyway, there's the formula if you want to try it. Let me know how it goes.

More posts to come on how not to work. (As long as I enjoy writing them.)

Back when I "worked."

 

Take the long weekend off.

It’s the long weekend! The dreaded long weekend.

You see, for people with noisy minds, it’s hard to shut them off. In fact, they don’t shut off. Brains don’t shut off. Which is a good thing, in the grand scheme of staying alive, but not great if you’re the kind of person who listens to all of the constant thoughts. And if you’re reading this blog, I assume you are that kind of person.

So the long weekend can be kinda shit. It’s essentially more days off of work. And work is a great way to keep the brain busy. You take that away and I have nothing to keep myself busy. So you either find something to do (cottage, Fringe, Pride, Frisbee, writing a blog post) or you’re stuck with nothing to do. Nothing to do except listen to your thoughts.

Thoughts about all the things you should be doing. Thoughts about how the long weekend is your chance to catch up on all the things you’ve been putting off doing because you were so busy doing other things. Yay! We get to do more doing, but this time do different doings.

The other option is to take a break from doing, and just enjoy the time off. But for many of us, we can’t take time off, or stop doing, or at least stop thinking about doing. Students sometimes ask me, “How do you do nothing?” And I use all my learnings and wisdom and respond with this gem, you might want to write it down, “I don’t know.”

Honestly, I still struggle with just being able to be. To just be. And not feel like I’m supposed to be doing something. Achieving something. Meditation helps. Try meditation.

Great Cam, thanks for the unhelpful post.

Wait! I do have some advice. Maybe not great advice. And that’s to reward yourself when you do do something. I’ve noticed that when I “achieve” something, my brain will allow me some time off to bask in the glory.

Take this post for example. Once I post this, I’ll be able to take some time off. My brain will say, “Cameron, you should be doing something productive at all times,” and I’ll say, “Hey brain, gimme a break, I just wrote that post.” And brain will be like, “Okay, take a couple hours. Depending on whether it gets likes.” And I’ll be like, “I will!” And then I’ll be able to do nothing, knowing that I did something.

Ideally, we can get to a place where we can do nothing and allow ourselves to do nothing, but the way we’re raised in this part of the world, it’s easier said than done. So the next best thing is to take breaks in between the achieving.

Reward yourself for achieving a day’s work by taking the night off. Fully off. Not working into the night to stay busy.

Reward yourself for achieving catching up on emails by getting up and going for a coffee.

Reward yourself for achieving waking up and getting out of bed by taking a moment to appreciate life.

It’s really about sliding the scale a little towards a break. How much do you need to do before you’ll allow yourself to not do? I’d say, you read this post. That’s good. In fact, I’m so proud of you for reading this, take the rest of the day off. You’ve earned it. (If you don’t feel like you’ve earned anything from reading this, just know how much you’ve brightened my day by reading this. You’ve done something wonderful for someone else. Be proud.)

In conclusion, if you can’t do nothing, don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do nothing, just reward yourself for the stuff you do.

Happy long weekend!

Blog post done. Let’s hit the beach!

Beach for Take the Long Wekeend Off post - james-connolly-363041.jpg

40 is the new who cares?

People often ask me, “Cameron, how come you’re so goddamn wise?” Like, I mean all the time. I can’t walk down the street without someone yelling it out. Well, I’ll tell the secret. I’m old as fuck. I’ve had 40 years to accumulate wisdom. Or knowledge? Which one do you accumulate and which one is just in you? I don’t know. And at 40, I don’t care. And that’s the key takeaway here. I don’t care as much as I used to. And by care, I mean worry. I care more than ever about the things I care about. I love my wife, friends, jobs, students, home, family, self, parks, food, laughs, facebook friends, books, etc.

Here’s what I don’t care about: That my body isn’t perfect. That I’m not making millions. That I’m not famous. That I haven’t achieved everything I wanted to achieve. That I’m still in my pyjamas. That I spell pyjamas wrong apparently. That I have grey hair. In my beard, too. That I can’t grow a beard. That I don’t know what I’m doing or even what I’m supposed to be doing. That I haven’t written that book, or TED talk, or more posts. That I’m 40.

I remember as a kid thinking 40 is like almost dead. And now that I’m 40, I realize I’m like super close to being dead. But at 40, I don’t care.

