You’re stuck in traffic on your morning commute, your email alerts worked as your morning alarm with “urgent” needs that started your day already stressed, you daydream out your office window as you watch your to do list pile up and its all begins to feel overwhelming. There can be a lot in our daily routines as adults that can lead us to feeling stressed out, overwhelmed or desiring to feel freedom from the ever growing to do list of life.
Now, think back to being a child or if you have children think of a time when your child is in full on play mode. Recognize the feeling of running through an open field, imagining yourself in different careers or conquering monsters with your super powers. Play is an important part of a child’s life. Play helps open creative doorways and works to relieve stress, provide an outlet for energy and helps create relationships. Play is powerful and the need for play is something that is often lost as we become adults. I would challenge, play is something that is important to continue prioritizing even after you “grow up”.
As children, play is just something that we do. It is a part of our routine and a way that we learn about ourselves and our world. As people, we are active beings. We learn and grow by doing and we problem solve our world by doing. A highly recommended good read, Paul Coehlo’s book, The Alchemist said it well when the author said, “There is only one way to learn, it’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.” Seeing action as learning and working to use our journey to help us grow is a powerful way to understand the importance and priority of play even in adulthood. Ask yourself, what journey are you currently on and how can you learn and grow from the experience? Stuart Brown, a leader and advocate in the research of play, stated in his work that “play leads to plasticity, adaptability and creativity.” I don’t know about you, but I can think of a lot of ways those skills would benefit my day to day life including helping think through a difficult work project, providing relaxation after a long, stressful day or helping me understand another person’s perspective more clearly. Play helps us think outside the box and problem solve situations that may feel difficult or confusing. Play helps expand our journey and consequently expand our learning.
Another great book I recently had recommended to me was Essentialism by Greg McKeown and once I picked it up I could not put it down. It is a straightforward, clearly articulated education in the ways that simplicity, editing and focus in our lives and careers can create freedom and benefits that go far beyond the obvious of more time or less stress. It is a powerful encouragement to live differently and focus on that which is essential rather than get bogged down in the clutter that may be causing unnecessary worry, stress or time. McKeown also highlighted several benefits of continuing play into adulthood. He defines play as “anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end.” When is the last time you did something with pure joy? What is something that you believe could produce joy or you wish that you could have time to do? These are good questions to begin asking yourself as you work to introduce play back into your routine.
Play can be many different things, from imaginative free play to organized sport but the heart of play is putting your whole self into the present, into the task at hand and finding enjoyment. That enjoyment is freedom both for children but also adults. We do not grow out of our need for play and as work stress or anxieties arise it becomes even more important to make sure that play is a valuable and prioritized part of your life.
Here are some thought starters for ways that you can begin to incorporate play into your week:
-Schedule game night with your friends and spend the week looking forward to some playful competition
-Get a crossword, Sudoku or word search book from a local bookstore
-Play a game of solitaire on your computer or with a deck of cards
-Use your commute as a time to play eye spy or the alphabet game against yourself or with your kids
-Take time out to color, craft or create
-Pick back up your old tennis racquet or basketball for a quick game
-Skip, take a walk, draw in sidewalk chalk, swing at a local park, take in nature
There is no right or wrong way to bring play back into your day. That is the joy of play in the first place. It is not right or wrong, it is being in the present and finding joy. Have fun this week finding at least one new way to bring back the play!