How to reflect on 2016 in a fun and meaningful way

Grueling, exhausting and a never ending seesaw is how the 12 participants of the week long writing retreat I facilitated at the beginning of this month describe 2016. “Please help us find a way to reflect on the year, make sense of it somehow and find a way to focus on our writing” they asked.

What was your year like? Do you want a fun and meaningful way to make sense of it for you?

On the Wednesday morning before breakfast I offered to facilitate an embodied reflection process with reflecting on and making sense of 2016 as strategic intent SNE style. Here I will share with you what we did and give you a way to do it yourself at home. You may also like to try it with a group. Finally I will offer you a version of the same exercise using drawing, rather than embodiment for people who prefer this medium or do not have the luxury of space just now.

Setting up a spacekufunda

Find a room or section of garden where you will be left alone for the next 30 min or so. A place with a variety of pieces of furniture or rocks and benches and grass is ideal. This space will represent the landscape of 2016 for you. We used a large round thatched roof hut designated as workshop space at Kufunda Village outside Harare, Zimbabwe, where the writing retreat was held. The neat circle of chairs you see now in the picture were grouped arbitrarily around the space, e.g. one on the platform in front, others turned on their sides or standing seat to seat and covered with a blanket. The idea was to create a variety of structures to work with.

Kufunda Village is a learning community 13km from Harare Zimbabwe. It is a self sustaining collective where they farm organic grains. They also run participative leadership workshops, a Waldorf primary school and are open to visitors for workshops and conferences when they are not running their own courses. I was there facilitating a writing workshop for 4 days with 11 members of the SLOW Art network – SLOW is for ‘The Social Life of Waste’.

Transitioning into play

Four participants came for the session and I invited them to move around the space getting used to its new configurations.

“Imagine that the whole space is immersed in a mist – a mist that has settled on your memories of 2016. Let’s whoosh the mist away and out of all the little spaces and hollows.”

We used our arms and voices to whoosh the mist away, Large and loud whooshing for open spaces and small delegate whooshes for blowing it out of narrower spaces, moving our bodies and hands low on the ground or high in the air. The process helped us explore the space as well as warm up our bodies. It also switched on our imaginations and engaged our play muscles.

Into the open experimentation phase

I explained that I will name different kinds of moments that they may have experienced during the year. For each moment I would invite them to find an appropriate spot in the room and place their bodies in a position that expresses that moment for them. There would be 5 such moments and we would place them one by one on the 2016 landscape that is the room.

Typical SNE style, I designed these moments with the mythic structure of story in mind. However, I am mindful of the fact that these moments may not follow one after the other for each individual.

The moments I chose were as follows:

  1. A moment of being called to a higher purpose, where you experienced an inner tug (relating to a call to adventure in the hero’s journey).
  2. A moment of conflict, doubt or confusion (relating to the uncertainty and doubt on the threshold as you cross into the world of adventure in the mythic structure).
  3. A moment of complete ordinariness, even slog (relating to the tedium of the journey and the continuous small trials and tests).
  4. A moment of unexpected joy, surprise or reward (relating to the reward that follows the ordeal).
  5. A moment of utter despair, loss or defeat (relating to the moment of death and sacrifice present).

Note: I did not mention in the workshop that these moments relate to the mythic structure of stories. It is just mentioned here for those of you who are interested in the design aspects of workshop processes in general and in the lens of Strategic Narrative Embodiment (SNE) in particular.

Why these moments? Why five?

I picked moments that were diverse in energy and spread across the mythic journey landscape. I chose five because I find that is the maximum amount of moments a brain can hold without getting muddled and needing a script of some kind as reminder. As it is, people might still get muddled, so you can let them mark their spots in the room with sticky notes. You can use them yourself in a private version of this too.

Here is how I facilitated the process

You can follow along:

1. Plotting the moments

Find moment one: being called to a higher purpose – an inner tug. Then breathe into it three times. With each in breath you imagine that your body is a mould and you are pouring soft plaster-of-paris or cement into the mould. With each out breath it hardens allowing you to cast this moment in time. Once you have done three breaths, climb out of the sculpture and look back on it. Climb back in to see if you can find the position again and then climb out and begin walking through the space once more.

Repeat with moments two and three: (a moment of conflict, doubt or confusion and one of complete ordinariness or slog).