Some part of me didn’t want to announce the age because I was worried that people would see me in a different way. That they’d be like: “I didn’t know you were that old.” “Oh, is that why you only stay out for ‘one drink?’” “Aren’t you a little too old to be running around playing zombie tag?” “I thought you were way older!” “Why don’t you sit out this game so you don’t die.”

But now I realize, at 40, I don’t care.

So, as a gift to me on my birthday, take a moment to not care about all the things that you think are wrong with you, and all the things that you think you have to do, and all the things that keep you from loving yourself as you are, and focus instead on loving me.

And you.

Mostly you.

Kisses!

Fuck coping.

I remember when that article came out last year being scared of the word cure. There’s such a promise in that word. A finality. Like you’ll never feel nervous again. I mean, I still get a touch nervous every once in a while. But not often. I used to feel anxious all the time. An ongoing sense of unease. Not anymore. But am I cured?

During a recent TV interview about improv helping with anxiety, the reporter asked/told me, “But you’re not saying this is a cure, it’s just another thing you can do as therapy. It’s a way to cope.”

I hate the word cope. Coping. Barf.

My dad lived his whole life coping with anxiety. And he felt shitty for a lot of his life. He coped. It never really took over his life and crippled him. It just clouded his life.

So I said, “I’m cured.” I got to enjoy the shocked look on his face. I knew they wouldn’t be using that footage.

When I watched the edited newslink that night, he talked about how “While it may not be a cure, it’ll help you cope.”

I’m not saying it is the cure. I’m not saying I know the cure. I’m saying there is a cure. How do I know? How am I so certain? Because I’m cured.

I want to stop avoiding the word cure. Getting over anxiety is not impossible. I know that because I’m not anxious anymore. And it’s not cause I was never really anxious, or not anxious like people who are really anxious. I was fucking lock myself inside my house and throw up at even the thought of leaving the house anxious. And now I’m fucking cured. I’m not anxious. I don’t define myself as anxious. I’m not anxious in situations where I used to feel anxious.

I’m a stroll in an improv workshop for the media without a curriculum, not knowing how many people are going to be there, not knowing how many reporters and cameras are going to be there, and not feel nervous or worry one tiny bit about it kind of guy. I’m cured.

It’s not how you’re wired. You don’t need “some nervousness” before hitting the stage. There is no benefit to stress.

Thinking that you’re never going to change and that you’ll always be anxious might help you cope.

But coping implies there’s something wrong with you.

There isn’t.

You may not like your anxious thoughts. And your emotions may overwhelm you sometimes. Or all the time. But underneath those thoughts and emotions is you. And you’re fucking perfect and beautiful and wonderful as you are.

I don’t know what your cure is. But if you follow love, do things you love, focus on things you enjoy, focus on the good, you’ll be on the right path.

Knowing that you’re wonderful the way you are and accepting and loving yourself and not needing to change means you never have to cope.

Don’t cope. Enjoy being you. Enjoy being.

Love

Happy Today!

I should write a Christmas post. I should tell all my friends how wonderful they are, and that if the people around you are what make up your personality, thank you for being so wonderful because I’m really happy with life.

I should thank all my students for being so courageous and amazing. I feel like such a proud father when you do stuff, but then I realize it’s not a father thing, I’m just a proud friend (so see part about friends).

I should probably stop saying “I should.”

I should realize that this day is no more special than any other day. But it is a good opportunity to say nice things that you’ve wanted to say for a while.

I should get ready if we’re going to make that movie on time.

Thank you everyone for a really great year, and for making today so special.

Love

 Gifting Bad.

Gifting Bad.

Anxiety How-To: Email

I was inspired to write this post when I realized I do not give good email. And when I say realize, I mean I was told. By several people. With love, though. I think. How come do you not be good email? Amazing question!

First off, I don’t always reply. I know, I know, one of the basics of email. But let me explain. And by explain, I mean justify my rudeness.

Here’s what I do when I get an email:

1) I read the name and preview line to see if I can even deal with reading the full thing right now.

If it says “Cameron, we’ve heard some disturbing news regarding your…” I probably won’t click on it. It seems like something that might require a thoughtful response. And I need time, my keyboard at home (too much typing for phone), and a good mental state to reply to important-looking emails.

However, if it says something like “Hey Cameron, we’ve heard some incredible things regarding your…” I probably still won’t click on it. Sounds too formal.

