New Year’s resolutions always come with a lingering feeling of dread. Lovely they may be in theory, but we know they will soon be broken. It’s just a matter of time until we are, again, the abject failure that we were last year. Like meeting a character in a horror movie, you don’t want to get too attached. You know they’ll be dead soon. Besides, a decision to quit smoking, comfort shopping, and Pret almond croissants made in the booze-fug of Christmas week seems in the short bleak days of January to be a bit, well, cruel. On top of never seeing the sun, I’m also not allowed to have a glass of wine in front of the Six Nations?
I don’t normally make resolutions for that very reason. I know I will fail at them. A lady never reveals her age, but I’m old enough that the idea of new habits seems pretty daunting. Sure, my intention might be pure, but if I have been doing something for ten, twenty or thirty years, what is the chance that I will break it this time? You can teach an old dog new tricks, sure, but it is harder. And just from a statistical point of view, I am not optimistic. Not that I don’t hope for change and aspire to be better and more than I am, as an improviser and as a person, but how much am I really expecting? (I know I’m not old, but the way.)
This is why for me this year is the year of compassion. Compassion towards those who act or improvise in ways I do not agree with or even like, compassion to those I think have not behaved well in the past, compassion to those whose work I do not like or respect, compassion towards those close to me and (hardest of all) compassion towards myself when I fail to be the improviser, colleague and person I want to be. When I half-ass a show, don’t do the piece of admin, or get jealous of someone else’s success.
Even writing that out loud, I can feel parts of my mind rebelling. Sure it’s easy to be compassionate, but what’s the difference between that and apathetic? With you know, everything, how can you stand by and let the world burn? Listen to your anger the voices say, it tells you what you want to change about the world. And it does, and that’s right. But if you demand perfection in every class and every show, every meeting and every conversation, you are going to get tired, and you are going to give up.
One of my favourite psychological studies (yes, I have a few) is of first-year university students who were paid to make their beds every morning. Just that. No huge resolutions, just a tenner a week to make your bed. I don’t think the researchers even policed it. After a couple of terms, their grades had improved significantly. Not an instant fix, but the first step in a process that can never be finished, that of individuation, or discovering who you are and how that is to be expressed.
Because this year, and indeed the rest of your life and your improv career is a marathon. It takes stamina, and that’s the flip side of compassion. If you have compassion, you understand failure and see growth for what it is. A slow, arduous process that can only happen at its own speed. We like the shaft-of-light, new-me-on-the-first-of-January-model, but mostly it does not work that way.
Which is why I am just picking a focus. A theme. A lens through which to see the year. Big change starts with small change if you let it. Mighty trees come from tiny saplings if you nurture them.
So make your bed, tell someone their scene was great, and respond to a Doodle poll on time. Be a better improviser and a better person by allowing that it’ll take time to be so.