One of the principals in the Improv world is: Yes, and.  It’s known as the AND PRINCIPLE.

It’s used to keep the improvisation moving; to continue the narrative and build on what was said. Without this principle, the act can stall or end completely. It’s also known as the acceptance provision – you accept what was said AND you add to it; you expand the thinking. This principle is also used as a brainstorming exercise in the business world and I often use this exercise with my coaching clients. It’s a powerful exercise. It has you accepting what was said and expanding your thoughts with one little word AND.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of AND. The use of AND demonstrates duality. You can have both the first statement AND the statement that follows the word and. It’s not about one or the other. Today, I feel that as a society we look at things through the lens of OR. It’s either this OR that and it’s rarely about AND – that it can be both.

Let’s start with some examples that we use for the many things we do and feel every day:

  • Be productive AND prioritize rest and self-care. I’d argue that you are being the most productive when you take time out for yourself. You can’t serve the people you love when you give to yourself last
  • Feel joy AND grief; happy AND sad; disillusioned AND hopeful. Feelings are not mutually exclusive. You can feel both things – usually opposites – at the same time. For me, the hardest is when I feel joy at the same time bad things are happening. We’ve been taught it’s not okay to feel joy when things are going wrong but that’s a false narrative. You can and should embrace the joy even in times of grief, sadness, and pain
  • Sit with your pain AND know you will get through it. You can feel your pain. Sit with it. Not force yourself to be positive, happy, or smile. Feeling the pain does not mean you won’t survive it or get through it. While the pain is happening, you can understand that someday – exactly when you don’t know – you will be through it
  • Have boundaries AND not always enforce them. Your boundaries are just that – yours. Only you can enforce them. Sometimes it’s hard and you’d rather not; especially with people you love. Those we love don’t always react kindly to our boundaries which can cause us to let others cross a boundary without saying anything to them. I get that. Been there. Done that. You are human. Boundaries are hard. I just recently did this myself this past weekend – didn’t enforce a boundary – and reminded myself I’m human it happens and I’ll do better next time
  • Have your beliefs AND learn from others. Just because someone thinks or believes something differently than you doesn’t mean that they are wrong and you are right (or vice versa). I learn more by listening to others who don’t share my views. Sometimes, I learn something I didn’t know that helps me change my ideas and other times I learn a new perspective
  • Be in a bad place AND have gratitude. Even when bad things happen there is something small you can find to be grateful. It’s hard in the bleakest of times; sometimes it may just be that you are grateful you got up in the morning
  • Resist change AND change. I hear this often with my clients, I don’t like change. I don’t want to change. In reality, change is part of life. All of us will have moments where we don’t want to face the change in front of us; but whether you face it or ignore it, you change nonetheless
  • Be scared AND do the thing you are afraid to do. Courage isn’t doing something with the absence of fear it’s doing something while you are scared. There is a saying with one of my entrepreneurial groups “I’m doing it scared”. It means you do it – you continue to move forward – even if you are scared

But the AND principle isn’t only for everyday occurrences, I also use it to apply to issues we face. Issues that often are approached from the either-or perspective rather than from an AND perspective. For example, you can be:

  • Pro-choice AND Pro-life. It does not have to be either-or. I believe in the sanctity of life AND I believe it is a person’s right to decide what they do with their body – not anyone else’s. Even if it’s something I don’t fully understand, agree or believe, it’s not for me to decide what you can or cannot do with your body
  • Support the 2nd Amendment AND want gun control laws. You can own guns AND want gun control laws. Universal background checks. Red flag laws. Just to name two. Will it solve all the violence? No. But it would be a start
  • Have faith AND not belong to a specific religion. Faith and religion are not the same. You can be very spiritual and full of faith in God and Christ without having to belong to a specific religion. I am a Christian so that is what I default to saying but whatever is your higher power you can have faith and not belong to a religion
  • Christian AND support LGBTQIA+ people. Being a Christian is not mutually exclusive with accepting and recognizing each person for the human being they choose to be and supporting them for who they are AND not who you want them to be or think they should be. This includes being Christian AND supporting transgender people and their rights
  • Christian AND embrace other faiths. I learn new things when I explore other people’s faiths AND find my faith and beliefs are strengthened when I embrace others
  • Make a profit AND nurture your employees. In many corporations it’s profit first and nurturing employees is a buzzword. You can have both. You can help employees grow, thrive and have balance in their life AND perform and make a profit

But probably the most important one would be:

  • You can read this AND not agree with parts or any of it. After all, these are just my assessments, based on my experiences and experiences of others that I learn from AND not facts. That is the power of the AND principle it lets you see multiple different sides to an issue or problem which isn’t easy especially when people disguise opinions as facts. It’s hard for me to use this principle when I’m passionate about something but I have good people in my life that remind me that just because they listen doesn’t mean they have to agree

I’ll admit writing this post makes me scared but I decided I’d write it anyway. Why? Because it’s who I am. It’s what I do. I need to be authentic to me – even if it will disappoint others or ruffle feathers. To have courage over comfort – doing things even though it makes me very uncomfortable. For growth – learning and unlearning – which is why the AND principle has become a staple in my life. Because you can’t learn, unlearn or grow if it’s OR all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, I fall into the trap of either-or. Sometimes, I’m not as open as I’d like to be or I don’t listen to learn but rather listen to prove a point. I am human. I have to practice the AND principle. Sometimes it’s really hard to do because OR allows me to have my perspective without acknowledging someone else’s.

When I find myself falling into the trap of OR; using extremes like always or never; not using the Yes, AND principle, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Why do I believe what I believe and where did I learn it?
  • Is what I think based on facts, assessment/opinions, a should (what I should do), something that I was told/taught/heard?
  • What threatens me about what is being said/done?
  • What do I fear will be taken away from me or what will be changed for me?
  • What scares me?
  • Why is what is being said/done triggering me?
  • What is making me uncomfortable in this situation and what do I need to dig deeper and learn about because I’m uncomfortable?
  • What are other options and how do they exist together?
  • What is the yes, and?

I use these questions when I’m struggling which has helped me learn the power of AND. Sometimes, I unlearn things I’ve believed; other times I learn to see things through another perspective; other times I get curious to learn more, and other times I stay the course knowing that I can have my belief AND that others believe differently. I can recognize and embrace there is more to the narrative AND that both can be true.

My hope is that we live our lives with more AND and less OR.

    Don’t miss a post. Sign up for updates!