2) If I do click on the email, and something needs a response (Warning: most emails need a response, that’s why people send them), I think about how best to respond.

I want to be clear here that I don’t actually reply, I just start thinking of what I should reply. While I’m thinking, I generally check facebook, where I do step 1 again, in facebook form.

Tip: It’s especially important not to commit to a message when you’re on facebook, where they can see if you’ve read it or not. If you’re not ready to deal with it, avoid it.

I should point out right now, this is not advice, but a play-by-play of how, when it comes to emails (and texts, phone calls, dealing with things, etc.) I still have some of my old anxiety-related hang ups.

3) I’m in the middle of dinner or a show or something, and it suddenly hits me that I never actually replied to that email. I pull out my phone and think, “I should reply now” but it takes too long to type on the phone so I think, “I’ll message when I get home.”

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4) I remember when I’m out again. Fuuuck!

5) I remember when I’m home. I sit and feel bad for a bit, then go to the computer. I start the email with an apology for not getting back to them sooner, then wonder if they even noticed how long I took. Is that a weird way to start an email if they don’t think it’s been a long time? I erase the apology, read the original email, and think about how to craft the perfect reply.

Warning: I’ve been known to loop back to step 2 on this one.

6) Depending on the professionalism needed, I open a Word document and write the email there. No chance of accidental send. Also, Word highlights my grammar and spelling errors. “No chance of accidental send” is apparently not good grammar. Screw it. Cut and paste.

(Imma point out here that Word has no issue with “How come do you not be good email?” Just sayin.)

7) I retype the apology and read it over, checking to make sure it’s to the right person, from the right email account of mine.

8) Hit send. And instantly feel regret and panic. Then the endorphins of doing a good job kick in, and I feel like a big boy today.

This has been a “How To” on emails. I hope you learned a lot. If you have any other…

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Obviously you can see from the scroll bar that this isn’t over. Now that you know how I email, I hope that a) you forgive me for not getting back to you, and b) you know that I’m trying to learn not to be an idiot when it comes to emails. (I can say that because I have long established that I love me. Even though I’m an idiot. In fact, because I’m an idiot.)

Anyway, here’s how I would like to email:

1) Read the whole email.

Don’t just read the preview line and judge whether or not to reply. The preview is enough to plant the thought of the email in your head. And that’s enough to keep the brain thinking about it until you actually read it.

Also, anxious people have a tendency to “what if” more exciting end-of-previews:

“Hi Cameron, just wanted to message you to let you know that…” can seem harmless, but if you’re in an anxious headspace, it ends “…your business is failing and everyone hates you and the doctor needs you to call her back about removing a leg. Love Mom.”

So you might as well read it.

2) Hit reply right away.

Don’t walk away or get distracted by the youtubes. Reply right here, right now. You don’t have to have all the answers, you just need to reply. You could simply say:

“Great question (person’s name), let me think about it and get back to you.” Or: “Hi (person’s name), let me check my schedule and get back to you.” Or: “Hey (person’s name), this new drug does sound interesting, let me measure my current penis length and get back to you.”

The point is to send something. It lets them know they were heard. I’ve noticed people would rather have a terrible response than no response at all.

Ideally you get to the point where you actually reply on the first go. But that’s some pretty advanced email shit, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re not there yet.

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(Confession time: I’ve started “flagging” emails that I know I’m supposed to deal with, because it buys me time without totally forgetting about them.) (Warning time: I have about 20 “flagged” emails over the past couple weeks and they’re starting to pile up and get daunting, so I wouldn’t recommend the flag cheat.)

3) Hit send.

Seems obvious, but it’s the scary part, so we sometimes avoid it. Remember send is better than no send (get T-shirt made?).

All of this is just to help get things off your plate. Your brain plate. Every email that comes in, gets served on your brain plate. Then you look down at all the different kinds of food and you feel overwhelmed. But when you reply, you take something off your plate. You eat that thing. The more things you eat, the fewer on your plate. Which is good. What the fuck is this analogy?!

Analogy attempt two: When you open an app or program on your phone/computer, that program keeps running in the background until you consciously turn it off. Better.

For every email, part of your brain is aware that there’s something that “needs to be done.” The fewer of these things you can have going at once, the calmer you’ll be. Replying to the email is closure. Replying to an email in your mind and not sending it, just keeps the brain thinking about it and how you SHOULD reply and that is something to add to the list of all the things you should be doing right now and it becomes overwhelming.