I did this with the first two moments and then we were joined by two more participants. I told them what we were doing and named the third moment, letting them come in at this point. Now we went back and rehearsed the first three moments up till now. I would have done this even if we did not have new arrivals, but as it happened this gave them a chance to catch up.

Go back to each of the three moments and pause in each one by one. As you do, order the moments chronologically in time as they happened during the year. Repeat the sequence and find a flowing movement from one to the other to the next.

One participant asked: “What if the moments slide into each other and reoccur more than once in the year?” I answered that they are free to repeat moments or find a way to move through the sliding.

Play with it.

Once you had established the pattern of chronology you want, introduce moment 4: A moment of unexpected joy, surprise or reward. Breathe into it as before and then slot it into the flow of time. Finally add the fifth moment (one of utter despair, loss or defeat) in the same way.

2. Playing with the journey

For the next few minutes I invite you to move through your sequence experimenting with different kinds of energy: high, light energy; slow, deliberate, heavy energy and any other kind you fancy to try. Continue with this until you run out of steam.

Finally, pick one last energy texture to play with, but instead of stopping at the fifth moment, move through the final moment in your sequence to the moment that might lay beyond it. This is where you rest and come to a stop. Repeat one more time.

3. Reflection

If you are doing this process on your own, take a journal or paper and pen and write about the experience and what it was like for you, Set a timer and write nonstop for 5 to 10 minutes.

In the larger group, I waited until all had come to rest. Then I asked them to pair up and walk each other through their journeys. I explained that they can share as much or as little as they are comfortable with.

4. Integration

The process of moving beyond the final moment into what might lie beyond is already an integration move on the part of the design. However, complete the process in your own reflective writing: give this moment some thought and write a concluding sentence capturing the meaning of this moment for you.

In the group I invited participants to share in the large group what that moment was like and what it meant to them.

Here are some of the participants’ responses:

Louis: “It was rather insightful to me that my final moment was not what you might expect. My fifth moment was the moment of being defeated and instead of the sixth moment being one of breaking free, it was instead a moment of acknowledging that breaking out was not an option at the moment. Rather I should find a place of stillness amidst it all. I just stayed right here in a space of being.”

Johan: “Mine was no moment of acceptance or resolution. I still feel rather tired and caught in it all, though that might just be the hangover talking. I did find the courage to look up and consider new possibilities or perspectives.”

Other comments:

Ingrid: “I found it very emotional to revisit some of those moments, but in the end I found a way to let it go and move on from there. I don’t need to dwell in it anymore.
Ricardo: It was more than just a reflection, it was rather transformative.”

Zima: “I thought my year was just hard and difficult, but I discovered moments of joy that I had forgotten.
Karel: This practice of being aware of where I am and considering what it might lead to is something I would like to try and do more of. I usually just let myself be in the moment without considering the bigger picture. I probably won’t use the body movement thing though.”

The same reflection as a drawing

If you feel like Karel did, you can happily replace the body movement with drawing. Take a piece of black paper as your landscape of 2016. Draw a feature of the landscape for each of the five. A mountain top for the moment of calling, a waterfall for confusion, a cave for defeat, etc. Now you can draw a path linking them chronologically. This represents the path you had walked this year. Take a pen and trace your steps as you walked this journey. Follow the pattern a few times, pausing at each moment and imagining yourself in that place on the landscape.

Finally move your pen to a sixth spot and draw what you think you may find there on the landscape: a tree? A spring?

Again, reflect by writing for 5 to 10 minutes.

Let me know what comes up for you as you do this exercise.


Change 3 things


• Practice awareness skills.
• Practice creativity.
• Ice breaker.


In Pairs participants observe each other then turn around and change 3 things about their appearance. When they turn back to each other they must try to identify everything that their partner has changed.

Time: 10 min

Number of participants: 2 – 200

Game flow:

Ask all the participants to pair up. Tell them to observe each other. Then tell them to turn around and change 3 things about their appearance. For example role up one sleeve or take off an earring. Let them turn back to one another and try identifying everything that the partner has changed. You can repeat the game a few rounds, every time increasing the amount of changes.


People are often resistant to change their appearance but don’t let that flounder you. When people get over their initial resistance they will get great value from the exercise.

Debrief questions:

• What struck you about the exercise?
• How did you feel during the exercise?
• How was your awareness different than usual?
• Was it difficult or easy to find so many things to change about your appearance?

