It’s Never Too Late to Flirt


When I was young, I didn’t realise I might be good at flirting because I didn’t know I was doing it. I’ve always had a healthy interest in the male of the species, enjoying men’s company and loving a good old grapple in the bedroom, but when I was young, if I’d been asked, I might have attributed my success with men to having blonde hair, or liking a laugh, or being hungry for contact – all of which can help when flirting but don’t explain its subtleties. In my early forties, I was asked to facilitate a workshop on ‘something to do with relationships’ and remembered an occasion not long before when a theatre director had me and another actor flirt with him as an improvisation exercise. I did this so well that the director said he was seduced by me (in spite of being utterly gay). I thought, ‘I must have some sort of flair for this art!’ I decided I would teach flirting, deconstructed my own behaviour for content, and Flirtshop was born, a weekend course I ran for groups of people who had never flirted or had forgotten how to flirt, often because they had only just emerged from long, stagnant relationships, and were shy and demoralized with tiny egos.

It’s such a shame that flirting dies in long relationships (it doesn’t have to, but you’ve both got to want to do it). We usually associate it with the beginning of a potential romance. Does flirting always signal sexual interest? I think so, but it doesn’t have to have serious intent or a discernible outcome: it can be a fun bit of business with an attractive passing stranger like a cheeky waiter, or with a friend where the boundaries are clear and you’re free to tease. One of my ways of describing flirting is ‘talking with a twinkle’. This is helped by awareness of how sparkling conversation works (to and fro not monologuing, employing lightness and wit) and of how to listen and show interest (be sincere, find genuine curiosity in someone’s story, show them they’ve been heard). Flirting also uses body language in certain expressive ways, to draw attention to our best physical features (legs, chest, hair) or to show fascination with the other (playful eye contact, open gestures, subtle touching). There are degrees of flirting. If you’re a pair of curmudgeonly old gits, just having a moan together on a park bench might constitute a flirt in your world. Or if the atmosphere is right, the fizz is flowing and you’re both feeling beautiful and wild, a flirt could be oozing with bon mots, lavish compliments, double entendres and a feeling of sublime connection.

Theoretically, flirting shouldn’t be any different with age. And yet, I’m flirting less these days. I rarely meet men of my age (56) through work – currently I’m running improvisation workshops for lots and lots of younger people, who have a tendency to de-sex me because, naturally enough, they’re not interested in their mum. On my way to Lidl recently, a ruddy-faced drunk weaved his way over to me and said, with frank appreciation, ‘Where’ve you been hiding all my life?’ Beer-goggles or not, I was genuinely cheered. I didn’t stick around though – I have my standards (and Lidl was about to run out of croissants).

Finding my own flirting skills blunted is concerning for a person who was a bit of a natural. There are good reasons for the decline, not least having had two longish relationships taking up most of a decade. But it’s also because I’ve lost confidence, the face and bod being a bit ravaged and the energy occasionally flagging. So, I am writing this to rev myself up and get back in the saddle. Here are my tips for Flirting in Older Age, as a spur to both you and myself to keep this delightful and life-enhancing form of communication going, dodgy knees and thickets of ear-hair notwithstanding.

Get Out More
You can’t flirt with the cat. There are innumerable ways to meet people, some of which such as speed-dating or tantric love-fests positively encourage flirting. If you’re looking for fellow oldies, hunt for your peers through Meet Up groups (walking ones are good), University of the Third Age, am-dram, Five Rhythms, group holidays (Skyros, Cortijo Romero) or age-streamed singles events. I haven’t tried Tinder yet but personally prefer hitting groups of potentials rather than sifting laboriously through scores of individual charlatans, exhibitionists, and nut-jobs to find my gold.

Get Real
Stop ogling the svelte/teenage/film star type. They’re out of your league. Pick on someone with your own girth/faded glamour/air of decrepitude – MUCH better chance of success.

