The Power of “Yes, and…!”


While boxing the other night, I felt a huge revelation wash over me. The tool I learned from Viola Spolin, via Lisa Wells, called “Yes, and…”, has so many intriguing and empowering applications. As soon as I began to, with my body, say “yes, and…” to every move of my partner/opponent, suddenly I acquired an overwhelming sensitivity, and stopped receiving hits. Not only that, but I landed a quite remarkable hit on a mentor of mine who said “he never even saw it coming”.

This didn’t occur because I had practiced harder, or sparred more, or psyched myself up. It happened because I applied what I knew from improvisational games to boxing, out of intense need to avoid getting clobbered. I didn’t acquire more skill, I just applied sensitivity from one area of life, to another.

This has made me realize that, in every day life, in every moment, I can either embrace by saying “yes, and…”, or I can resist with “yes, but…”, or “no, because…”, or just plain “no!”.


“Yes, but…” gives the impression that I’ve accepted the input of my partner (whether a boxing partner, traffic, weather, a creative project), but really it works to passive-aggressively counter it in the end. It doesn’t actually say, “Yes, and…”.

“No, because…” strives to show how reasonably I act with my resistance. Really, in all rational courtesy and right thinking, one must accept that my refusal of the world’s input makes a lot of sense! I will talk my way out of the reality of my resistance. Unfortunately, this means: in boxing I get hit, in traffic I start road raging, when writing I don’t finish projects, in relationships I build grudges., when swimming I drown, and so on. “No, because…” may fool other people, but it doesn’t fool the prevailing forces of the world. And it doesn’t make for a satisfying life.

“No!” actually comes the closest to an honest form of resistance. No apologies, or disclaimers, just outright tension and rejection. I have a lot of respect for “No!”. However, don’t confuse “No!”, with using “Yes, and…” to say the word ‘no!’ to something. For example, someone wants a schoolkid’s lunch money. To express “No!” basically means to curl up into a ball, to turn away, to shut one’s eyes. To say, “Yes, and…” by saying the word ‘no!’ means to stand up for yourself, to draw a line, to totally accept the conflict in which you stand.


“Yes, and…” doesn’t mean capitulating, it means accepting both the energy of your partner, and the energy coming from within yourself. It doesn’t mean to pretend buddha-hood…quite the opposite. Remember, it comes from a methodology used to train actors! So you open up wide for the energy flowing through you. To say “Yes, and…” in the face of your fears, may mean to say “No effing way!”, may mean you laugh, may mean you cry, but whatever it looks like, it means wholly accepting the energies in the present moment.

It means you never ignore energy, you in fact underline it, point at it, jump up and down and get excited when you see it. No matter what. Fear, Joy, Anger, Sadness. They all move as energy, and to follow them means to Flow.


Once I saw a hand-out, for a class on wilderness survival. At the top, I read an admonition to the effect of: when you find yourself in a surivival situation, DON’T PANIC. This struck me as funny because of the unintended reference to Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, and also because of the poor understanding of psychology it reflected. As a poor choice, “don’t panic” ranks second only to panicking, in a survival situation. It doesn’t tell you what to do, it tells you what to reject.

In an amusing way, this also compares well to an object in Douglas Adam’s book, the “Joo Janta 200 Peril-Sensitive Sunglasses”, a pair of sunglasses whose tinting turned completely opaque and jet-black in the presence of danger. This would count as a “No!”, in terms of improvisational technique.

How might you play with this? The next time you find yourself in an unpleasant or uncomfortable situation, with your whole self say “Yes, and…!” to it. Then go into action. Notice what happens.

I wish I could make it more complicated than that. Sorry.

Written by Willem