Do you allow room to surprise yourself?

On an outing with my wife and son to an outdoor festival, I had a chance observe my son’s reaction to a surprising success and it gave me an opportunity for insight into my own attempts at success.

We had driven 30-minutes to a state park in Georgia where volunteers had set up lots of outdoor stations. Canoe rides, archery, BB guns, rock climbing, fishing, and more.

At his young age and with his temperament, there seemed to be three possibilities for any challenge my son was faced with:

  1. He is fully confident in the task and would be surprised if the did not succeed
  2. He lacks full confidence, proceeds anyway and is happily surprised when he succeeds
  3. He wants nothing to do with the activity to start with and cannot be convinced to proceed

I watched in curiosity as he had these reactions and as I failed to predict which activities he would be confident in and which he would have no interest.

Paddleboat and canoe riding which both called to him involved no anticipation or nerves and resulted in an amazing time from start to finish. His confidence in himself and in the activity was absolute and there was no room or time for deliberation.

I was surprised when big kid archery with compound bows got his attention but he was far too small to be able to pull the arrow back enough to make it fly. Delighted, we headed over to find the little kid’s archery where he gathered his courage, calmed his nerves, and succeeded on the first try at shooting the arrow into the target area. He was surprised at his accomplishment and excited to try again. If he had walked away at this point he would have been on cloud nine, but he had two more arrows, each of which failed to launch. The second arrow fell out of the notch on the ground and the third arrow slapped him on the arm, upsetting him a bit. We praised him for his attempt and reminded him that he succeeded on the first arrow. I wondered afterward how this would all play out in his future if he were ever offered a bow and arrow again. Would it be his surprise at his success he would remember or the pain of being slapped by the arrow?

Rock climbing he wanted nothing to do with. He saw the activity and decided immediately that he did not want to participate. I was a little stumped on this one because of his reactions to other activities. What made him not want to proceed? Fear of heights? The long line of kids watching? The amount of time it had been since breakfast?

Do we allow room to surprise ourselves?

I started thinking about the different activities that I am absolutely confident in and the ones I am certain I will fail at. I tried to think of things that I might put in a category of “I’m not sure. I’ll try and see.”

Everything I could think that I wanted to take part in was something I was very confident I would be able to do well. Anything else got mentally dumped into the category of “I’ll pass.” This was of course not what I anticipated and didn’t follow the intentionality and minimal risk-taking that I speak about with my clients.

So where have I left room to surprise myself? On the drive home I tried to place things I have done that fit into a place of unsureness followed by surprise at success. There were far fewer that fit in this category than I had hoped. Generally, the things I want to do are all directly related to what I am powerfully confident in. The types of risks I find myself taking are big ones, but they are calculated and I am confident in my success.

Over the 30 minute drive back home I realized that if I am going to change things and show my son what it looks like to try something that you are not sure you will succeed at, I will have to be intentional. So I started a new list.

Activities I am not confident in but am allowing room to surprise myself by trying.

  1. Learning to throw and catch a football correctly
  2. Grilling steaks over charcoal without ruining them
  3. Learning to beatbox
  4. Learning to play a new instrument
  5. Taking my son camping
  6. Taking a hip-hop dance class
  7. Taking a martial arts class
  8. Learning the history (including dates and names of important events and people) of the city I live in

So what about you? Where are you allowing room to surprise yourself?

What is your Next Right Thing?

There are times when we get stuck in a project or a task and are not sure how to get ourselves over the hump. Today we will look at three causes of paralysis and how we can simplify to overcome them.

Future Thought Prohibits Present Action

As business people, Allison and Jim spend large chunks of time planning and strategizing, but because we are also improvisers, we recognize when our future thought is prohibiting our present action. Mindfulness and self-awareness can help us to sense when we need to shift into a hard focus on what is happening in the present and what levers need pulling to help move the needle in this very moment.

Analysis Paralysis

Sometimes we can spend so much time thinking about all of the aspects of the work we are doing that we end up freezing up and not doing the actual work.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz coined the phrase “Paradox of Choice” to describe his consistent findings that, while increased choice allows us to achieve objectively better results, it also leads to greater anxiety, indecision, paralysis, and dissatisfaction.