Wear Nice Clothes
It’s a truism that image counts for more than anything when we first encounter someone new. You don’t have to be lustrously beautiful but good clobber will invite eyes to be drawn to you, and you need that to get started. When on the pull, go for something very flattering that’s not dull. We wrinklies can still have sexiness or swagger in our dress – silk shirts, glimpses of flesh through the translucent material, a jeweled walking stick. Go crazy with the shoes – for women, loud colours, a bit of a platform or lots of straps, for men, an elegant polished brogue (sends shivers down my spine), biker or Chelsea boots. Sexy signifiers don’t age, so if you can get away with it, go for it (I’ve yet to see a woman who doesn’t look hot in fishnets, a fur stole and long gloves). Wear conversation pieces – a T-shirt with a cool slogan or image, a stylish hat, unusual accessories like cascading earrings, a cape, a fan.

…stop grooming because it’s all a bit of a bother. A huge percentage of what attracts us to others is smell – make sure yours isn’t Eau de Rancid.
…go out wearing the same crap you wear for slopping around the house in the hope that someone will see through the exterior to your inner beauty. They won’t get near enough to try.
…wear a T-shirt saying Please Don’t Interrupt Me While I’m Ignoring You which I saw on a mature man in the street – who looked like he could do with some friends.

Definitely Do…
…look at for inspiration. It is GORGEOUS.

Have Creative Conversations
Flirting isn’t rocket science. The most important aspect of it is simply talking. To keep interest, make the conversation creative. I once went to a boring party where I knew no one and made it fun by going up to people and asking them how they would decorate their ideal bathroom. I was a hit! People love being invited to use their imaginations. As oldies, we also have massive memory banks to plunder, and the most crystalline memories are those of our youth so exploit those. Have a mutual rave about the music/fashion/food of olden days (that’s punk, sculptural hair and fondant fancies for me). Or find a specialist subject that you both like (there’s always one) and compare years and years of notes. Let the talk lend itself to humour and take the piss out of young people, or of modern gastronomic phenomena viz. coffee shops, artisan bakers, clean-eating. Have a funny, self-deprecating conversation about aches and pains (whilst paradoxically looking fit as a flea and twinkling fetchingly). Give all your attention to the other person and concentrate on helping them to feel good. When it’s all going swimmingly, drop a little sex into the ebb and flow, and see if they bite.

Do Intimate Actions
Invite someone to sit down with you. Ask to borrow their reading glasses. Touch their arm, naturally whilst chatting, and if they seem to warm to you and divulge more personal information, touch it again for a little longer. Ask for a sip of their drink. Offer them a chocolate. Watch their mouth while they talk. Look into their eyes for a beat or two longer than is seemly. Pay them a compliment, disappear, and let them come and find you.

Value Yourself
Just because you have a soggy bottom and no discernible jawline doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be treated like a god(dess). If someone is mean or insulting or expects you to be grateful for their attention, summon all your dignity and walk away from their poisonous emanations. And if flirting online provokes unsolicited dick pics and aggressive messaging, consign those plonkers to the digital wilderness.

Online Wisdom
If you’re going down the computer dating route, have a crib sheet of deal-makers and deal-breakers so you’re clear on the qualities you’re looking for that really matter to you. Recently I posted my profile on an online magazine’s dating page to gauge the lie of the land. I disguised myself with a platinum blonde wig, lots of eye and lip make-up and a false name. I was besieged by scores of men (see what I said about sexual signifiers not changing?). My first deal-breaker quickly became apparent: anyone who had a bad photo was out. It was shocking how many men posed in front of a peeling garage door or their fridge, in long shot and out of focus. If you can’t get an ok photo taken in the age of smartphone cameras, what hope…? Then I eliminated bad spellers (I’m a word-nerd, what can I say?). Then I struck off men with job descriptions I didn’t understand. Then I withdrew because I couldn’t bear people falling for a fake me and wasn’t ready to show the real one.