It’s like eating all the food on your brain plate.

Deal with stuff as stuff comes up. That’s it. (T-shirt?)

Happy emailing!

The disappointing follow-up to The Office.

This is the first post I’ve published since the My Story series. I like those posts. Other people like those posts. I liked that they were the first posts you saw when you went to my blog. So I kinda stopped posting. I’ve written a few things since that series, but I just didn't put them up. I guess I was worried they wouldn’t live up to expectations. My expectations. My expectations of what I think your expectations are. There’s a feeling of living up to the quality/likeability/whatever it was that resonated with My Story. A bar has been set, and I have to at least reach it.

So imma break the streak and actually post something. About expectations. How do I feel about them? Good or bad? Well, when it comes to dealing with anxiety, they’re probably bad. Not to judge or anything. ;)

But Cameron, what about positive visualization? Please, call me Cam.

…Oh, okay. But Cam, what about positive visualization? You know what, I’m good either way. Cameron’s fine.

(clears throat) What about positive visualization? Great! Love it. Do it. Go nuts. If you can believe the things you visualize, and not just think of them as a thing you’re supposed to do.

The reason I say expectations are “bad” for anxiety is because our expectations are usually negative.

The reason I haven’t posted anything since the “My Story” posts wasn’t that I thought they’d be better and I’d get too much traffic and it would crash the site and I’d become rich and famous and own a cat.

I think expectations are tougher for us to do positively. The term “expectations” is usually grounded in “reality.” Let’s be realistic here. It’s fine to do all this positive visualization, but what are we realistically expecting?

Being realistic is our excuse to shit on things. As though reality is always shittier than what we dream will happen.

Positive Thinking: Cameron, post this and you might help people. Or get a million likes. Or hits. Or whatever happens in blog world to let you know you’re worth something.

Realistic Expectation: Cameron, probably very few people will read this, and chances are you’ve said this stuff before and it’s not that helpful. And you smell.

To me, the problem comes when we believe the second one has more weight to it. It’s the real one. The probable one. The one that’s legit, instead of just dream talk.

So I guess I’m saying, if you are going to do both, be open to both. Equally. I think right now “bad” things are considered more realistic and logical and grounded in sanity, whereas “good” things happening is more unrealistic and intangible, and not as likely to happen.

Fuck that!

A shitty outcome isn’t realistic thinking. It’s just shitty thinking. Expect shit and believe in shit and you’re attracting shit. Expect the best goddammit. Expect and believe that the goodest outcome is not only possible, it’s the probable one.

In an interview before the release of Extras, Ricky Gervais said “This is my long-awaited new programme that some critics are already calling the disappointing follow-up to The Office.” But without Extras, we wouldn’t have this:

How do you follow a creative success? Just do something else. If it’s not as good, it’s not as good. If it’s gooder, it’s gooder. Only one way to find out.

It’s good to be back.

How I Got Over My Anxiety, Part 7: Accepting myself as I am right now.

When we last left off, Cameron had just taken several flights to face his fears. He decided he was finally strong enough to live with and accept himself. And now the exciting conclusion of…

How I Got Over My Anxiety.

(intro music and title sequence)

When we landed in Toronto and I said to Sally “If I can maintain this version of Cameron, I’ll be fine,” it was a big moment. Because I was essentially saying, after decades of work, that I was done fixing me. It was also, I thought at the time, the end of me really growing.

For the past ten years or more, I’d woken up every morning thinking about my faults and what needed to be fixed. Then I’d spend the day working on fixing them. Essentially, focusing on my problems was my full-time job.

They say people are either motivated by moving towards pleasure or away from pain. I was an “away from pain” kind of guy. Hating me and my thoughts was what motivated me to see a therapist, and read self-help books and do Sedona and take improv. Hate was working, was I really gonna give that up?

Yes. I had reached the point where I didn’t hate me anymore. If years ago someone had said to me, “Accept and love yourself as you are,” I would’ve said “No way. I hate how I am. If I accept this version of me, then I’m accepting that I’ll remain shitty and always be shitty. Why would I want to do that? That sounds shitty.”

Now I felt like I’d grown enough to not be shitty. I was ready to love me.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND.

I love me.

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What an arrogant thing to say! Who is this fuckin guy? Is this post gonna be all about how he loves himself? Yes. Yes it is.

