This Lesson that I Learned In Trampoline and Stand-up Comedy Applies to Everything
This week I did my second stand up comedy performance. I noticed a pattern emerging that is the same as a pattern I’ve experienced in trapeze and trampoline. And no, it’s not about pushing through fear.
Obviously, trampoline, flying trapeze, and stand-up comedy all require embracing and working through fears. That’s a given.
But this pattern is not just about fear. It shows up anytime we embark on a new experience or enter a new environment.
This process explains:
- why you struggle to maintain new habits
- why you need a real estate agent even though all the listings are online
- why you need to work with a coach
- the process of developing a new skill
This was the topic for today’s episode of My Circus Life, The Theory of Everything.
In the beginning, we have a narrow field of awareness. We can’t see or feel all parts of our experience.
When we enter a new environment or try something new, our brain is overwhelmed by the unfamiliar. Most of our energy goes to doing the core task. This might be the task of saying safe — as happens when we are in fear and our body goes into fight-flight-freeze — or it might be the main function task, like remembering your lines in a show.
In this new situation our sensory acuity is low. We have very limited awareness of what is happening outside ourselves or in our bodies. With further practice or exposure to the environment, our sensory acuity — the awareness of what’s happening around us and within us — increases.
Time slows down. We can take in more information and respond with greater accuracy. Certain things that we had to focus on in the beginning become more habitual, freeing up space to focus on other parts of the task. This creates space for us to improve.
Here’s how it played out with my front tucks:
Stage 1: Low Awareness
In the beginning, every time I landed on my feet it was a surprise. I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was all about doing the thing. Commit to do it and do it.
Stage 2: I know where I am, but I can’t change it
After several repetitions I was able to feel a difference while in the rotation. I could feel when I would land on my ass, but I didn’t know how to change the outcome in that moment.
If you’ve ever gotten caught up in an argument and heard words come out of your mouth that you knew were the wrong words, but felt powerless to change course in the moment, that’s what it felt like. You know you’re going to crash and your powerless over it.
Stage 3: I know I’m going to crash, and I can adjust
In the next stage, I would find myself in rotation, feeling like I was going to land on my butt. But I was able to adjust myself when landing to stay on my feet. I knew where I was and time slowed down enough that I could respond in the moment.
Stage 4: I can feel the outcome earlier
As I continue to practice I can feel earlier what the outcome will be, and make changes. Time keeps slowing down. I do land on my ass sometimes because I’m pushing my edge. But I’m no longer so focused on willing myself to initiate rotation. I can be in the moment more. I have more time and space.
Stage 5: I can direct the outcome
Lately I’ve noticed that after I have a landing with a big step, or after landing on my ass, or if I’m particularly tired, I’ll do them “safe.” I revert back to a technique that I know will keep me on my feet, as a way to build my confidence. I have achieved enough fluency and body awareness to direct the action. How I land is no longer a surprise.
What’s happening through all of this is that my sensory acuity is expanding. My body knows it is safe in the action, which frees up energy to see more of the field and gives me more time to respond — even though all of this is happening within a span of about 5 seconds.
The first time I performed a stand-up show, I had a plan to remove the mic from the stand at a certain point and pace the stage. That didn’t happen. I couldn’t see past the microphone.
The red light comes on to give me a 1-minute warning. I noticed the red light once it was on, but didn’t see it go on. In my head I wondered: had it been on for 30 seconds or did it just go on?
Although I felt the audience, I couldn’t really see them. I couldn’t make eye contact.
This all makes sense. I was focused on the most crucial element: remembering my set. My brain didn’t have capacity for more.
In my second show, things improved. I moved around the stage more. I noticed the red light when it turned on. I saw more of the audience. My sensory acuity expanded.
With more practice and repetition, time will slow down further. As I hone my set, I’ll free up mental bandwidth for the mechanics of mic work and audience interaction.
As I become more adept at using the mic, I won’t have to think about it as much. It will become habit. This will free up mental bandwidth to focus on audience engagement, or test new material.
In Your Life
Here are some practical applications of this.
Looking for a new home
When you walk into a new space you often don’t see everything that’s there. This is one reason why it’s wise to work with a real estate agent. A professional already knows what to look for; we have a heightened acuity to small things that our clients don’t even know to think about.
Developing stronger habits
One of the reasons we often get stuck is that we try to do too many things at once, and improve all of them at the same time.
Many people fail in their New Years resolutions, for example, because they are trying to implement too many things at once.
If you want to build something in a sustainable way, you must build one piece at a time, slowly expanding your field of awareness with each new element.
Where in your life have you noticed this effect of expanded awareness?
This was the topic of Episode 86 of My Circus Life, a weekly livestream in which I break down lessons I learn in my pursuits of flying trapeze and trampoline and relate them to life and business outside the circus tent.
Do you have a question about a topic that you’d like to see me discuss on the show? Please let me know in the comments and I’ll cover it in a future episode.