Once you’re exchanging messages with someone who seems half-way decent, don’t spend weeks working your way into a fever pitch with increasingly flirtatious texts, or even phone calls. I did this years ago and on the instant I met the man in the flesh, I knew it was a no-go. He had a pudding-basin haircut, a goofy demeanour and was as sexy as cabbage. I’m not saying people can’t grow on you, but let connection develop in the meat world, not the robot world. Unless you only want cyber-flirting, in which case, knock yourself out.

To Close
Goodness knows there are a bunch of things about getting older that can be a (literal) pain in the neck, but age can make flirting a lot more fun than it was when we were striplings. Here’s why:

• Without rampantly out of control sex hormones dictating every move, we can enjoy more refined badinage and make flirting less about conquest. If we’re after physical contact, flirting can be more about finding someone with whom we can share loving touch rather than a rutting mate.
• With a lifetime’s knowledge and experience we have more in common with more people, and more conversational scope.
• We know our own boundaries better, and can listen to our own needs, so we can say ‘No’ more easily – which makes it a lot easier to say ‘Yes’ when we want to.
• We care less about looks and more about the quality of a person. We make more effort to find out who they really are, which can progress repartee beyond the superficial.
• We’re less proprietorial with age. We can flirt with lots of people and have many different individual friends, for sharing different activities.
• The appalling self-consciousness of youth has gone. Our priorities have changed, we know the true value of things. We can be measured and gentle and reasonable. So, we can indulge in a little flirting fun without the stakes being too high.

Still feeling bashful? Just remember: there is no such thing as failure. If you attempt a cheeky sally or two and receive no response, do not feel defeated – flirting is not an exact science. If your target responds with a look of aghast incredulity or a slap round the face, you may want to recalibrate your style. But short of those, it might just be that they weren’t in the mood or you’re not their cup of tea and that’s not the end of the world. Nothing ventured etc. Ageing is potentially dangerous. It can lead to closing down rather than opening up. Let’s avoid loneliness and get out and flirt more.

Hello handsome…what are you doing later?

This piece was first published in The Advantages of Age,


5 Tips to Make Self-Employed Work Fun and Effective

  1. Talk to people you meet about your work. No business person ever sold anything without communication, and the best, most memorable way you can connect with others is by talking to them in person. And don’t censor who you talk to. It’s tempting to select only those who you think would be interested in what you do, but let yourself be surprised! Tell anyone and everyone! It’s amazing who will suddenly come up with a lead for you, or be directly interested in purchasing what you do or make.
  1. Think about how the product or service you’re selling reflects you. What does it say about your values, what you believe in? What does it say about your personality or character? If you don’t love it and believe in it, maybe that explains why business isn’t so good. If you do, are you really selling it like something you love, or have you been influenced by your fears to do a weedy sales job, with ‘safe’ branding, and cautious marketing? Get some people you trust, who know you well, to give you some feedback on who you are, and do a frank self-evaluation. See if your identity fits with the image of your product.
  1. Get away from the computer. It’s useful, without a doubt, but it is also a tyranny. It freezes up your body and makes your mind rattle. It affects your sleep, and its multiple distractions lead to lack of focus. Ration the time you spend on it. Get out into the open air or a quiet café and take a notebook for writing work stuff in. Yes, a notebook – remember those? Tactile things with bright covers that you can doodle in and which let creativity flow…
  1. Look after your body. Without a routine, like people who go into a work-place each day, it’s easier to graze on snacks, forget exercise, hit the bottle before cocktail hour and forget what fresh air can do for you. Schedule in breaks to walk or cycle, do stretches or meditation. Get massages, fitness classes, osteopathic check-ups, doctor’s appointments in the diary and give them the same (or greater) status as all the worky stuff. Don’t wait until you feel fuzzy with tiredness and aching all over to stop and pay attention to what your body needs.
  1. Whether it’s having occasional work-chats with a friend in a similar position, working closely with a website designer or other techie, making or refining a product with other people, having training that will improve mastery of your work, sharing your own learning with others, or having a coach*, being in the same room as other people who give you confidence and improve your business can make life much more enjoyable, and open up wider horizons than you can think up alone.