There’s a difference between arrogance, which is fueled by insecurity (“Yo man, how much you bench?”), and love, which is fueled by love. I love me. It doesn’t mean I think I’m better than you or don’t love you. It simply means I accept this Cameron as he is and think he’s enough right now.

So now I wake up every morning thinking about all the good things in my life. And I spend all day being grateful for all the wonderfulness. Moving away from pain had got me to neutral, I didn’t realize there was the whole other end of the spectrum.

I thought accepting was the end of growth. Since accepting myself as I am, I’ve grown way more, way faster. Mainly because now I get to enjoy the ride.

If you’re not sold yet, here are some things I noticed right away:

1) I started exercising. I wanted to recommend exercising earlier in the steps (get in touch with your breath, move, be in the moment), but I didn’t really do it myself until pretty recently. In that past, I exercised in hopes of looking better. Putting muscle on this skinny body so I wouldn’t have to be self-conscious about being “bony.” But my body-hate-fuelled workouts were never fun, so I’d never commit to them.

Now I’m in the best shape of my life. I regularly bounce on a mini trampoline, and do like 10 chin-ups, then turn to Sally and say “I’m huge now!” and it’s because I exercise for the fun of it. Doing it for love, instead of hate. Find an exercise you like, instead of one you think will “fix” you.

2) I noticed that people were less critical and judgemental of me than they were in the past. I assumed (like most humans) that everyone’s brains work approximately the same way. Meaning, like mine. When I noticed my stupid mistakes, I assumed everyone else saw me through the same shit-coloured glasses (opposite of rose?). As I got more compassionate and loving towards me, I noticed people wouldn’t judge me as harshly. Perhaps they never were. It’s all perception, man. [bong hit]

3) Another great thing was I got fired. I knew advertising wasn’t my passion, and I started to hate it and myself for still being there. So for a while (okay, years) I was grumpy and shitty at work. But that didn’t change anything. Then I started to accept it, and like it, and by the end have fun and enjoy it. I stayed in a job I hated until I stopped hating it. Then guess what? It went away. I learned what I needed to learn. The job didn’t make me happy. I did.

And I got to start doing what I love. Teaching improv.

In the past, when people said there was no way to make money from improv, I thought, “That’s true, I’ll stick with advertising.” But this time I said, “I don’t care, I’m gonna do it anyway.” So suck it. (Last part wasn’t out loud.)

4) I started to become more spiritual. Or maybe it can be defined as, I switched from being pessimistic to optimistic. When something happened (good or bad), I felt like I knew it was for a good reason. The Universe, karma, God or whatever, was orchestrating everything for the greater good. So if I missed a bus, I was meant to miss it. For a reason I might never know, and don’t need to know.

During SNL’s 40th anniversary, there was a clip of Stephen Colbert auditioning for the show. I imagine when he didn’t get picked, he was down about it and probably defined that as bad. But it freed him to become something even bigger and better. Yes, I’m saying The Colbert Report was bigger and better than SNL. Deal.

I stopped seeing things as good or bad as defined by me in that moment, because I don’t know what the bigger picture is. For most people, getting fired is “bad.” Until they start doing what they love, and their lives are way better for it.

5) I also stopped needing approval from others to feel good about myself. When I didn't love myself, I would look to other people to let me know if I was worthy of love or not. I needed to hear the audience laugh to feel like I had a good show. I needed my boss and coworkers to like me to be able to concentrate at work. I would gauge how total strangers looked at me to decide if I was attractive or not. This is a tough one to let go of, but I started to feel like I had a strong case on how I'm an okay person, even when others seemed to say otherwise.

All of these things just happened. Not because I pushed to make them happen. There’s a self-help saying, “What you focus on grows.” For years I focused on what was wrong with me (or what I thought was wrong). But now I focus on what I love instead. And those things grow and grow every day.

Love is just as good a motivator as hate and pain. From my experience, it’s actually better. Back when I hated my body and my job, they didn’t change. But loving and accepting them, they’ve changed completely. It was counterintuitive to me, but that’s what happened.

You wanna quiet the constant thoughts? Stop hating those thoughts. You wanna have a “better” body? Stop thinking you need a “better” body. You want to be all anxiety-free like me? Stop thinking you need to be all anxiety-free like me.

