Say Yes To Progress

Do What You Always Wish You Dared

SAY YES TO PROGRESS by Claire MacLaine


I never thought that if my life was to change for the better it would be due to the cheeky Canadian japester Jim Carrey.

Because I’d spent my life saying; ‘Ah but…’ and ‘Eh no…’ as I had a habit, no, more of an addiction of saying NO to things because nearly everything scared me.

I’d always had big ideas and grand plans but they never came to fruition as I had ‘paralysis by analysis’ which all hinged on one major theme in my life. The H.I.N.G.E. was; ‘Help; I’m Not Good Enough.’

This was the troll voice who lived in my head who surreptitiously whispered; ‘Someone like you could never do…, you’ll do it wrong…, it’ll fail don’t bother trying.’  The comfort word NO became my security blanket.

But then I watched the movie ‘Yes Man’. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed because I realised I was like Jim Carrey’s character Carl: I said NO to everything and my life was small because of it and I wasn’t progressing anywhere.

I decided to write down all the things that scared me and sadly, two sides of A4 wasn’t enough. So I decided that that year I was going to banish NO and embrace YES to all the things that scared me. I called it my ‘Year of Fear’.

But to go straight from NO to YES for some things was too confronting and led to anxiety and insecurity, so I procrastinated with a MAYBE on some by doing ‘research and planning’ on those. 

Every time a NO came up it was triggered by that creaky H.I.N.G.E.; ‘Help, I’m Not Good Enough’. But I decided fear wasn’t going to rule my life anymore and I was going to DW40 myself by oiling the stuck hinge in my mind. I realised I had to change the words in my head to change my world out there.

My plan was to start with 3 things that scared me the most then the rest would be easier, or so I thought! I took on the 3 scariest activities I could imagine over 3 days by; jumping off a 1000-foot tower, swimming with sharks, and doing a stand-up comedy gig. The tower jump and shark swim could have killed me if they’d gone wrong, but the stand-up gig was by far the scariest.

If you’ve ever wanted to know what the smell of fear was like, my armpits would have told you that the night I walked out onto that comedy stage.

Once I’d psychologically recovered, I went looking for more things to oil that HINGE with to loosen the NO towards a more confident YES.

Amongst some of the many things I did were walking on fire and walking on broken glass, but not at the same time. I took ukulele lessons playing it upside down as the teacher didn’t know how to teach left handed. I took circus arts trapeze and silks training but left because I kept falling off and getting rope burns.  I abseiled of the Forth Road Bridge in extreme high winds singing Proclaimers songs as that seemed strangely comforting. And I applied to MI6 for an espionage job. I didn’t get the job, that’s why I can tell you about it!

My Year of Fear was intense and challenging, but exciting AND turned into 3 Years of Fear because I was so scared of, well… life!

I did so many other things but my best joy and bondage breaker from fear was following my childhood dream of becoming, an opera singing ice skater. I took lessons in both and had fantasies of joining the Royal Opera Company and being in Disney On Ice. But it turned out I was distinctly average at both.

But that didn’t matter because it was soulful and joyful taking steps towards engaging in a childhood ambition and l liberated myself from years of lamenting of wondering what could have been.

I did a lot of mad things over those 3 years but I drew the line at scuba diving, re-birthing, and life drawing modelling. I did do a past life regression and I wasn’t Cleopatra, just a Scottish soldier in France in the 1500s.

Now whenever I feel bored or depressed or aimless, I realise I’m saying NO again, and then the 3 Scottish Murray’s come to mind.

Comedian Chic Murray said that; ‘If something is neither here nor there, then where the hell is it?’ That’s my life in limbo if I’m saying NO and am neither here nor there.  By saying YES I’m out of the NO and out of the funk and I’m in motion.

Tennis player Andy Murray never got to Wimbledon by playing at Dunblane sports club a couple of times, he practiced, practiced, practiced. He said YES over and over again to reach excellence. I say YES very often to reach mediocrity but it’s an improvement on a debilitating NO. I’ve found if I take a step forward and fail/fall then at least when I get back up I’m a step further forward than if I’d never tried.

And the final Scottish Murray was mountaineer W.H. Murray who said; ‘Until one is committed there is a hesitancy, the chance to draw back. The moment one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves too. All sorts things occur to help that would never otherwise have occurred.’

This has proven to be true when I commit to a YES then unexpected things happen which lead onto something else new.

Now I say YES without much thought or planning and the consequences of such take shape in ways out with my control and progress happens by itself. YES comes from Proto-Germanic ‘gese’ meaning ‘so be it’. We can YES ourselves into something new so it becomes our life.

The scariest but most beneficial YES I did in my 3 Years of Fear, and it took me 3 years to get the courage to get around to doing it, was taking improvised comedy classes. It absolutely changed my life for the better, not only through the skills it taught me on how to cope with life better from having fun, but for releasing me from my debilitating NO shackles.

In Improv you’re not allowed to say NO, you have to say YES to any offer made by your fellow players to move the scene forward. This creates skills in spontaneity, creativity, and confidence in communication.

But it was real challenge because I was forced into giving up my NO addiction. I had to really channel my inner Andy Murray to stick with it and practice, practice, practice. Because there was a conflict in my head because my left linear brain was serious and methodical and beige, a bit like Andy Murray.

I was trained to be a logical thinker; analyse, strategize, review then say NO. There was security in that. But NO, that is not the world of improv. I’ve been scolded many times for acting without thinking and now in improv I was actively encouraged to do just that.

Now my right creative brain was bursting to explore this brave new world of incongruent communication; it was my cerebral Jim Carrey; zany, bouncy, and YES, just a little bit naughty.

I could feel the HINGE of conversational conformity loosening and liberating flexibility of thought and action.

Why? Because Improv trains the brain to break away from the dominant yet bland, I-dotting, T-crossing, cardigan wearing, dreary left hemisphere that sits there comfortably safe with its cocoa and slippers, not taking any chances in life, and is in bed by 9pm.

How? Because Improv bounds across the gap to indulge in the psychedelic, rainbow coloured, 8-inch heeled wearing, get in at 5am not knowing how you got home, Alice in Wonderland playground that is the fun right hemisphere with one simple word; YES.

Doing Improv and trusting in the YES and trusting in not knowing the outcome of a word or action has pushed me into areas I never thought I’d venture.

I’ve met diverse interesting people, developed new skills, and had enriched life experiences. Those initial cautious steps into Improv has led to confident strides in life.

I now teach Improv Surgery workshops on improv skills to prove to people they can have more spontaneity, creativity, and confidence in their communication, improving interpersonal interactions, and raising self-esteem by opening up their mind, cutting out their nerves, and sewing together their skills, through having fun!

I no longer need to do a Year of Fear because I liberate myself with YES easily and a lot more frequently, but on my birthday I either do something a bit different, unusual or that scares me, as long as it’s safe, legal, and doesn’t hurt anyone else.

If I’m feeling a bit low, I realise it’s because I haven’t said YES to anything new in a while and go looking for a YES to embrace to take me a bit further forward.

Jim Carrey said in a speech on 2014; ‘You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.’

I’d invite you to think of 3 things you’re currently saying NO to that you’d like to say YES to and join me in a Year of Cheer and say YES to Progress.