Onwards and upwards, my self-employed friend…..happy-at-work

*Look no further


Love is What You Make It

Here are some of the reasons for failure I have heard from friends who are looking for love but not finding the much-prized ‘committed relationship’:

  • All the good people have been snapped up
  • Modern dating – on apps and the internet – is awful
  • I don’t like people who are needy/too keen/want to rush things
  • I don’t like people who don’t reply to my emails/texts/phone messages immediately
  • Men only want younger women
  • Women only like ‘bad boys’
  • Men are bastards
  • Women are mad
  • Women just want men with loads of money
  • Men just want mothering
  • All the people I date are f***ed-up

I could go on.

These people are not idiots. They are educated people who function effectively in the world. But after years of failing to find the elusive ‘One’ they feel dispirited and jaundiced. Some have had relationships that lasted a few months or a few years but didn’t endure; some have come out of a long marriage only to discover that dating is different from when they were younger; others are still young but in thrall to the dream of a fairytale romance. They have not given up hope, but often succumb to gloominess about their prospects for love, and indulge in prolonged grumbles.

Grumbling has its place in letting off steam, but it’s important to notice when you are stuck in it, repeating the same sort of grievances over and over again. The supposed reasons above are actually just ways of blaming others for your situation. Can it really be true that ‘all the good people have been snapped up’? You are a good person and you are still looking. There are millions of single people in the U.K., billions in the world – are you seriously saying that there isn’t one whom you would find loveable? I expect you will say, in a defeated voice, ‘But how do I find them?’ with the implication that the one suitable person for you is a needle in a haystack. I want to tell you to stop going into the same negative thinking and approach the situation differently.

Take a good hard look at yourself. What are you doing that is sabotaging your bid for love? Here are some common ways of blowing your own chances, and suggestions for new action:

When you go on a date, do you allow your date to be themselves with the minimum of judgement or are you assessing their child-bearing prospects or gauging their income before you are half-way through your first drink? In other words, are you making the stakes too high? This is just a meeting, not a job interview – relax! It may or may not turn into something bigger, but if you just look at it as a chance for a good conversation with a new person, you might discover more about them than if you turn the beam of interrogation onto them and make them feel uncomfortable.

Stop being unrealistic. Are you going to marry a multi-millionaire movie producer if you’re working in social services in Basingstoke? Can you score a woman like Beyoncé if you have a pot-belly and a comb-over? With the constant bombardment of media showing us all this choice, it’s easy to become like a kid in a sweet-shop, yearning for more and better, beyond what is feasible (and what is good for us). The most successful relationships are those between people who have roughly the same level of attractiveness, who come from similar backgrounds, who are happy with the same sort of lifestyle and have similar values (i.e. what they care about in life). Take a good hard look at yourself, or get your friends to give you some feedback. Who are you? How do you come across to others? Know yourself, and look out for someone who fits with you, in looks and personality.

What about your own history? Consider the family you came from. What were the dynamics like? How did your father or mother treat you? What was the atmosphere like in your house as a child? Now look at what has happened when you are in intimate relationships as an adult. If your past was chaotic or difficult, can you see that you might be creating the same problems in your relationships because this is familiar? All of us, to some degree or another, are working with the legacy of our past in the present, and when it comes to relationships, it pays to look at our childhoods and acknowledge what we are replicating now. It’s not just about the bad stuff either – look at what you liked about your childhood family, and see what you want to keep from it in your new ‘family’ (whether that be just the pair of you or more). But most importantly, notice when you are modelling your angry dad or your neglectful mum, or making the other take on those roles. It’s complicated, but you have to own your past, or you’ll keep operating unconsciously and repeating the unhelpful stuff.