Rather than empowering us to make better choices, our virtually unlimited access to information often leads to greater fear of making the wrong decision, which in turn leads to us spinning our wheels in a seemingly inescapable purgatory of analysis paralysis, all the while getting nowhere on our important projects. – Todoist blog. 

Sunken Cost Fallacy

Sometimes we trick ourselves into continuing on a project or task simply because we have already put money and effort into it. We put pressure on the project itself to meet a potentially unrealistic benchmark when instead it should either just be accepted or should be discarded entirely.

Imagine you go see a movie which costs $10 for a ticket. When you open your wallet or purse you realize you’ve lost a $10 bill. Would you still buy a ticket? You probably would. Only 12 percent of subjects said they wouldn’t. Now, imagine you go to see the movie and pay $10 for a ticket, but right before you hand it over to get inside you realize you’ve lost it. Would you go back and buy another ticket? Maybe, but it would hurt a lot more. In the experiment, 54 percent of people said they would not. The situation is the exact same. You lose $10 and then must pay $10 to see the movie, but the second scenario feels different. It seems as if the money was assigned to a specific purpose and then lost, and loss sucks. – You Are Not So Smart.

New Focus: The Next Right Thing

In order to avoid too much future thought, analysis paralysis, and sunken cost fallacy, we can focus on choosing the next right action and just doing it. Restoring our forward momentum by moving into action can be all it takes to break out of a frozen state. What is one thing that I can do next that will result in a better final product without question? What action can I take that I do not need to think about, get approval on, or find supporting documentation about? Let’s start that one action and see ourselves begin forward movement and leave paralysis behind.

What is your next right thing?

The Crab Mentality

As Jim gathers data and experiences for his future book “The Ladder and the Lift: Improvisation for Intentional Interactions” he will be posting insights here on the DuMore Improv Blog.

When we focus on intentionality in our interactions, it is necessary for us to know what it would look like to succeed at intentionality and what it would look like if we were to fail.

Crab Mentality – Wikipedia

Crab mentality, sometimes referred to as crabs in the bucket (also barrel, basket or pot), is a way of thinking best described by the phrase, “if I can’t have it, neither can you.”[1] The metaphor refers to a bucket of crabs. Individually, the crabs in the story could easily escape from the bucket, but instead they are described as grabbing at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise.[2][3][4][5] The analogy in human behavior is claimed to be that members of a group will attempt to negate or diminish the importance of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envyspiteconspiracy, or competitive feelings, to halt their progress. – Wikipedia

Punching and Pulling Down

So if I am someone who wishes to, at best, lift up someone else within an interaction, I must also know that at the very least my goal is not to pull/punch down.

Punching down happens when we are in a better state than the person in an interaction and we choose to put them in a worse position than when we encountered them.

Pulling down indicates that we are either in the same position or worse than the person in an interaction and we choose to put them in an even worse position than when we encountered them.

Pulling Down is where the crab mentality kicks in.

If I am in the same position as someone else, I can do something that helps them up to another level, but it will leave me in the same position as before. I may decide that I do not want to use my opportunity, talents, or network to lift the other person up. I may think to myself that if I cannot have this thing, then why should I lift them up to reach it?

However, If my basic needs are provided for and my situation will not be made worse by helping someone else, then Lower the Ladder and Only Lift Up pushes me to do it and to be genuinely happy for the person who got the ladder and the lift.

What causes us to want to Pull Down?

At the end of the Wikipedia introduction, it mentions envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings. I like this break-down a lot because it covers the darker side of our motivation fairly well.

Envy – a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.

Spite – a desire to hurt, annoy, or offend someone.

Conspiracy – a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.

Competitive Feelings – having a strong desire to win or to be the best.

Reminders for the Ladder and the Lift

So when I am in the middle of an intentional interaction I must remind myself of my goals:

  1. Ensure that I will not be put in a bad position by lifting the other person up.
  2. Ensure the other person will not be accidentally be enabled by my well-intended lift up.
  3. Lower the Ladder to them so that they can help themselves out under their own power.
  4. Empower the other person to rise up a level even if it means they will now be higher than myself.

What situations can you see yourself hesitating to help out of envy, spite, conspiracy, or competition? What can be done to prepare yourself to ignore these instincts and follow through with lifting up?

