Rediscover Play to Maintain Your Best, Most Authentic Self

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We intuitively know having fun is important for our overall wellbeing. But isn’t it selfish and unproductive to find time to commit to “play” in our busy lives?

No! In fact, by incorporating more play into our lives we can become more productive and find more time for the important people and activities in our lives.

Learn how play can benefit your mood, health, relationships and work and learn about the serious consequences of play deprivation, such as burn-out.  

I will show you how to reintegrate play into all aspects of your life by removing barriers to play and suggest practical ways to rediscover and maintain your innate playfulness. 

Are you playing enough to be at the top of your game? 

What is Play?

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”

Neil Gaiman

Play has been defined as ‘a physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective’ [1].  More specifically, play has certain key characteristics [2].

Play is:

  • Self-chosen and self-directed
  • Intrinsically motivated
  • Guided by mental rules, but the rules leave room for creativity
  • Imaginative
  • Conducted in an alert, active but relaxed state of mind

Most importantly, play is learning. Not the kind of learning you did at school (most of the time) but the most fun, engaging learning you can possibly do.

It is, in fact, so much fun that this is why we make the distinction between play and learning as play should not feel like a traditional concept of learning at all. 

As a highly experienced early years teacher I see children seek out opportunities to play (learn) all the time. Play is the business of children and they engage in it constantly. Children do not focus on outcomes but enjoy the journey of play and its many rewards for its own sake.

You do not need to be taught how to play, we are biologically designed for it – play is no accident [2]. Ideally, at its peak, play is learning which occurs in flow state. 

When we were children play facilitated our physical, emotional, cognitive, moral and social development [3]. Having fun is a prerequisite of play. Children do not naturally persevere at things they don’t find intrinsically meaningful, fulfilling, enjoyable or interesting.

Practice regularly spotting your subtle, singular joys.

What does this mean for us adults? Ambition, drive and productivity are all important traits, but they are only one side of the coin. 

Play is not only for children! What if I were to tell you that play nurtures intuition, creative problem solving, focussing on the process rather than the outcome which could actually increase productivity and improve outcomes in our work.

When we play we tend to focus on the journey and not the outcome. Play is a time to be curious, to explore, to be willing to have a go and possibly fail. Be prepared and willing to be a beginner. Enjoy the ride. 

Play Deprivation and its Consequences

“The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.”

Brian Sutton-Smith

When was the last time you had fun for its own sake?

Play deprivation is the lack of regular opportunities to play and by regular we mean more than just a 2 week yearly holiday or relying on mind-altering substances to have fun! 

The consequences of not playing regularly are very serious, such as [6]:

  • Developing rigid and fixed thought patterns
  • Risk-aversion
  • Emotional and physical burn-out. 

As a consequence we find adapting to change difficult, our resilience decreases and we are less likely to reach our full potential.

Having suffered from overwork and play deprivation I can attest to all of these symptoms.

In learning how to play again I have had great fun on my own journey of rapid change, observing the impact of unleashing huge reservoirs of untapped potential and increased resilience when facing incredible opportunities.  

Now is the time to play to unleash and achieve your raw, authentic potential! 

What are the Benefits of Play? 

“Our playfulness will lead us back to life itself”

Bernie DeKoven

Often, thinking about “finding time to play” amongst the other obligations in our lives, such as work and family commitments, seems onerous or taxing on our already limited resources. But regular play can be mentally, physically and spiritually rejuvenating. 

Vigour, enthusiasm, energy, imagination, creativity and focus come from the inside out and are a cornerstone of a healthy life. [4]

Play has many benefits such as:[2

  • Providing time for relaxed practice and progressive mastery 
  • Stress relief 
  • Developing resilience 
  • Fostering intuition
  • Generating creative outcomes and problem-solving
  • Increased emotional well-being and cooperation
  • Improved brain function
  • Increased innovation and versatility
  • Improved productivity 
  • Engaging the creative side of the brain
  • Silencing the “inner critic”

We can reclaim and harness the power of play to liberate and leverage more joy and creativity in all areas of our lives. 

By modelling and valuing the importance of play we can inspire those around us to do the same, especially the children in our lives. 

Do you find yourself feeling deflated and exhausted after work? If so, adding more play into your life could leave you feeling joyous, pumped and inspired. 

By regularly diarising relaxed “playtime” in my week to play with my own children I look forward to feeling inspired, relaxed and energised afterwards with the added benefit of creating wonderful memories for my children. 

When combined with taking a break from solving problems in other areas of my life, I find that after playing I can see the problem from a different angle, or even realise that there was not a problem in the first place! Everyone wins in this game!

How Do I Find the Time to Commit to Play?

“Recovery is the process of finding the river and saying yes to its flow, rapids and all”

Julia Cameron

Play is not selfish. Giving yourself time to play will allow you to be more present with those around you. 

As the biohacker Dave Asprey outlines in his book Game Changers, happiness and money can be achieved by devoting our time and energy to find problems we are obsessed with but too much passion for our work can be overwhelming. Therefore, downtime from our work is critical and we need to relax, play and recover. 

Understand that You are Innately Playful by Nature

We are all innately playful by nature. Everyone is creative and has original ideas but we make choices as to whether we act on them. We need to give ourselves permission to play. 

