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Zen and the Art of Improvisation

Jim Robinson leaning against building column

The Improvisational Mindset

When you think of having to create or perform something spontaneously, does it cause anxiety? Does the idea of speaking off the cuff make you queasy?

If you answered yes, you’re not alone. But fear not, Dr. Jim Robinson is here to tell you that all of us are already improvising every day. And he says that learning to do it well can be a key to emotional and psychological well-being.

What Is Improvisation? 

“Improv is about recognizing and acknowledging what’s happening right now,” says Robinson, an instructor for the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS). “It’s about saying yes to the moment.”

Jim Robinson relaxing in a rocking chair
Dr. Jim Robinson

There are three basic tenets to improv, says Robinson, who has a PhD in psychology from the University of Southern California. First, say yes to whatever situation you find yourself in. That means you take the situation for what it is and let the moment dictate what happens. Second, let anything that happens be a gift. Be curious, be open. Third, practice radical nonjudgment. Don’t judge others in your group and—even harder—don’t judge yourself.

Robinson, who recently returned from teaching improv as a Fulbright Specialist Award winner in Pakistan, is unique among CCAPS instructors in that he teaches improvisational skills across several CCAPS channels. For Encore Transitions, a series of courses related to post-career life, he was one of four experts teaching an all-day course called Aging Well, Being Well in May. He regularly teaches Communicating in the Moment and Develop Effective Business Conversation Skills for the College’s professional development certificate program. 

To top it off, he’ll be leading The Improvisational Mindset, an all-day LearningLife immersion, on July 16. 

In all his courses, Robinson invites participants to “reawaken your sense of play” and encourages that through games, discussion and skills practice. He believes developing an improvisational mindset strengthens the mind-body connection, and improves resilience and mental health.
“I’m not saying that improv is the cure for anxiety,” says the 10-year veteran of the Brave New Workshop, an improvisation and satire theater based in Minneapolis. “But improv doesn’t look at the future. People can handle what they’re doing in the moment.”

For information on LearningLife or to sign up for The Improvisational Mindset, visit our website.

Published on June 13, 2018