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We know that free-play is important to the development of children. But it’s also really important in the life of an adult. You may think you don’t need to play, that you don’t have time to play, but there are good reasons to incorporate play into your life.
But what is play?
Brené Brown, researcher and author of Daring Greatly, describes play as anything that makes us lose track of time and self-consciousness. In other words, something that you experience as fun! Researcher Stuart Brown, MD (not related to Brené Brown), describes play as time spent without purpose. I agree with Brené Brown when she responds to this idea with, “this sounds like the definition of an anxiety attack. I feel behind if I’m not using every last moment to be productive, whether that means working, cleaning the house or taking my son to baseball practice.”
Agreed. I mean, I barely have time to do all the purposeful things I need to do. Why would I waste time doing something that has no purpose!? Because play is important.
1. The importance of play. Play itself — meaning the activity in which you are engaging — need not have a purpose in the sense that it is not directly related to your productivity, not related to getting things done, and not related to achieving your financial or career goals. But it does have a purpose: creating the space in your mind where ideas can be born, perspective can improve and the self is nurtured. In other words, play refreshes your mind and body, increases energy and prevents burnout, triggers creativity and innovation, and helps you see problems in new ways. But that’s not all.
2. Play is directly related to your success. Research shows that playing relieves stress by triggering the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. As we know, success at work is highly dependent upon the quality of your work, not just the quantity. And the quality of work is dependent upon your well-being. So, ultimately, play is vitally important to your success, in life and in work.
3. Wanna come out and play? Play is different for everyone. It should be something that you enjoy such that you lose track of time. It could be an organized sport, like basketball or tennis. Maybe it’s brain games like chess, crossword puzzles or Sudoku. It could be a creative endeavor like painting, drawing or scrapbooking; or performing arts such as an improv or dance class. Or maybe it’s something that gets you moving but is more meditative, such as snorkeling, yoga or hiking.
4. Incorporate playfulness into your work. Your work is serious, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be serious all the time, even in the office. When you hit a “glitch” in a matter or project, take some time out to play to reset your mind and come back with a fresh perspective on problem-solving. A small basketball hoop could help, or an air-hockey table in an extra conference room. Ask a colleague to join you, as playing with colleagues encourages teamwork and builds comradery.
5. But what if it’s been so long since you played that you can’t remember what you like to do for fun? Never fear. Even if you haven’t engaged in an activity simply for the fun of it in a really long time, most likely there was a time in your past when you did play. Think back to that time — maybe it was when you were a kid — and make a list of all the things you enjoyed. Which still sound appealing to you? Coloring? There are lots of great adult coloring books available. Playing pretend? Maybe try an acting class, or go see a play. Playing with your family pet? Perhaps volunteer at a local animal shelter. Photography? Pull that camera out and get out in the world and take some photos. Playing board games? Organize a monthly game night with friends. LEGOs? There are some seriously awesome LEGO sets available. Get creative. Try something you liked in the past, or try something new.
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
When was the last time you played? No matter how long ago, make today the next time you play!
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