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be average

We are told from an early age to ‘do our best’. We try to make things perfect even when we know being a perfectionist is ‘wrong’. You see comedians on panel shows being clever clever, but look carefully and often the biggest laughs are for obvious things said with good timing.

One of the most interesting things I have done is to go on a Keith Johnstone improvisation course. Keith is the father of modern impro- most games and ideas in this area of theatre training and performance can be traced to his findings over a fifty year career. His books on impro and impro for storytellers have wide application – very useful for people wanting to get mentally tougher too…

One of Keith’s catch phrases hurled at people about to go on stage is ‘be average’. It’s a shocker. We are all so programmed to hear ‘give it your best shot’, ‘go for it’, even ‘break a leg’ has a certain do or die reach-for-the-skyness about it. But Keith says: Be average.

It’s genious. Why? Because it removes the ‘trying’ element from within us. Charles Bukowski was a prolific writer- but only when he decided to stop ‘trying’ to be a literary writer. On his gravestone it reads “Don’t Try”. In other words- just get on with it without that ‘trying’ getting in the way. As children we are taught to ‘try harder’. Nonsense. Just do it. If it’s wrong, correct it. No ‘trying’ is needed; ‘trying’ functions as a sort of barrier between doing and thinking about doing. 

The problem is we are rewarded as kids for ‘trying hard’- ie. having a go. Instead we should aim to reward kids not for attempting things but for finishing things, however small- which, apparently, is what Goethe’s father did.

Tell someone to be good or do ‘their best’ or ‘try hard’ and they get all caught up with being clever and doing things not for their own right but to attract attention to themselves. By saying ‘be average’ we return the focus to the material itself.

Being mentally tougher is about not getting screwed up with being successful, high achieving and other ludicrous bullshit. Of course we all want those things, but to be screwed up about them is sheer codswallop. The way round it is to focus on being mentally tough first and not be too attached to the outcome of anything you attempt. Be average. See what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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