Reflect on your play personality:

  • What lights you up and ignites your passion? 
  • Record your interests and hobbies when you were a child
  • What makes you curious, or made you curious when you were a child? 
  • What stimulated your flow state so that time seemed to disappear as you were totally immersed in your play? – How can you recreate these circumstances? 
  • Write down your play history and keep a journal of the activities and parts of your life that currently bring you joy and reflect on which key aspects of these you love doing. 
  • Track your joy – what makes you feel alive and vibrant? 
  • Create a personal playlist and gameplan for your life. Did you enjoy drawing, dancing, building Lego, or climbing trees as a child? Add it to your playlist and gameplan. 

Develop a Habit and Find an Accountability Partner

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”

James Clear

If we leave play to chance it will never happen, so we have to schedule it as upgrade time. 

Allow yourself time to follow your curiosity by taking yourself on weekly, scheduled, ring-fenced dates. This is essentially making time for yourself, once a week and on your own to play, have fun and do something which nourishes you. 

This offers you time to develop your passions and hobbies so you can return home recharged and happy as well as having something interesting to share with the people around you. 

I began taking regular “playdates” when I lived in Bangkok, Thailand. At first, I would begin with a set location and an aim for spending my time.

As these dates became a regular habit I would increasingly eliminate the aims for my dates and simply set a course for an interesting location that had caught my eye during one of many taxi rides in the capital. 

Upon arriving I would explore the location and then set off down side-streets, into interesting buildings being guided by fascination, curiosity and intuition. 

Suffice to say, it was in this manner that I made my best memories and stumbled many of my family’s favourite restaurants, cafes and moments of our time living there as I shared my discoveries with those around me. 

Consider engaging an accountability partner to help you clarify outcomes, prioritise actions, track progress and set goals as part of your play strategy then once established, throw the rule book away and follow your own intuition.  

Remove the Barriers to Play

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”

James Clear

Remove the barriers to play by creating and designing an environment that facilitates spontaneous, playful actions. For example, have an easy to play and subtle instrument, such as a tongue drum (don’t worry, you don’t use your tongue to play it!) or a kalimba, close to hand to be able to play with when the desire strikes. 

There are many apps that can faithfully recreate the experience of playing an instrument. Put on headphones and you can do this privately. 

Have a pen and paper to hand to doodle, or find a drawing or painting app for this purpose. The aim for any playful activity is not to worry about the outcome but just to focus on enjoying the process of the play for its own sake.

At home when listening to your favourite music (and when comfortable doing so) move your body to the music playfully. Use the camera on your phone to take photographs playfully of the things that draw your attention. 

Work Vs. Play?

“This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

Alan Watts

We each have roles in our lives;  father, mother, employee, employer, the list goes on. By and large, we are playing at these roles, following the predefined rules of a game which we have chosen to play. 

Altering our mindsets, acknowledging the fluid boundaries between work and play and gamifying our work can have a significantly positive impact on our lives. 

By making a conscious choice to totally focus your attention on a task, get the most out of it that you possibly can and commit to have fun whilst doing it (gamifying) even “menial” tasks such as washing up the dishes can be playful. 

A playful mindset can lead to more productivity, higher job satisfaction and greater workplace morale. 

Remain Curious

“Leap and the net will appear”

Julia Cameron

Having a playful mindset, remaining curious and trusting your intuition can create synchronicities in your life. 

Allocate time to visit a place you have never been without a purpose in mind. Arrive and set off, remaining fully present and open to what happens. Listen to your intuition as you travel, follow your senses and see what happens.

You may discover a new interest, develop new relationships, eat your new favourite food, listen to new music…the possibilities are endless. 

Join a Class, Find your Tribe, and Share Your Life

If you are not too sure where to begin or want to practice the skills you wish to develop in order to play then join a class. 

You will be able to learn knowledge, skills and understanding relevant to your interest, see if it is right for you, meet like-minded people and then apply what you have learnt by throwing the rule book away at home and having fun. 

If you have children, play with them! By setting aside time, getting down to their level and providing your undivided attention to play with your children you are entering into a mutually beneficial relationship. [5] This has positive outcomes for both your brain development and emotional well-being. 

Observe your child, see what their interests are. Follow your intuition, let your child take the lead and respond to their play cues sensitively. Embrace repetition if it occurs, be in the present moment and focus on the process of the play itself and the shared, sustained thinking that occurs. 

You will help their development, bring you closer together and create memories that can last a lifetime. 

Animals can be intrinsically playful and also relaxing to observe. If you are considering sharing your life with an animal, consider sharing it with an animal that has a playful nature. This may inspire you to be more playful.

If sharing your life with an animal is not an option, watching animals at play can be inspiring, so get into nature and observe the wildlife around you. 

Conclusion

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

George Bernard Shaw

Play is not just for children. 

Play is essential for everyone at any age.

Play is how we learn, make connections and solve problems. 

 By playing regularly and having a playful approach to life you can stimulate positive emotional and hormonal changes and neuronal growth. 

Change your game, unleash the power of play, transform your life and have fun in the present moment!

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this article, but even better would be your success stories and commitments to take action. Feel free to leave your comments below, but also to get in touch if you want a (playful) accountability partner.


[1] https://playtherapy.org.uk/ChildrensEmotionalWellBeing/AboutPlayTherapy/MainPrinciples/PlayDefinition 

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/sites/default/files/evol.functs.play_published.pdf 

[3] http://www.healthofchildren.com/P/Play.html 

[4] https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/benefits-of-play-for-adults.htm 

[5] https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/benefits-of-play-for-adults.htm 

[6] http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Consequences_of_Play_Deprivation