Episode 7 – Boundaries

In this episode, Allison and Jim discuss setting boundaries around time and expectations at work.

Episode 6 – Self Care

This week, Allison and Jim discuss what happens when we do not practice self care and tips on incorporating it into your work life.

Episode 5 – “Can You Fix My Boss?”

In this episode, Allison and Jim discuss the most frequently asked post-workshop question, “Can you fix my boss?”

Thanks for the Lift

Ever since I discovered ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft during that cold November night of Chicago weather, I have been a fan. I’ve used ride-sharing all over the world from international cities like NYC, LA, San Francisco, London, Paris, Barcelona, to small towns like Seneca, SC, and Chattanooga, TN. The downside? I look forward to every ride with just a tad bit of apprehension –  the interaction with the driver. If you know me, you know that I love hearing other people’s stories. I’ve always made an effort to get to know something about each driver, partly because I’m naturally curious, but more so because I want them to know that I recognize them as a fellow human being during those driving moments between pick up and drop off.

Here are a few of my most impactful encounters with Uber drivers.

Barcelona, Spain

The driver picks me up from the hotel for transportation to the airport.  My Catalonia isn’t strong, and he seemed to speak very little English, so we were having a bit of trouble communicating.  To my delight, he had Trisha Yearwood cranked up full blast, followed by Kenny Chesney, then Garth Brooks. He was singing along to every song.  I realized that this music he was so completely enjoying could be a point of connection between us. I told him where I was from – Georgia. This music was from my home essentially, the home of Trisha Yearwood and so many other artists. He got super excited and all of a sudden could speak fluent English!  Thanks to country music for helping me make this connection!

San Diego, CA

The driver picks me up from the hotel to attend a reception I was hosting nearby.  I hopped in the front seat, and she had really lovely gospel music playing. We were making small chat and she asked where I was from.  I told her Atlanta. And she replied, “Oh, my sister lives in Atlanta.” We gave each other a look that read, “Oh, now you’re going to expect us to know each other in a town of 4M people”.   

“My sister works at a university,” she said.  

“So do I,” I responded.  

“My sister works at Emory,” my driver says.  

“So do I,” I reply again.  

“My sister works at the Business School,” and well, you have probably figured out my answer.  

So I ask, “what’s your sister’s name?” (still thinking this might be a long shot.) And she declares my dear friend and colleague, Carmalina, as her sister!!! It was crazy – so we had to immediately call Carmalina to tell her of our good fortune of meeting each other and had fun revealing our secret on her voicemail!   You never know what you might learn or who you might encounter if you take the time to engage in real dialogue!

Madison, WI

I was traveling with my colleagues from Harvard and Georgia Tech.  An older man picked us up in a double cab, extended pick up truck with a covered top.  My colleagues quickly jumped in the second row, leaving me to sit upfront with the driver.  I spent the first few minutes trying to make small talk, you know the usual, “How’s your weather been?  How’s your favorite sports team doing?” And he barely muttered a response. I ended up turning around in my seat to talk with my friends but that wasn’t exactly comfortable either.  We finally make it to the airport and as soon as the driver pulled away, my two friends burst into laughter, saying, “Girl, you tried so hard to get that man to talk, and he wasn’t having any of it.  We couldn’t believe it when you finally gave up!” “I couldn’t believe it either, but clearly the man needed his space and had no time for foolish conversation. So I just tried to be respectful.” Sometimes I can do quiet, sometimes.

Chattanooga, TN

While leaving a corporate HQ and traveling to Atlanta by plane, I was driven by an older and stately gentleman in a really nice car.  He shared with me that I needn’t worry about the delivery time as he lived and grew up there and new the state highway (back roads) to the airport, avoiding the backed-up freeway.  He shared his hate of having to drive through Atlanta in order to visit his daughter who lives in Charleston, my hometown and current home of my firstborn daughter. We got to talking about our daughters, their schooling, their lives in Charleston.  I noticed a sort of melancholy about his voice as he talked about this daughter. So something compelled me to ask, “Is she your only child?” That one question opened him up to talk about his other daughter, the one with two beautiful children, a successful spouse, a country club lifestyle, and the one he’d tried so valiantly to rescue from addiction without succeeding.  His telling of his daughter’s story revealed darkness that’s not always visible from surface traits. I thanked him for sharing his story with me as we pulled up to the ticketing curb at the airport. He turned and said to me, “Thank you for allowing me to tell it. I needed to share with someone today.”