If you go back to the first post in this series, I wrote that Step 1 was “Realizing there’s a problem.” Followed by “Deciding to change.” I’m gonna revise that to:

STEP 1: Nothing needs to change.

There are no problems in this moment. You are enough and worthy of your love exactly as you are right now.

I thought I needed to work through Steps 1-6 to get to the point where I could love me. But you can skip all those steps (sorry for wasting your time) if you can start to love yourself now, even for one second. Just one second. Then do it again. And again. And again. And it’ll grow.

Recap of Step 7: You don’t need to change to love yourself. Love is about accepting yourself as you are. Not comparing to others or the past. It’s being okay with your body and mind as it is, right now, and knowing that you are enough. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you think you’re perfect and there’s nothing to change, but knowing that there’s no point not liking yourself until those changes happen.

Gonna say it again: accepting and loving yourself as you are right now doesn’t stop you from growing or “getting better,” but it will stop the pain and suffering that comes with hating how you are right now.

I’ve used tough love and suffering to fuel change in my life. And it worked. I’ve also used love and joy to fuel change in my life. I can honestly say the second way has been better – and much, much easier. Both work, but with the love one, you get to enjoy the ride. And if life is a ride, fucking enjoy it, man. [bong hit]

I love me. I love Sally. I love you. I hope you love you, too. Thanks for reading.

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How I Got Over My Anxiety, Part 6: Facing Fear.

After I cracked my head open, I decided it was time to change. One of the first things I did was try to leave the house. By this point I had turned into a little hermit, with my only “safe zones” being work and home. But I wanted to go for a walk, so going for a walk seemed like a good place to start. It was hard to get me out of the house. Not only was I not mentally ready, but my body would react to make sure I couldn’t leave. Usually by making me go to the bathroom.

Then I got outside. And needed to pee urgently and went back in. Then I got outside, and walked to the stop sign, then had to go back in. Sally would take me for these walks day after day, trying to get further each time. Essentially we were doing baby steps from the movie What About Bob?

At work I would go out on the fire escape and just feel what it was like to be 10 floors up. Not good. Did I mention my fear of heights? I get the sense that anxious people don’t usually have just one fear.

When I started to feel okay walking down the street, I would trip myself on purpose just to stumble forward. That way I’d get to feel the flush of embarrassment.

All of this is to say, I guess I instinctively started doing exposure therapy. Expose yourself to your fears. Afraid of the dark? Sit in the dark. Afraid of heights? Go high. Afraid of snakes? Go snake.

Um, remember two paragraphs ago when I said anxious people don’t usually have just one fear? I take that back. We might have tons of triggers (rejection, people, spiders... I'll just make a diagram), but what we really fear is the feeling those things create. The dread, terror, panic that we can’t control and takes us over.

Exposure therapy doesn’t quite deal with that. Walking outside didn’t make me okay with the whole outside world; just those parts that I was used to. Same with the fire escape. I was eventually okay sitting up there, but you’d never drag me up the CN Tower.

I wasn’t dealing with the source: fear itself. (Which is the only thing we have to fear, right FDR? FDR: Yes, Cameron, yes!)

So it didn’t matter which fear I chose, I just had to get cool with the feeling. Great! ‘Cause conquering a fear of flying would get goddamn expensive. Tell you what, I’ll tackle a fear I can access at anytime, anywhere. Embarrassment.

Shit, I can do that at home. Alone. In the dark. For free. Just by dancing. I don’t need other people to feel judged, I still got me!

My mission became finding ways of facing fear that were fun. A way of exposing myself to fear, without just feeling it over and over again, but learning to be cool with it and maybe even enjoy it.

Blah blah, you know this is an improv segue, right? Right, FDR? FDR: It sure is, Cameron, it sure is.

Improv helped me, by making me act silly and feel embarrassment while laughing through it. But unless you skipped straight to Part 6 (if so, cool, I like your reckless disregard for rules and norms), you already know all that. So I’ll move on.

This is where the “Accept every offer” post-it note got most of its use. I went to parties. Scary, but fun. I climbed a fence and jumped in a pool on a dare. Scary, but fun. I did a handstand on a moving van while being a teenage werewolf. Or did I just see that happen somewhere?

Anxiety protects you from potential danger, not real danger. In other words, I was scared to try anything new for fear of failing. Improv, juggling, playing guitar, singing, snaking, dancing, painting, were all scary because in my mind I could get them “wrong.” But I enjoyed them when I did.