Presence exercise: 1 2 3


• Helping participants to become more present
• Practice listening and awareness skills
• Introducing improvisation fundamentals


In pairs participants count to 3 alternating between each other who says the next number.
Time: 5 – 10 minutes
Number of participants: In pairs
Game flow:

Ask the group to divide in pairs and face each other. Let them count to 3 each person contributing the next number. Demonstrate using a volunteer. It should look and sound something like this:
A: 1
B: 2
A: 3
B: 1
B: 3 ect.

Have the participants do this for a while. Stop them and tell them to replace 1 with a sound. So instead of saying one they have to make a sound. This same sound is repeated every time.

It might sound something like this:
A: boink
B: 2
A: 3
B: boink
A: 2
B: 3

Again, allow participants a brief time to go through the new action. Then, stop the participants and have them replace the number 2 with a physical move like a wave, clap or a jig. Let them do it for a while and then for the last round let them replace 3 with a random word. The last round would then look and sound something like this:

A: boink
B: (jig)
A: flower
B: boink
A: (jig)
B: flower

Debrief questions:

• What was interesting about the exercise?
• What did it feel like counting like this?
• What made it difficult?
• If you would have to do it again what would you do differently to make less mistakes?
• What influence did this exercise have on your relationship with your partner?


This is a very easy exercise and yet people struggle with it a lot at first. Often people try to do it better by planning ahead and anticipating what their next number will be. This results in them not listening to their partner totally losing the flow. In actual fact the easiest way to play the game is to just be present in the moment and listen to your partner and just respond. All you need to know is what comes after 1 and 2 and 3. How easy is that? These are the fundamentals of improvisation and collaboration. Be present, listen and contribute by building on your partner’s contribution.

Presence exercise: What I need to say…


• Helping participants to become more present
• Practice listening and awareness skills


In pairs participants share with each other what they need to say to be fully present. The sharing participant’s exact words are then mirrored back to them by his/her partner.

Time: 5 – 10 minutes

Number of participants: In pares or triads

Game flow:

Ask the group to divide in pairs or triads. Tell them that each person will get a turn to tell their partner/s what they need to say to be fully present. They should start their sentence with “what I need to say to be fully present is….” Their partner must then mirror their exact words back to them by starting their sentence with “I hear that what you have to say to be fully present is…” The person mirroring then may ask whether he/she heard correctly. The Sharing person may then add detail that the mirroring person missed or mirrored incorrectly. The mirroring person then without apologising mirrors the bits that they missed. When the sharing person is happy that the mirroring person got everything they thank their partner by saying “Thank you for listening” and the mirroring partner replies with “Thank you for sharing”.


Ask them to share any thought or feeling that is pulling them either into the past or the future that is preventing them from being present. They only have to share what they are comfortable sharing with the other person.
It is important that the person mirroring does not give an interpretation of what they heard, but try to use the exact same words as far as possible. The other person in the group can then add if any detail was not mirrored back to the speaker. The exercise is not so much about saying what you need to say to be present, but being listened to fully without judgement.
Demonstrate using a personal example. Not only will this help the participants to understand the exercise better but it will help you to feel more present and build trust between you and the participants.

Debrief questions:

• How did you experience the exercise?
• How was your listening different than usual?
• What did it feel like being listened to like this?
• Did this exercise help you to become more present?
• Why or why not?


When we listen to people like this we help them to become fully present. In essence, what we are doing is accepting them and showing them that they are welcome and worth being listened to. And as you focus and listen to the other person you also become more present. So it is being listened to as well as listening that helps one to become more present. This exercise was adopted from Imago relationship therapy, a style of dialogue aimed at restoring connection between partners ,by guiding them to the present moment. It was developed by American psychologist, Harville Hendrix.

Improvisation class 3. Present in every moment

The third class was all about listening, awareness and being in the moment. We started the class with a relaxation exercise to help us become aware of our bodies. Becoming aware of your body is a great way to get out of your head and become present.

Next we played Mirror Mirror. In this game participants partner up and mirror each other’s moves. In the first 2 rounds only one person is in control while the other just follows. In the last round the two participants must give and take the control. This forces you to be present in the moment. Sometimes when there is a high level of trust between participants control totally dissolves and the two players just flow together.