Stop expecting the other person to rescue you. Life may be hard, work might be difficult, you may not like where you live – there are endless ways to suffer. But you are the only one who can enable yourself to have a calm, contented feeling deep inside. Of course, having a good relationship might be a part of that, but that relationship will only happen when you have some good stuff to bring to the table such as compassion, a sense of humour, curiosity, warmth. If you are so eaten up with your own misery that you cannot give someone else your loving care and attention, go away and get some coaching or therapy and come back to dating when you’re on an even keel.

Consider the unconventional. The model of the nuclear family as the only set-up in which to live happily has been blown apart in the modern age (pardon the pun). Many relationships work fantastically well when a couple live independently, or within a communal setting, or where one or both partners work away from home for big chunks of time, and meet up when possible. If you are worried about what other people will think if you have an unorthodox arrangement, you’re worrying about the wrong thing. What matters is the happiness of you and your partner, and children if you have them, not the in-laws, not your friends, not the neighbours. If you are afraid of commitment because you fear being stifled or smothered, find someone who feels the same and negotiate together how to have both independence and togetherness. Pretty much anything is possible now – go for what you really need – and be adaptable when the needs of you or your partner change over time.

I hope this is helpful to you if the search for love is feeling herculean. Let me know how it goes. Be bold, be resolute, but mainly, be kind – to yourself and others. There is love out there – just don’t try and force it. And take some responsibility…

Nifty Tips to Improve Your Relationship

For Women:

  1. Stop criticizing him – praise the good stuff instead
  2. Give him more space
  3. Ask him for help with tricky tasks
  4. Don’t bracket him in with ‘all men’
  5. Adore his body

For Men:

  1. Appreciate what she does for you – regularly
  2. Enjoy her intelligence
  3. Respect her work
  4. Do housework
  5. Adore her body

Readers: Let me know if you have other tips for either men or women, and also tips that might apply more specifically to non-heterosexual relationships (not my area of expertise). I want the world to run more happily – and if we start with our own relationships, I think that work on our little microcosms could have a massive impact on the macrocosm of human relationships on a wider scale. No more wars because he cooked the dinner and she said it was delicious. Crazy? I don’t think so….