A few quick memories

From my driver in Baltimore, who was rescuing his entire family from poverty with driving and day-trading (he even shared tips and an app with me), to the nurse in Philly who drove between her and her husband’s shifts at work, to the Chicago young mom who needed to be home with her children but didn’t realize that picking me up was going to take her across town from them, to the dad in Atlanta who was quiet until we mentioned we liked his music (Sinatraesque) and learned that his daughter, who was a finalist on American Idol, is heading to The Voice this year.

Others in particular who stand out in memory include the immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was covered in tattoos and piercings with a big pile of braids, who picked me up at 6 am in Boston and proceeded to tell me how “great America is going to be again,” the private driver of a Fortune 500 CEO who drove when his boss was out of town (I remember the car mostly, a luxurious Mercedes SUV); and the one and only driver in the small town of Seneca, SC, who both took us out to a night of music and then picked us back up!

Each encounter made using the riding service meaningful in one way or another.  I’ve met some really awesome and genuine people who are out there hustling every day.  Each of them has a story, and if we’re willing to listen, our lives could be transformed by the experience.

Episode 4 – [AUDIOBLOG] Yes, And-ing Unforeseen Obstacles in Dangerous Territory

In this episode, Allision Gilmore recounts her experiences while on vacation and relates them to a real case study with one of our clients in “Yes, And-ing Unforeseen Obstacles in Dangerous Territory”

10 Reasons to Leave Your Technology At Home During Vacation

When Jim decided to leave his computer at home during his beach vacation, his family was in shock. When he told them he would be turning off his phone and leaving it in a drawer for the week, they checked his temperature. Seven days later, a more energetic, clear-headed, and mindful Jim returned from the beach. Here are 10 Reasons to Leave Your Technology At Home During Vacation

10.) Our Phone Can Be A Coping Mechanism

Being away from home and around a large group of people for an entire week can be stressful even if they are your closest and best friends. For those of us who have a somewhat introverted nature, we can end up coping with that stress by disappearing into our technology while in the room with others. When Jim left the phone in his drawer and focused on balancing full respectful engagement while taking opportunities for rest and self care, the entire week’s experience improved dramatically and his vacation became exponentially more enjoyable. 

9.) We Might Need a Technology Detox

At some point in time, we have to be honest with ourselves and ask the difficult question: “Am I addicted to my technology?”  If you are someone who answered with, “No I am not”, congratulations! But we would challenge you to take a closer look and see if that is really true.  Keeping a balanced use of technology as a tool should be our goal, but utilizing a tool wisely can quickly degrade to checking your email again just because it gives you a good feeling dose of dopamine. None of us want to be an addict, and we should all be aware that it is a real thing. Jim discovered that as the week of vacation went on it became less compulsive to want to check his notifications, which resulted in a much more pleasant and rewarding calm and mindfulness.

“Every time we switch tasks, we’re also shooting ourselves up with a dose of the stress hormone cortisol. The switching puts our thoughtful, reasoning prefrontal cortex to sleep, and kicks up dopamine, a brain chemical that plays a key role in pursuing reward and motivation.” – Business Insider

8.) We Are Not Necessarily As Important As We Think We Are

We all like to think that people can’t do without us. If we are not careful we may start to believe ourselves so indispensable that we can’t give ourselves a break when needed. Coming to a place of balance with our own self importance and ego can allow us to take a real break with time for self care.  Failing to wrestle our ego into place can result in a constant tension as we subconsciously wait for the phone to ring. 

7.) We Can Make Space for Forgotten Hobbies and Exploration

There are lots of things that we all want to do that we just don’t seem to be able to find the time for in life. If we look at how much time we spend each day checking our phones, scrolling through Facebook and playing games, we can tell where our availability for other hobbies has gone. Leaving our technology behind for a short time can show us how much we enjoy things like reading, biking, bird watching, or just walking on the beach. 

