One of the power phrases of improvisation is “trust the unknown”. While this sounds exciting to me, as someone who adventures into the unknown regularly, it can terrify and even freeze others in their tracks. I get it: Being lost is the heart of the forest. There are trees everywhere, one bleeding into the next beyond as far as the eye can see. Which way is out? What was that sound? Did something move? Overwhelmed and confused, it’s common to shut down.
What if, instead of shutting down, we leaned into the unknown? By acknowledging what we see with “yes, and” we redefine the world. And here’s the kicker: your brain rewards you for your journey by growing and becoming stronger.
The most recent understanding of our great grey and white matter masses suggest that they are highly adaptable (here’s the exciting part) at any age! The scientific term is neuroplasticity. In short, it refers to the ability of our brain cells to change according to our behavior.
There was a time in scientific research, not so long ago, where our brains were thought to be done developing after childhood. We now understand that the neuroplastic changes occur chemically, structurally and functionally all the time. When we exercise it, just like our muscles, the brain can become stronger, more connected and functional. You may have heard of studies of how learning another language thickens grey matter. Or how London cabbies that learn “the knowledge” have greater grey matter volume in their hippocampus than do London bus drivers. The bottom line is that changes in the brain are possible - and one of the keys to making positive, strengthening changes is being lost.
When you are learning a new skill, your brain forms new connections and neurons. This makes existing neural pathways stronger. There are several key components to making this work including
the level of challenge (neither too great nor too little) and that it is new.
Your intention - in other words, you want to do this and you know what you want from it.
Your energy and focus.
How often you put time and effort into it.
Time - you give yourself a set period of time to achieve, then evaluate what you’ve done.
The foundation of improvisation includes being present, open-minded and focused on the moment with the lead-in phrase “today’s the day”. By saying this phrase, the player opens herself up to the unknown and begins identifying what she sees. Through this process, the unknown become familiar and, just as the brain changes, so does what we see. We literally reshape that forest that once held us captive, forging our own path wherever we want to go.
So do it: Get lost in a new challenge and grow your brain power. The path in the forest awaits.