I was creating a new groove in my mind. “I’m not gonna try this because it’s scary,” became “This thing is scary, but I know it’ll be fun, so I’m gonna at least try it once.” Facing fear is fun!

Now for the most fun ever… Flying! Yay!! (I know flying is just a trigger, and not the fear itself. But it’s a helluva trigger, so I’m giving it a name shout-out.)

S&P, my improv team (shout out!) was invited to play Improvaganza in Edmonton. Edmonton is a long train ride away. It’s a long car ride away. Hell, it’s a long flight away. About four hours, but who's counting? I was. Every second. And that's over 14,000 seconds.

Here’s the plan. Fly to Edmonton. Do the festival. Fly back to Toronto. Fly to NYC. Do some shows. Fly home. And then, never fly again. Unless I want to.

This was it. The big push. One more round of tough love, to prove (to who?) I’ve grown since the last time I tried to fly (cue haunting flashback of me unconscious in a pool of blood).

I slept the night before the flight. Huge. Especially compared to the five weeks of insomnia before my previous flight. Got to the airport. Good so far. Sitting waiting for the flight, I start to wig out a bit. Waiting is never the friend of an anxious person. It gives us time to think of all the potential dangers. But there aren’t any real dangers right now, there aren’t any real dangers right now, there aren’t any…

My teammate, Kevin Whalen, looks over at me and says, “You wanna play?” I say, “I’m tackling the biggest fear of my life right now, give me a sec.” He nods. Then I feel bad for letting him down, so I get up and we run around the airport with our arms out making airplane sounds. (Remembering that moment is making me tear up. Thanks Kevin. Ya jerk. No, not jerk. Crying is okay. Sniff.)

All good. Until the plane starts to take off. Then every cell in my body screams NOOOOOOOOO!!! I don’t wanna do this. Too late. Airborne. I’m still shaking from the take-off, but I know this trip isn’t about just flying, it’s about getting okay with flying and the feeling of terror that comes with it. So I start meditating.

And meditating. And Sedona-ing. And listening to happy songs. But not too many songs. Cause I gotta get back to meditating. And meditating. And Sedona-ing. Long fucking flight. Like loooooong. Sedona-ing.

We land. I like the landing part. I like being on the ground. Edmonton is nice. Big sky all around. We check in at the festival and are given a gift bag. One of the things inside the bag is a keychain, in the shape of a key, with the word “compassion” carved on the side. It’s fucking perfect. This trip, the last of my tough love, the last of me needing to “fix” me, the last of pushing myself to grow, the last of the judgement and harsh inner voice, just got summed up in one word.

Improvaganza is great. Wish I could tell you more, but I was lost in my own world, as always back then. We saw Lights (the singer, not the bulb), I got food poisoning (yes, this trip was indeed about suffering), I played Frisbee with my shirt off (also pushing myself out of my comfort zone), there's a mall, and I think the shows went fine.

The flight back was better. Hangout at Pearson was actually kinda fun. Noticed that after five hours straight of meditation and allowing feelings to come and go, I was pretty calm. Zen. Flight to NYC Zen. New York City can be scary and intimidating. Not for me. Not this time. Zen.

First show in NYC was rough. We all cracked under the pressure we put on ourselves to be good. Zen was fun while it lasted. Our second show we took off the pedestal of importance and it switched from scary back to playful and fun.

Flight back to Toronto was good. I looked out at the clouds and thought they were cool. I didn’t stay perfectly still in my seat and try to hold the plane up by the armrests. We landed. I’d done it. I’d put in the work. I told Sally, “If I can maintain this Cameron from now on, then I’m fine.” No more need to push and fix myself. Time for love. And compassion.

Sally said, “You want Chipotle?” And I laughed. The idea of making plans for the future seemed funny to me. On this trip, I’d spent hours upon hours upon hours living moment by moment by moment. The present is all that exists. And we can’t even control that.

“Sure.” We might die on the way there. We might run into some friends and go somewhere else. We might decide to go home and make sweet, sweet love and turn into werewolves who play basketball. It wasn’t my mind “What if”ing. It was my mind accepting that we can’t control the past, present or future. We can only accept what exists right now. I guess what I’m saying is, we got Chipotle.

Recap of Part 6:

“If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.” – Pema Chodron

“My quote’s better.” - FDR

Bring on Part 7!

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