“We don’t stop playing because we grow old;
we grow old because we stop playing.”
– George Bernard Shaw
At school, our days were directed by the sound of a bell that we, like Pavlov’s dogs, were conditioned to respond to in a particular way.
The bell told us class was finished and of course, the one we really wanted to hear was the bell telling us it was break time, meaning it was time to go outside and play. Hurrah!
Our play was frequently spontaneous, unstructured, and associated with a lot of running around, laughing, and giggling until the next bell signified break time was over and we shuffled back slowly back to our classrooms, a bit out of breath.
Play. It’s where you get to unleash your imagination and let loose to see what transpires without any need for an outcome other than having fun and enjoying yourself.
Do you have play time at work?
Can you remember the last time you got to do something other than your “proper work” that felt a bit silly or a waste of time?
If you’re having trouble remembering don’t worry because somewhere tucked into the attic of your childhood memories, you’ll find a trunk packed full of all those playful things you did as a child.
Play is an important part of mental wellbeing.
Play is useful for reducing some of all the seriousness and gravitas that can weigh us down in our quest to fulfill our duties and achieve our goals as working grown-ups.
Back in 2020, I joined a swing dance class with my husband for no other reason than to have fun. While it’s nice to think that we might be improving as the weeks go past, what keeps us going back is because we love the music, the vibe and the other people also having fun.
Last year I decided I wanted to get into cycling a bit more to improve my fitness, but it didn’t happen until my husband also got a new bike, and with a small group of friends we developed the habit of cycling round the river on Sundays. The fun part included choosing a nice coffee shop too, but mainly it was about being out in the fresh air enjoying the environment and time with our friends.
What do you do for fun?
What do you do for the sheer joy of doing something away from the “usual”, that is stimulating, challenging, and relaxing too?
Is there some aspect of your workday that provides you with the opportunity for play?
Play is good for physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and creative development.
As kids, we play and learn new physical skills – how to climb, kick a ball and run. We learn to share our toys with our friends and how to cooperate with each other. It also teaches us how to regulate our emotions when things go wrong, or we hurt ourselves.
Play enables you to take a risk “Go on!! I dare YOU!!” pushing you out of your comfort zone to try something new or something that feels a bit risky.
Play is vital to developing the skill sets required to be an optimally functioning human being getting the most out of life, happy, healthy, and feeling fulfilled, at every age.
As adults, we become play deprived.
When did we stop playing? Was it in that space between finishing school and entering the big wide world as a young adult, where expectations and social conformity require you to take life and work more seriously?
Our modern world is changing fast, becoming ever more complex and complicated. Workloads are growing ever bigger, expectations to meet unrealistic deadlines ever rising. Little wonder so many of us are feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and burning out.
The perception of always having too much to do and too little time to complete everything in, means play too often doesn’t get a look in.
Ways to bring more playfulness back into your life.
Did you unpack your play trunk yet?
1. Remember what you used to love
Stepping back in time to remember will connect you to those memories of banging out your favourite tunes on the piano as a way of managing your stress, or perhaps you remember how much fun you had in art class, creating your latest masterpiece that only your teacher and Mum could fully appreciate. Or perhaps you were into drama and loved getting into costume and hamming it up on stage.
2. Give yourself permission
One of our biggest obstacles to play, is us.
Do you see play as being too silly, unbecoming, too childish, and a waste of time?
Are you concerned others will see you in an unfavourable light and unable to take you seriously if you engage in playful behaviour?
Challenge those thoughts and remind yourself, play is part of being human and can help you in so many ways. Let go of those limiting self-beliefs and give yourself permission to engage in play, and not worry about “failing” – you can’t in play.
3. Know your preferred play style
There’s something I need to share.
I really don’t enjoy card games. Some of my friends get terribly excited at the prospect of paying bridge but I would rather rip my toenails out one by one.
Research has shown that the type of play we like is personality-driven. Perhaps you can relate to one or all of these.
- Other-directed is when you enjoy playing with other people.
- Light-hearted is when you’re happy to improvise and don’t take life too seriously
- Intellectual play is when you prefer to do word play or problem-solving. Cryptic crosswords anyone?
- Whimsical play is when you’re happy to search out the unusual or quirky things.
4. Get excited about play
If you suggest a trip to the waterpark to your kids, they’ll probably start jumping out of their skin in excitement and anticipation of having fun.
I only have to say “walkies” to our dog and she’s already prancing around the kitchen raring to go while I’m scrabbling to attach her lead to her collar.
Create or grab the opportunity if suggested. Say “YES!” rather than justifying why you can’t. The paradox being that that short time out to have fun and play will help to alleviate your stress, distract you from your worries and remind you about the good, beyond work.
5. Go play with the kids
Borrow some if necessary.
Playing with children is a great leveller, and they take no prisoners!
5. Adopt a more playful approach in your workplace
As Stuart Brown author and psychiatrist reminds us,
“Play is what lifts people out of the mundane.
I sometimes compare play to oxygen – it’s all around us, yet mostly goes unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.”
His TED talk is a great reminder of why play is more than fun.
Getting along well with your colleagues, and inspiring trust as a leader is enhanced by your ability to add a playful element to how you communicate. A more relaxed conversation with some banter has been shown to strengthen social bonds and makes the give and take of business easier to navigate.
A playful work environment isn’t about playing the fool, rather it constructs a culture of safety where it’s safe to speak up and share ideas and opinions and increases cooperation and collaboration.
Best of all, a more playful work approach triggers the generation of more insights, new ideas, creativity and empathy-building resourcefulness, resilience, and overall happiness.
Are you getting enough play into your day?
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.
If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.