After that we played a series of group awareness exercises. First one person had to go in the middle and make a move and a sound, give the focus to another player, who had to copy the move and sound and then go to the middle and morph into a new move and sound. We played two other variations of this game. In the first everyone copied the person in the middle and at any point anyone could take the lead and change the move and sound into something else. In the second variation we didn’t stay in a circle and anyone could take the lead. These exercises feel awkward and odd when you do them the first time, but if you can let go and really pay attention to what others are doing and once again make them look good (in this case accepting whatever they are doing and do it with them) it is a wonderful experience of connecting with others and being in the moment. Check out this Ted Talks Video about how a crazy nut is turned into the leader of a movement by someone else who made him look good by mirroring his moves.

A good improviser is aware of everyone in the group and can pick up subtle offers. A good improviser is also aware in every moment, knowing when he/she needs to take control and take initiative and when he/she needs to give over control and allow someone else to take the focus.

After the awareness exercises we played Monster talk (Speaking in unison) which is also a great exercise in active listening and the “give and take” principal. We ended the class with Monstertalk scenes.

Key concepts:

Give and take – It’s all about giving up and taking control, and sharing and taking the focus. To do this well, you have to be aware and present so that you know whether the situation requires of you to take or give up control/focus.

Listening and awareness: In Improvisation this is referred to as “being in the moment” .It requires you to be present, pay attention to what is happening around you and to focus. To do this you need to let go, get out of your head and into your body.

Improv class 2.3 – The cure for our semi autism

The theme of last week’s improv class was “be affected by what you hear”. We started the class with a relaxing exercise, focusing on the sounds we heard around us. This was followed by a name game called “George” that I learned at the IO theatre in Chicago. After that we played the famous Keith Johnston game called “Its Tuesday”. In this game participants pair up. One player says a random line such as “It’s Tuesday” or “you are wearing a dress” or anything. The other player over accepts the statement and reacts very emotional. The reaction increases until it reaches absurdity. In some cases the player might even die a comical death. This exercise was followed by an exercise that I learned from Armondo Diaz at last year’s Applied Improv Conference. In the exercise one player says a random opening line. The other player must react in a way that shows that the other player’s statement is important to them. In other words they react with a strong emotion. The reason why they had a strong reaction becomes the focus of the scene.

The application of being affected by what you hear went through my thoughts the whole week. And then I decided to Google it and see what pops up. The article that drew my attention the most was about Autism. The one thing that struck me was that autistic children are not affected by what they hear. Often parents of autistic children will at first think that their child is deaf because they don’t react to their names or sounds such as a door closing. The child does hear but is just not affected by the sound. It is as if they hear but don’t register the sound because of some process in their brain that is not functioning properly. It sounds a lot like the statement that we’ve all heard so often from teachers, “you hear, but you don’t listen.” The article reports that, “Hearing without listening is useless to produce intelligent social interaction. The value of hearing is measured in the ability to listen and respond to auditory information. If an autistic child can not listen and respond intelligently their hearing is useless.” Isn’t it true that we all suffer from some form of autism? Hearing but not listening? Why is that? I believe it is because we are not present when we are listening to others. We are up in our heads, worrying, thinking about other things. This state of being up in our heads I believe is very similar to the autistic brain processes not functioning properly. The article about autism ends of with a form of treatment that can help autistic children to improve their malfunctioning brain process. It is called monaural speech development. The rest of us can also improve our semi autism by learning to be more present and less up in our heads. The treatment for this I call Improvisation.

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Improv class 2.1 – Present yourself

After the completion of my second 6 week “introduction to improv” class, participants expressed their interest in a level 2 class. This really excited me, and last Monday we all boarded a train on a new journey. The library where I usually taught the class flooded, so we had the class in Pane E Vino, a very cosy Italian restaurant across the street from where I live. The warm fireplace set the stage for everyone’s creativity to ignite.

The theme for the first class was presence and awareness. I started the class with a relaxing exercise to help everyone get rid of all the thoughts of the day that held them captive from the present moment. An easy way to help you become present is to listen attentively to all the sounds that you can hear around you. Another way is to focus on your body by becoming aware of your breathing and the life inside of your body. For the most of the class we played a game I call Pattern circle, a very simple game with a lot of learning. I think we could have played that one game for a whole day. We ended the class with a game called Monster talk. In this game 3 players play one character and have to talk in unison. It’s exactly like the lyrics in that song by The Supremes that Phil Collins made famous, You can’t hurry love… it’s a game of give and take. You have to talk slowly and give and take the control. And of course you have to be present, aware and really listen to each other. Hmmm… sounds a lot like love doesn’t it? So yes doing improv can even help you in your relationships.

