For no reason whatsoever, other than childlike curiosity, I’ve become interested in a new mantra of “Make it worse…make it worse!” as a way of experimenting with altering one’s lived experience.

Maybe this idea came from training with John Cremer and playing “New Choice” where the heat of not knowing what to say is continually turned up and made worse when you don’t want it to be.  Maybe its from watching programmes such as “The Office” and cringingly loving it when the characters try to improve the situation but only make it worse with every word they say.  Maybe its from seeing videos of how Fritz Perls used to work with his patients and get them to exaggerate and exaggerate their unconscious physical gestures to help them make more sense of them.

Who knows where it came from…the main point is I’m fascinated about playing with the idea of doing the opposite of what we instinctively want to do in a tricky situation.  At least in the fantasy* world of improv and role play. (*DISCLAIMER:  Am not suggesting that you make your day worse by jumping in front of a bus!)

Some experiments where I’ve toyed with this idea recently…

What’s the worst that can happen?
Asking this question of a group of people who are nervous about their first ever play with the ideas of improv.  In a triangle of three, one person answered the question and the job of the other two was to make it worse and worse to the point of being ridiculous.

Person 1: I’ll look like a fool
Person 2: Yes and I’ll secretly video it
Person 3: Yes and I’ll post it on Linked In and you’ll never be hired again
Person 2: Yes and your family will be so embarrassed that they’ll disown you
Person 3: Yes and you’re reputation will be so tarnished that you’ll have all the unsolved crime in London pinned on you

The overly-complicating machine (TM)
The sole purpose of the overly-complicating machine is to make simple things more difficult and worse.  I used the machine recently to help overly complicate the simple process of introducing oneself to a group.  Before and after each person could speak there were various dials, processes, levers, rules and rituals that they had to do and they could only leave the machine by adding an extra bit of bureaucracy to the process.   The machine can be programmed to make any simple process or thing overly complicated.

Personal coaching
I was working with somebody who was scared of presenting to a particular group so I played them and they played the audience and heckled for no reason.  We made the heckling worse and worse and some unprintable language was used and objects thrown! In the end the audience murdered the presenter and then committed mass suicide.  The ‘real’ presenter said she felt strangely more confident about the ‘real’ presentation after this experience.

Competitive Lock-keepers
At the Monday night Hoopla Improv class I found myself in a scene where I was a neuro-scientist on a canal boat holiday with my wife to escape the ‘hubbub’ of neuro-scientist life.  I soon encountered an aggressive unionised lock-keeper which increased my stress and he became more aggressive the more stressed I became.  Steve Roe directed more lock-keepers to come into the scene over time – some sided together, others competed until the situation got so bad I had to cower with my head in my hands – overpowered by the situation.  I both loved and hated the effect that the worsening of the scene had on me mentally and physically.

I’m sure there’s some science or psychology somewhere behind making things better by making the fantasy worse – I’m just having fun playing with the idea.  I’m curious if getting to know and feel the ‘shadow side’ or the ‘photographic negative’ of something in facts help us better understand and frame the ‘sunshine side’ or the ‘photographic picture’ of our lived experience.

…or is this a new field of “negative psychology” or “depreciative inquiry”?