For a long time, I was afraid to try new things, to meet new people, to do anything that might lead to failure. These fears confined me to a narrow comfort zone. I spent most of my time at home, reading books or playing videogames. When opportunities came to try new things, I usually ignored them. I made excuses. I wasn’t happy, but I was complacent. I was safe.
Then I read a book called Impro by Keith Johnstone. It changed my life.
Impro is a book about stage-acting, about improvisational theater, the kind of stuff you used to see on the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? I’m not an actor, nor do I want to become one, but several of the techniques described in the book were applicable to my everyday life.
In one section, for example, Johnstone explains that in order for a scene to flow, an actor has to take whatever situation arises and work with it. She needs to accept and build upon the actions of her fellow actors.
Once you learn to accept offers, then accidents can no longer interrupt the action. […] This attitude makes for something really amazing in the theater. The actor who will accept anything that happens seems supernatural; it’s the most marvelous thing about improvisation: you are suddenly in contact with people who are unbounded, whose imagination seems to function without limit.
I thought about this passage for days. “What if I did this in real life?” I wondered. “What if I accepted offers and stopped blocking them?” I began to note the things I blocked and accepted. To my surprise, I blocked things constantly – I made excuses to not do things because I was afraid of what might happen if I accepted.
- When online acquaintances asked to meet for lunch. I’d refuse. I was scared they might think I was fat or stupid. (Or that they might be an axe murderer!)
- When a local television station asked me to appear on their morning show as a financial expert, I was afraid of looking like a fool, so I refused.
- When a friend wanted me to join him to watch live music at a local pub, I declined. I’d never been in a bar (yes, I’d led a sheltered life) and was nervous about what might happen.
- When another friend asked me to bike with him from Portland to the Oregon Coast, I said no. It was a long way. It seemed difficult and dangerous.
These are only a handful of examples. In reality, I blocked things every day. I refused to try new foods. I didn’t like to go new places. And I didn’t want to try new things. Or, more precisely, I wanted to do all of this, but was afraid to try. Because I focused more on the possible negative outcomes than the potential rewards, I avoided taking even tiny risks.
After reading Impro, I made a resolution. Instead of saying “no” to the things that scared me, I’d say “yes” instead.
Whenever somebody asked me to do something, I agreed (as long as it wasn’t illegal and didn’t violate my personal code of conduct). I put this new philosophy into practice in lots of ways, both big and small.
- When people asked me to lunch, I said yes.
- When people contacted me to make media appearances or do public speaking gigs, I said yes.
- When friends asked me to go see their favorite bands or to spend the evening chatting at a bar, I said yes.
As a result of my campaign to “just say yes”, I’ve met hundreds of interesting people and done lots of amazing things. I’ve eaten guinea pig in Perú and grubs in Zimbabwe. I’ve climbed mountains in Bolivia and snorkeled in Ecuador. I’ve learned to love both coffee and beer, two beverages I thought that I hated. I’ve learned to ride a motorcycle. I’ve shot a gun. I’ve gone skydiving and bungie-jumping. I wrote and published a book. I sold my website. I took a monthly column in a major monthly magazine.
These things might seem minor to natural extroverts, but I’m not a natural extrovert. I’m an introvert. These were big steps for me. These experiences were new and scary, and I wouldn’t have had them if I hadn’t forced myself to say yes.