Today I decided I’m going to share a lighter topic and talk about play! I know my posts have veered towards self-development/motivational type insight so I’m hoping to bring it back to a playful vibe (no pun intended) with this topic. The reason I thought of writing about this today is because I had a full day of playing with the 3 year old I babysit. Being with her reminded me why I love kids and babysitting so much – because all it’s mostly playing all day! I mean I know there’s the feeding and bathroom situation and the occasional (sometimes frequent) temper tantrums, but in general, what’s a kid’s job day in/day out? It’s to play! To not have a worry in the world except for the scrape on her knee that she got from you guessed it – playing! By now anyone taking a drink every time I wrote play/playing would probably find themselves slightly inebriated – so if that’s a game you are playing (see I did it again), stop now because it’s only going to get worse!
In my motor development class in undergrad, we spent an entire chapter talking about the importance of play in child development. This is where they learn! Where you can experiment with your body and your abilities to problem solve and figure out what you are capable of. Some types of games or activities cause kids to fall down in a way that challenges them to get back up – like walking or riding a bike. Others may yield more extreme results – like falling off a object that was too challenging for them to climb. Either way they learn from this process, and I’m a strong proponent of parents letting children explore in this way (safely and within reason).
My question is when -and why – does this stop? When do we become so focused in the nitty gritty of life and the worries of tomorrow that we forget to play today? When do we become so fixated on not knowing how to play the game or being afraid of losing that we don’t even try? Why does our society shape us in this way rather than continuing to promote a playful mindset even into adulthood. Don’t get me wrong, some people continue to do this and they have it down – my favorite couples that I see are the ones that are playful with each other. And I know that as we get older, many people find themselves enjoying a board game or video games. Yes, this is playing too! But what about harnessing this mindset for the bigger, life stuff – like work, family, and possibly even hardship. Yes, hardship – Jane McGonigal has a TedTalk on this concept.
This leads me to think that if we thought of more big life stuff as a game that we can play, it makes it less scary and stressful. Worried about paying bills? Think of budgeting as a game by using a friendly looking app (we use EveryDollar). Exercise seems scary? What better way to get moving than to play an active game or sport with friends/family. Even dancing feels more like playing than ‘exercise’. I had a sport and exercise psychology professor in undergrad who was interviewing kids on what they do for exercise and one kid responded to her by saying “exercise is what grown ups do when they don’t know how to have fun anymore”. I love this quote because it so perfectly addresses how we cultivate a mindset of physical activity as ‘work’ rather than ‘play’. I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard during your workout, I’m saying if you shift your mindset, it may add to the already mood boosting effects of a good workout.
I want to finish by talking about how I personally relate this idea of playing to the work I do (at least I try to most of the time, I know I’m not perfect). I’ve found that thinking of my work with a more playful mindset does two things. First, it puts me in a state of excitement and enjoyment. Instead of getting frustrated at obstacles or challenges, they just make the game (aka the work day) more interesting. The second thing it does is it makes the concept of failing as something that isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. So you lose the game of Thursday night Yahtzee with your family. That doesn’t mean you won’t play Apple-to-Apples with you friends on Friday. Or maybe you’ll win next week’s Yahtzee rematch. Losing a board game isn’t a big deal to most. You learned a little bit more about the game, you figured out what you can do next time, and you can put it into practice when you play again. Those ideas can be directly transferred to the thought process to have when thinking about a problem you want to tackle!
I know that I said this would be lighthearted and fun and it may have ended up resembling a speech again, but I want you to end it on a playful note and once you get done reading this, do something playful. Tickle your partner, dance to a song, try to get your cat or dog to play chase with you. Whatever it is for you, really get in the head space of playing and after you can note what it felt like and foster that feeling in other areas of your life!