Last night was the second workshop of my level 2 improv class. Again we started with a relaxing exercise to get everyone present and aware. Being present, aware and in that state of stillness free from thought is crucial for improvisation, since creative ideas don’t come from thought. Recently I listened to a talk by Eckhard Tolle called “The Journey within”. In his talk he says that creativity doesn’t come from thought but from a place of stillness. I tested this theory by asking my wife, who is the most creative person I know ,what happens just before she gets a creative idea. After a brief moment of silence she said in her metaphoric way of speaking, “There is stillness. It’s like the wind dies down and there is this moment of utter quiet and then the creative ideas come like a cloud burst. First just one large drop falls into the dry sand then it is followed by this shower of creativity.” “What is the wind?” I asked. “Its thoughts” she replies. I concluded that Eckhard is right. A creative idea isn’t a thought that you manufacture in your mind by trying really hard. In last night’s class Liezel also commented that you need to trust your own creativity. That is also very true. All people are creative; we just lose it over time. The good news is we can reclaim it. The first step is to be still, and trust. Improv helps one to do this.

We also played Freeze tag last night. In this game 2 people start a scene. At any moment anyone else can say freeze and tap out one of the players. He/she then takes that player’s position and starts a new scene in a completely new context justifying the position. For a second round I said freeze and told them who should go in and replace another player. This way they didn’t have time to think about what they wanted to do. They just had to trust themselves and see what arises. Everyone commented that it was easier to come up with something good if they didn’t have time to think about it. I really enjoyed Olaf and Minki’s scene that went from a hair dresser to a convict sitting in an electric chair.

The next step is to trust the other player that they will take your creativity and do something with it – accept it and build on it (“yes and” it). I believe that the reason why we are afraid to trust our own creativity is because we are so use to other people rejecting our creativity and not accepting it. We all know how much rejection hurts. For most people it is not worth taking that risk anymore, so they label themselves as uncreative to protect themselves from rejection.

We ended the class with a game of “Whose line is it anyway?” In this game 2 players each get 2 random sentences written on a piece of paper. At anytime during the scene they have to read one of the sentences and incorporate it into the scene. Everyone played this game extraordinary well, accepting the offers and incorporating it. Each scene was worthy to be performed in front of a paying audience. Thanks for everyone’s participation, I enjoyed it tremendously.

Now it’s your turn. Become still. Focus on the sounds around you. Become aware of your breathing. Write down in a comment below what arises.

Now it’s your turn. Become still. Focus on the sounds around you. Become aware of your breathing. Write down in a comment below what arises.

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Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 2

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.


In order for a team to be creative together there needs to be a lot of interaction and information sharing.  This can only happen if the communication in the team is very good.  Your responsibility towards yourself is to be fully present and your responsibility toward your team members is to fully listen and be aware of them.   Being fully present and aware of your team members is referred to in Improvisation as “being in the moment”.

Quick exercise:

Next time before you start a meeting first do the following exercise.  Split the group in small groups of 3.  Tell them that each person must tell the other 2 in the group what they need to say to be fully present.  They should start their sentence with “what I need to say to be fully present is….”  One of the other must then mirror that persons exact words by starting their sentence with “I hear that what you have to say to be fully present is…”  It is important that the person mirroring does not give an interpretation of what they heard, but try to use the exact same words as far as possible.  The other person in the group can then add if any detail was not mirrored back to the speaker.  Each person must get a chance to say what they need to say to be fully present.  The exercise is not so much about saying what you need to say to be present, but being listened to fully without judgment.  When we listen to people like this we help them to become fully present.  In essence what we are doing is accepting them and showing them that they are welcome and worth being listened to.  When last did someone listen to you completely and made you feel fully present? When last did you listen to someone with acceptance and without judgment, helping them to be completely present?

Click here to read part 1 – Introduction

Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Click here to read part 4 – Control

To read more about the other 6 elements of an innovative team climate watch this space.