Did you know you’re a screenwriter?
Don’t believe me?
Well, I bet right now, you are writing a script. It might read something like…
SCENE: A calm Monday morning. The mindful and compassionate main character opens her computer browser to read a blog post about mindfulness while drinking an exactly-perfect-temperature coffee. The house is quiet. The week begins peacefully and the kind lady has a wonderful and productive week.
In Shefali Tsarbary’s book Out of Control, she writes that a not-insignificant portion of our stress comes from this crazy belief that things are going to go our way.
Whether we realize it or not, we pretty much approach every day with a script (perhaps you have a cute name for yours, like “schedule” or “to-do list”). And when things start to go off-script, as they are wont to do…
… we tense up.
We might get angry.
We might wonder WHY ALL THE THINGS CAN’T GO THE WAY WE WANT THEM TO and WHY ALL THE PEOPLE CAN’T BEHAVE THE WAY WE WANT THEM TO.
We might even use unskillful language.
When I first read about this idea in Tsarbary’s book, I immediately laughed. I realized that I am an incredibly talented and optimistic screenwriter.
As evidence, I have written especially wonderful scenes for the following mini-dramas (let me know if you’ve seen them):
Suburban Parents Take Two Children Out for Dinner and They Behave Wonderfully
I Post a Political Meme on Facebook and Convince My Friends to Change Their Political Affiliation
I Get All My Work Done While the Children Play Together Without Arguing
I Devise Illustrated Morning and Bedtime Schedules That the Entire Family Will Follow Religiously and Thank Me Profusely for Having the Genius to Create
Eight-Year-Old Boy Realizes That Things Involving Poop, Barf, Farts, Burps, and Other Bodily Functions are NOT, in Fact, Funny or Appropriate and Agrees to Only Engage In Skillful Forms of Humor
It’s such an obvious and ridiculous behavior when we call ourselves out on it.
We probably wake up in the morning imagining ourselves in the starring role in the latest Hollywood release: The Amazingly Productive and Competent Individual with a Calm and Peaceful Family Life Who Gets Proper Exercise, Sleep, and Nutrition (sure to be a blockbuster). And then by midday we realize we’ve been relegated to supporting actor in Day Spent on Facebook and Instagram, After Panting While Going Up Two Flights of Stairs, Followed by Nachos and a Diet Coke for Lunch.
Wouldn’t it be nice if things DID go according to our script? And when our lovely family dinner turned into “I HATE broccoli!” and other forms of mealtime misery, we could yell “CUT!!! Wrong line!!! Okay, everybody, back to your places and let’s try this again….”
What we need to realize is…
Life Isn’t a Screenplay. It’s Improv.
I don’t know about you, but improv scares the shit out of me. It’s so…. unscripted… unplanned… and unpredictable. When I am in a “team-building” session and the trainer announces we’re going to play (god-forbid) “a fun get to know you game,” I panic. Will I look like an idiot? What will I say? Something no one knows about me??? ACK!! Couldn’t they have given us time to write and prepare and EDIT our introduction, for Pete’s sake?!? I’m in full-on fight-or-flight mode.
But THAT’S WHAT LIFE IS. I can make all the plans and preparations and edits that I want, but there’s always an uncertainty principle at work. I can’t control other people’s moods and agendas and opinions and histories and nervous systems and brain chemistries. I can’t control the weather or what someone else is going to say or what my eight-year-old will find funny or what foods my eleven-year-old will like today.
So I have to make peace with improv. I do this by understanding that the number one rule of improv is that YOU GO WITH IT. You play off the other person’s energy, and if they take the skit in a completely different direction, you go with them. You add your own flair to it, they respond to your energy, and they go with you.
Back and forth,
playing with energy,
not controlling or directing,
but initiating and responding and negotiating and allowing and compromising
and seeing the situation anew.
We might decide we need to rewrite the script, improve it, or ditch it altogether.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make plans or to-do lists (the horror!); it means we should approach them with flexibility. It means we shouldn’t attach to one single vision of how things will turn out.
Because, usually, it’s the unscripted moments that make us laugh and bring us joy. It’s the unscripted moments that make life beautiful and painful and wonderful and tender.
I guess improv is onto something…