6.) Sometimes Epiphanies Appear from the Vacuum

Allowing our brains to be “bored” every once in a while results in some really incredible conclusions and ideas. Out of the chaos and overwhelming nature of social media, and constant connection online, our brains sometimes fail to communicate our best ideas to us because we are so mentally under water. In unplugging, and waiting for our brain to leave technology withdrawal, we can find ideas and clarity waiting for us to jot down on a piece of paper, and then go back to relaxing. 

5.) We Can Find More Opportunities For Connection

Looking down at our phones, or staring at a screen, takes away opportunities for face-to-face connection with others.  While on vacation, Jim noticed many more opportunities to play, have conversations, and revel in the personalities around him.

4.) We Need A Check In With How Facebook is Affecting Us

Not only is Facebook a time suck, but it is also an emotional roller coaster. We are affected just as much by the negative stories we see as we are the constant self edited perfect life stories of those around us. Giving ourselves a break for a significant amount of time is the only way we can truly come to terms with exactly how that social media monster is affecting us. 

3.) Getting Better Rest is the Best

Less screen time means better rest. When we aren’t looking at screens before bed and our thoughts are clearer it is much easier to engage with sleep. Also.. our screens suppress melatonin.

“The blue light emitted by screens on cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.” –

2.) Sometimes We Need a Subconscious Recalibration

Our subconscious is a powerful place that can communicate all sorts of amazing thoughts to us if we are available for them.Technology can get in the way of these powerful connections. This may sound a bit like the Epiphany section above, but the truth is that our subconscious is capable of so much more than our conscious brains can do on their own. When we free up our mental RAM, and take in more detail of what is going on around us, our subconscious makes connections for us to other important concepts. The end result is more of those “shower thoughts” we love so much in our daily life.

1.). We Can Come Home With a Cleaner Running Engine

Overall the clarity of a tech free mind leads to a more fine-tuned and cleaner running brain. Have you noticed that the amount of time you feel really and truly clear minded and fresh isn’t as high as you want it to be? Did you come home from vacation feeling just as cloudy as when you left? Consider a technology break. Put down the phone, pick up a book, and a margarita, and let yourself really take a break. Say yes to a real vacation. 

Courage Doesn’t Come from a Wizard

We live in a world of unknowns – Will I get that promotion?  Is he going to propose? Are they going to respond to my email with a signed contract?  What am I going to make for dinner?

The thing about unknowns is that they can often-times trigger a tricky emotion that can undermine our well being – fear.  When our mind enters a fear state our body releases hormones that slow or shut down functions that are not needed for immediate survival, such as the digestive system, and sharpens functions to help us survive, like increasing our heart rate, and blood flow to muscles so we can escape danger faster.

As experiential facilitators with improv experience, we are consciously aware that every time we walk into a conversation or a scene on stage, we risk triggering the fear of the unknown.  Are you aware of this reaction in these situations as well? How is the performance review going to be received? What if the client decided to go with another vendor? Is our product development going to be executable?

There is no magic potion to gain courage. It doesn’t come from a wizard or a self help book. Courage comes from feeling the fear and doing it anyway. In improv, we rely on the axiom of Del Close’s “follow the fear”, and prepare ourselves to accept whatever happens next.

We understand that we can’t control other people or their behavior, but we can control how we let their words or actions determine our response.  Immediately, the sense of fear reduces (let’s be honest, it never totally goes away), allowing us to enter into those scary or difficult conversations or situations. We can take the next step with less fear because we know we are going to just accept whatever happens and then figure out what action to take.

In the last few weeks, we have acted courageously in ways that surprised ourselves, thus the topic of this story. Allison found the courage to specifically make an “ask” to a new C-suite client, in an effort to build a relationship within their organization now that they have experienced our work.  

Allison’s husband, Joel, a “behind the scenes” part of DuMore, and a fine art painter, found the courage to take his work out into the world by painting plein air as a daily commitment to get his work out of the studio and out into the world (it’s working – he sold 3 paintings in a week!).

Jim has been bolstered by a new coaching program that has encouraged him to take steps outside of his “comfort zone” by engaging with colleagues and clients in new ways.

We are finding the courage to move past our fears and see what happens next.  As we like to say, the worst they can say is “no” and then we’ll at least know what our obstacles are and begin to find another route to success.

What do you wish you had the courage to accomplish? Go ahead. Ask for the “yes.”