100 Ways to Make Friends (in real life)

  1. Say ‘Good Morning’ with a big smile
  2. Make them a cup of tea
  3. Ask their advice
  4. Lend them something
  5. Ask them the time/directions/where they bought that nice thing
  6. Share food with them
  7. Ask them about their family
  8. Buy them a drink
  9. Talk about TV you both like
  10. Tell them about something goofy you did
  11. Ask them on what would they spend a lottery win
  12. Gossip together
  13. Comment positively on their décor/car/bicycle/taste in desktop stationery
  14. Ask what they did/will do at the weekend
  15. Choose to sit next to them
  16. Ask if they can recommend a tradesperson/hairdresser/yogic guru
  17. Tell them about a crush you have
  18. Ask for help with a crossword clue
  19. Invite them for coffee
  20. Buy one, get one free, and give them the spare
  21. Show them a funny cartoon
  22. Ask their opinion on world events
  23. Go shopping together
  24. Catch their eye and smile
  25. Encourage their creativity
  26. Compliment their jewellery/hat/shoes/bag
  27. Ask for their support
  28. Tell them about something you love doing
  29. Ask where they’re going on holiday
  30. Do something naughty together
  31. See their point of view
  32. Ask them about their childhood/college years/first job
  33. Discuss favourite writers with them
  34. Ask what groups/clubs/organisations they belong to
  35. Ask to borrow something (and give it back soon)
  36. Let them talk
  37. Tell them about your love life
  38. Invite them to your birthday do
  39. Ask what art/music/film they like
  40. Share stories of injuries
  41. Talk about travel
  42. Talk about food
  43. Create a running in-joke with them
  44. Do karaoke together
  45. Treat them well
  46. Remember stuff they tell you
  47. Tell them they smell nice
  48. Have welcoming body language with them
  49. Talk conspiratorially with them
  50. Use their name
  51. Buy them a cake
  52. Doodle a cartoon of them and gift it to them
  53. Think about their comfort, not yours
  54. Ask if they collect anything
  55. Go swimming together
  56. Ask them to scratch a place you can’t reach
  57. Take their turn at the washing up
  58. Sing a song together
  59. Touch their arm
  60. Let them go first
  61. Help them
  62. Look pleased to see them
  63. Enquire after their health then listen to the answer
  64. Laugh together
  65. Play a silly game together
  66. .…or a clever game
  67. Teach them a useful skill
  68. Share an umbrella
  69. Assume they are a good person
  70. Empathise with them
  71. Find something esoteric you have in common
  72. Tell them a secret
  73. Tell them when they have a cappuccino moustache
  74. Show them your weird birthmark/tattoo/hairy mole
  75. Swap childhood tales
  76. Jog together
  77. Give them a lift
  78. Notice the colour of their eyes
  79. Compliment them on an unusual quality or skill
  80. Be genuine with them
  81. Make them feel useful
  82. Remember their tea, milk and sugar needs
  83. Recommend a good show to them
  84. Compare feet/hands/ears
  85. Let them be nice to you
  86. Bring them back a free or silly gift from your holiday (a shell, seaside rock, a beermat)
  87. Offer them your warm jumper/hat/scarf
  88. Compromise on something together
  89. Write something personal on their birthday card
  90. Thank them
  91. Ask them if they need a hug
  92. Confide in them
  93. Look out of the window together
  94. Ask them to join your team
  95. Work together in companionable silence
  96. Defend them publicly
  97. Be compassionate to them
  98. Gently tease them
  99. Give them the best chair
  100. Go somewhere beautiful together


Further tips on making friends:


How to Enjoy Middle-Age

With middle-age comes the shock knowledge that you will not live forever. Whilst we can know this intellectually when young, with the advent of aches and pains, diminished energy, and a sudden need for comfy shoes and innumerable pairs of glasses, we can glimpse The Grim Reaper on the horizon and feel the chill dread of mortality. On our bad days it can seem like a good option to give up now, and start packing the bags for the journey to oblivion. But our middle years have some wonderful compensations for loss of youth. For a start, we don’t have to listen to heavy metal music anymore (tolerance of which decreases with age) and can fill our music collections with gorgeous ballads and soothing instrumentals. More seriously, we can develop a greater understanding of who we are, and prioritise self-care and gentleness towards ourselves over the short-term gratifications of our youth.

Here are some ways to make the best of your middle-age:

  • Enjoy slowing down and take time to relax. Your body is telling you what you need. When possible, surrender to the call of an afternoon nap. If you are at work and can’t have a snooze, take a break to shut your eyes and just be still for 15 minutes. 
  • Watch the alcohol and coffee intake. These things are volatile medicines, to be used carefully for perking you up or calming you down. Be aware of their power! There are innumerable safe, delicious alternatives to caffeine, and the upside of less alcohol is more clarity and energy. And less gout.
  • Don’t bang on about being ‘old’ to all and sundry. Sure, you can share with your ageing friends some of your gripes, but the workplace, a social occasion or romantic dinner are not occasions to draw attention to your decrepitude. It’s your spirit people will really relate to, and a cheerful, positive spirit gives other people a better time than a complaining, negative one. Do you want to be that stereotype of the grouchy old person at the bus stop? Didn’t think so. 
  • Reconnect with old friends and long-lost family. They are probably missing you too. And make new friends with your wider peer group through activities and organisations which cater to you and your values and interests. Give service by volunteering or caring for others (but avoid running yourself ragged – you’re no good to anyone if you’re not well).
  • If you take pride in your appearance but don’t want to look like mutton dressed as lamb, ditch clothes that show lots of flesh or are skin-tight and think of your grown-up style as ‘elegant’, ‘artistic’ or ‘witty’ – this way you can still turn heads without looking inappropriate. You can wear a wider range of clothes than you might think – well-cut jeans are ageless, a good hat is always fetching, sunglasses are endlessly glamorous. Change your relationship with the mirror – don’t pore over new wrinkles and broken blood vessels (that way madness lies). Instead, smile cheerfully and briefly at your characterful new face – then get on with your life… 

