Defining humor can be difficult mostly because humor is a subjective process that everyone experiences differently. It’s not one-size-fits-all, but it IS a process that unlocks creative problem-solving skills.
This is why humor is especially useful when it comes to dealing with sudden disruptions, unexpected adversities, or if you need to overturn the cart regarding a festering problem.
Human beings think in patterns, so when something unexpected occurs, our brains immediately try to reconcile the disruption by forcing it back into the previous pattern. This creates more problems than it solves, which has been demonstrated over the past 16 months by the resistance to behavior changes in the face of a pandemic and changing workplace.
“We need things to get back to normal!”
Might as well get caught having an affair, and your response is to say “Let’s act like this never happened.”
Using humor is an integral process for disrupting the way things are, especially when those things aren’t serving you anymore. Here is the 8-part process you activate through the use of humor:
- Pattern interrupt
The surprise that comes with someone hitting the right punchline at the right time disrupts stress with a hit of dopamine. In that moment, your brain shifts from a place of fear and resistance to a place of acceptance. It’s brief, but it does reveal the fact that there are other ways of looking at your challenge.
2. Introduction to new perspectives
When we laugh, it’s our brain’s way of saying “I’ve never looked at it that way before.” When we’re married to a certain status quo, the simple act of asking “What if there’s another way?” can bring us to the realization that there is ALWAYS an opportunity to do the status quo better, especially when it comes to laughing at ourselves.
3. Introduction to new possibilities
When humor disrupts a pattern, it creates a new pattern, and that new pattern leads to new questions, new ideas, and opens up new possibilities that may not have even been considered previously.
4. Introduction to new paths
When we’re faced with stressful situations and fight-or-flight is kicking in, our responses become limited. But if we’re acting from a place of possibilities built atop new perspectives, new choices arise. We could’ve made those choices before, but we didn’t even realize they existed. Disrupting a pattern, using a new POV, and seeing new possible outcomes inevitably leads to new actions.
5. Activation of energy
When we laugh with others in the face of a problem, our brains release a cocktail of chemicals that make us feel good: dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin. When we feel good, it shakes off the paralyzing effects of learned helplessness, and we become more motivated and clear-headed when tackling that problem. Before, new action may have felt scary. Now, we’re feeling energized by the new possibilities.
6. Connection with others
You know those people who have an uncanny ability to raise the frequency of a room. That’s because the energy we give off is contagious, so once you’ve interrupted previous patterns, seen new POVs, considered new possibilities, planned new, exciting action, and you’re energized by it, so is everyone else.
7. Openness to bombing
Even though you’re seeing a bigger picture and taking new action, that doesn’t mean it’s going to work perfectly. As with anything else, there will be errors to go with the trials, but approaching these errors with a sense of humor interrupts the negativity that often comes with mistakes and failures. Not only that, but making mistakes means you have new data that you can improve upon, so when mistakes are made, you learn faster.
8. Discomfort with comfort
The world is changing faster than it ever has. With the onset of new technology, the interconnectedness the internet and social media have created, and a collective realization that things can always be better, disruptions to the status quo will be ever-present. Even if you solve one problem or achieve a big goal, there will always be something that can quickly interrupt your thinking patterns. Approaching these disruptions with curiosity instead of judgment are key components of using humor, just like they are key components of problem-solving, so keep disrupting disruptions, keep interrupting your patterns, and keep being perpetually curious, otherwise, good luck acting like those things aren’t happening.