… or you improve in bursts with plateaus between. Which is correct? I bet most people feel that statement 2 is right. Students will talk about plateauing, hitting a ceiling and needing to break through or getting to the next level. While each of us is on our own journey, these comments imply growth as a series of fits and starts.
At least our perception of growth is that of fits and starts. Because we don’t have a talent-o-meter to objectively measure our growth we must rely on our perceptions. They might tell us that we are getting better or that we’ve plateaued or, worse yet, that we’re back sliding (and each of these brings on a flood of emotions and personal value judgments). What if our perceptions aren’t the reality? How much time do we spend beating ourselves up over false assumptions? Be it the truth or not, I’m inviting you to believe that you truly are getting better every time you get onstage. Let’s talk about the limitations of our perception:
In front of you is a mixing bowl filled with chocolate chip cookie dough (with walnuts, of course). The recipe calls for 2 cups of chips, but you want your cookies extra chocolate chip-ie. How many more chips do you have to add to notice that there are more? Certainly 2 cups plus one, single chip is truly more chocolate but it isn’t noticeable. Adding another full 2 cups of chocolate would certainly be noticeable, in fact the result wouldn’t really be cookies. What’s the threshold between a regular old chocolate chip cookie and a extra chocolate-ie chip cookie?
The notion of a threshold of detectability is a real thing in experimental psychology. It’s called the just-noticeable difference. How different does something need to be for you notice that it is different. How much smaller can Charmin make their toilet paper before you realize you’re getting less for the same price?
How much do you have to grow as an improviser to notice that you’ve grown. As a teacher and coach I get to see the same students every week. The players that show up and work do get better every week. Might they have a bad show? Sure, but it is the frustration after a bad show that demonstrates growth. (To understand that you under performed shows an increasing knowledge of what you are capable of). It is the players that fall into self-loathing and give up on scenes or rehearsals or teams that have stopped growing. The feelings brought on by their perception of sucking are too much to bear.
The problem is not one of our abilities but in our perception of our abilities. The plateaus aren’t flat but gentle slopes. So gentle we can’t feel them. It is only when we take our eyes off our feet and look around that we notice how far we’ve climbed.
Know this: You are always getting better, you just don’t always notice it.
(When pressed, most science-minded players see growth as a sine wave trending upwards. Perhaps Y=(sinx) + x. You can graph that function here: online graphing calculator)
You can find some old blogs at http://billarnett.com/wordpress/