Middle age is not about galloping through life, hungry for the next thrill – it’s about noticing the good stuff you already have, going deeper with it and nurturing it. Let the young have Youth, and claim the time of life that’s your territory, with all its potential pleasures and sense of achievement. And if you want to climb into a onesie and watch lashings of TV now and again, that too is absolutely fine….

This article was first published in the Life Coach Directory





An extract from The Improv Book: Improvisation for Theatre, Comedy, Education and Life by Alison Goldie

The following is the first part of a chapter in the book called Improvisation’s Life-Lessons:

Not long after I started learning improvisation, it became clear to me that it wasn’t merely training for performance, but also, training for life. At the core of its ethos is freedom – freedom to say what’s on your mind, to reinvent yourself, to act like a lunatic, to play like a child yet create material which moves adults, to step outside of rules and regulations and see possibility instead of restriction, to see the upsides of all the downsides and vice versa, and to laugh at yourself and all human folly. When I teach improv, I see people in a state of release, learning to trust their instincts and relate to others without the censorship that bedevils so much interaction in daily life.

Role-play has long been a practise for discovering different ways to behave. In the safe, held environment of a classroom or rehearsal space, students experience a kind of therapy, which, in not being named as such, encourages revelation that in a clinical setting might be pathologised. Improvisation is therapy-by-stealth, giving its participants an enjoyable way to learn practical tools for life, all of which emphasise the benefits of collaboration, acting in the moment, revealing your inner workings and relishing the journey. Though I’d strongly recommend doing improv to learn these lessons, this list of instructions or maxims will give you an idea of the side-benefits of the craft of extemporisation that may prove to be even more significant to you than just honing your performance skills.


In an improvised scene, if you don’t say ‘Yes’, nothing happens. The same is true of life. Saying yes leads to possibility, exploration, surprises, progress; to relationships, learning, excitement and satisfaction. A compliment I have always remembered came from a boyfriend who said ‘One thing I really appreciate about you is that you say ‘Yes’’. Even if I didn’t have a strong attachment to something he wanted to do, like going to a concert of a band I didn’t love, I would go with him anyway, often having a significantly better time than I anticipated, and earning much gratitude – and reciprocal generosity – from my beau.

The more you say ‘Yes’, the more you will receive. The more you say ‘No’ or block, the more critical you appear. Blocking implies that you don’t like what someone else is offering, and that you think you have a better idea – it’s a way to lose friends.

“Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy…..It is a f@*$%load of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes.”

Dave Eggers, writer and publisher.

As Dave Eggers says, it can be hard work being open and accepting; it can be easier to be closed and unpleasant, especially when you find others to collude with you in a stew of negativity. There’s no shortage of mean-spirited, grudging people in the world, but do you really want to be one of them? Next time you hear yourself saying a knee-jerk ‘No’, take a look at what you’re turning down. Is it really a threat to you? Does it compromise your safety? Sometimes, of course, the answer is that it might: I’m not advocating sticking your head in a lion’s mouth or betting all your money on one spin of a roulette wheel. But far more often than you think, you’re saying ‘no’ (or ‘maybe’ when you mean ‘no’) when to say ‘yes’ would make your world a happier and more interesting place.


Improvisers are taught to go with the first thought. When you’re starting a scene, it would be contrary to the rules of improv to stand there, sifting through possible first lines before beginning. The audience want to see you dive in, (apparently) fearlessly and spin your material from whatever substance is to hand.

