I am not a watcher of horror films. This definitely has something to do with the fact that, in 1980, when I was probably far too young to be watching, I saw “The Shining”. It scared the pants off me. The up side to this is twofold: first, as mentioned, I don’t waste my time watching people get killed. It’s just not good for my psyche – nightmares, poor sleep quality, you get the picture. Second, I will always remember that, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” not to mention a bit of a psychopath.
In the movie, Jack was trying to write a book. He was stuck and going nowhere but, rather than taking some time away to clear his mind, he just stayed in front of his typewriter and went crazy. I know it’s a bit of an extreme example, but all of this informs the idea that, making a conscious effort to play more often can increase your productivity and reduce stress.
Tech companies Capitalize on Play
In recent years technology companies have shown the world a whole new level of productivity. The evolution of technology has been prolific. Tech companies know all about the importance of play. They often house billiards and foosball tables, fitness facilities and even free snacks because they know that socialization and play is good for:
- team building
- work place satisfaction, and of course productivity
When you are in a state of play you perform better professionally. Play helps you cultivate ideas, intentions, interests and aspirations. Play frees you from fears that prevent you from venturing forward to new experiences and discoveries.
Mental and Physical Health Flourish with Play
1. There is plenty of evidence that play is important to the developing the minds of children. Play helps children:
- develop social skills
- problem solve
- develop a sense of their own mind become empathic
- foster learning
- develop resilience
- develop coping skills
Because your brain has plasticity, it is capable of growth and change throughout your life span. As such, play or lack of play effects your mind even as an adult. It prevents you from becoming dull, boring and well, depressed.
2. Dr. Sergio Pellis did experiments on rats and monkeys where he first took base line brain scans then, denied the animals the opportunity to play-fight with each other for extended periods of time. Much later, he scanned their brains again and found that they had developed deficiencies in their prefrontal cortex. The deficiencies related to areas that controlled emotional regulation and social behavior.
While it would not be ethical to replicate these experiments on human children, it has been shown that kids who engage in more play, end up with better social skills later in life.
3. Play has been shown to have the opposite effect on the body as stress does. Play facilitates:
- decreased blood pressure increased dopamine
- boosts immune system functioning
So, what is play?
Play is a state of mind. It is not something that is taught, it’s just something you step into. It exists in you, and in all of us. Researchers actually study it. What they say about play, is that it has 3 essential characteristics.
- It is not work. If you’re lucky it happens at work, and you can bring it into your work but, it is not something you work on. You just choose to see the opportunity to play …more often.
- It’s not for real. It is joking, imagining, creating, goofing but it’s not real. This one can get you into trouble when the person you’re playing with does not realize that you are in fact playing with an idea, and that you know, it is not real.
- It is expressive and, or exploratory. It could be expressing emotion, exploring movement, storytelling, social attachment and, probably lots of other things – depending on the people engaged in it. What they are engaging in has that expressive sense of exploration that you see so easily in children and then sometimes forget to celebrate in yourself.
In his book Play, psychologist Stuart Brown compares play to oxygen:
“it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.”
If you are finding that elements of play are missing in your life, here’s what the experts say on incorporating play into everyday life.
Tips to incorporate more play.
Change how you think about play. Instead of giving play a low place on the totem pole, move it up your priority list. Remember, play is important for productivity. Skipping out on play might give you more time to tick items off your to do list but, life will be boring and the quality of your work may suffer too.
Recall how you played as a child. Try to think back to some of your favourite past times when you were a kid. Did you like to play in small or large groups? How physical was your play? How often did you use song, art or theatrics in your play? Were you a snort laugher? Just curious. I don’t think that has any bearing but, who knows?
Select playful friends. Have you ever heard the saying, “You become like the 5 people you spend the most time with.”? Choose carefully. Have curious conversations with loved ones who are not playful. Use the conversations to explore playful opportunities that might exist for the two of you. The conversation itself could be playful.
Play with little ones. Children free us to see play in a new perspective. They help us to let our guard down. If you don’t have your own children, borrow some. Likely, their parents could use a break.
Examine beliefs that prevent you from engaging in play
Without play, you lose your ability to create a positive sense of self. Moreover, when play is delegated to something that you do, only when you have spare time, you become a human-doing rather than a human being. As a result, all your time is spent running around getting stuff done, completing check lists, maybe even climbing the socio-economic ladder, but not having any fun.
You may find that between your personal and professional responsibilities, there is no time to play. Perhaps, your focus on busyness and productivity, wedges out the joyful moments that give your body and brain time to pause and integrate the onslaught of information you receive daily.
The sheer volume of processing you ask your mind and body to do on a daily basis is relatively new to the human species and our nervous system. There is such an increase in accountability for our time and responsibility – to be connected, on, and available.
What would it be like to have compassion in regard these beliefs?
Compassion is not letting the inner critic win. Hear the critic, acknowledge that there is a voice that says, “ You are not doing well enough to indulge in play.” Know that the critic is making an attempt to cope with the stress of life. Invite it in to your conscious mind to be seen. Then, play with it.
Play is the act of noticing something that would typically be common, like the belief that you don’t have time or energy to play. Then, imagine up an expressive exploration of that common thing. The exploration should be both innovative, and not for real. Playing with your inner critic will give you an opportunity to let down your guard. According to Stuart Brown,
“Play is the purest expression of love”
Play, is letting the critic speak again but this time, give it the voice of a cartoon character like Mickey Mouse, “You’re not doing well enough to indulge in play.” For real:).