Professional artists don’t sit about, hoping inspiration will strike. Polly Morgan, a brilliant artist who specialises in taxidermy says, ‘Don’t wait for a good idea to come to you. Start by realising an average idea – no one has to see it. If I hadn’t made the works I’m ashamed of, the ones I’m proud of wouldn’t exist.’ Indecisiveness gets us nowhere. Often it’s more important to make a decision – any decision – than wimp and dither about which one to choose. As Polly Morgan says, if that first idea doesn’t lead to your finest work, it will be a crucial step on the way to your finest work. One thing leads to another: if you don’t start a process, you will feel frustrated and stuck; if you do, you will discover what you need to finish it, and have an interesting experience getting there.

Hugh Laurie, the actor and musician says this:

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There’s almost no such thing as ready. There’s only now. And you may as well do it now. I mean, I say that confidently as if I’m about to go bungee jumping or something – I’m not. I’m not a crazed risk taker. But I do think that, generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”


Improvisation is about leaping into the unknown, again and again. This can seem terrifying to a person who hasn’t trained in improv, but the seasoned improviser knows the risk they’re taking is not as crazy as it seems: they have techniques to fall back on and trusted team-mates, and, perhaps more important than anything, they are not afraid to fail. In Chapter 4, I talked about self-sabotage and why we hold ourselves back. All the excuses you make for not doing something that seems difficult could be countered by the question ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ If you’re planning on making a motorcycle leap over twenty buses, the answer to that is admittedly not very comforting. But if you’re stopping yourself making a phone call to a prospective employer? They might say, ‘We have no vacancies’ but that’s not going to kill you. At worst you feel slightly embarrassed, at best you get the job. The more you take risks, the easier it becomes to face up to what seems difficult, and the more confident you become.

If you don’t risk, you don’t learn. Picasso said, ‘I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it’. He didn’t just paint traditional pictures, he experimented with form, colour, technique, materials. He was not just a painter but an illustrator, a sculptor, a ceramicist, printmaker and stage designer who lived to be 92, was extraordinarily prolific and loved his work. When did you step out of your comfort zone and try doing a new thing? The sense of mastery when you learn how to do something well enough to practise it to a satisfactory level is one of the things that life is for!

If you don’t risk, you don’t have adventures. There’s plenty of evidence that old people who think their lives were well-spent are the ones who went out and about and did stuff, not the ones that sat at home on the sofa, scared to move.  You don’t have to travel to Outer Mongolia, but travelling away from home and familiarity to just about anywhere will wake you up and give you memorable experiences. ‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page’ wrote St. Augustine. The more experience you have, the more you understand humanity, and the wider your capacity for compassion towards yourself and others. As you explore outside, you enrich inside.

If you don’t risk, you avoid intimacy. Getting close to another person can seem a hellishly difficult task, especially if we feel we’ve been let down before, but building up a thick, leathery protective skin against the world is not the answer to your fears. It’s a fundamental human need to have close personal interaction, whether that be through sharing our thoughts and feelings, working in tandem, having adventures together, or making love. If we’re low in confidence or living in alienating urban environments we run the risk of loneliness and depression; the occasional chat in cyberspace doesn’t really cut it. We fear real human link-ups because we think we’ll lose our independence, but the truth is that we move back and forth between the need for others and the need for our own time and space on a daily basis, and that’s completely normal. If you want to avoid feeling suffocated by another, set some boundaries – like being clear about when you need your own company – but don’t stay in your cave when what you really need is to speak the truth to another human being whilst touching knees and being close enough to appreciate the colour of their eyes.

When it comes to dating, we often make the stakes too high, desperately wanting to feel an immediate ‘spark’ and for the other to be life-partner material. After a few encounters where the date doesn’t match up to our high standards or vice versa, we retire wounded and disillusioned. Try not being so attached to the outcome – see the date as just two people having dinner, with the possibility of learning a little something, or having a laugh. When we take the pressure off, it’s much easier to take risks – because the risk seems so much smaller.


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