The Power of Play

a colored pencil drawing of a person engaging in play in a natural setting, such as a park playing with a frisbee with friends or family with a look of joy on their face. The joy and excitement of play, can enhance both personal and professional experiences.

Life seems like serious business. When it comes to work and relationships and everything else, it seems like you’d better take it seriously. If not, there’s a chance that everything might fall apart, right? Not so fast.

Playfulness can be an effective way to approach your life and work. Through play, you can stimulate your brain, reach higher levels of creativity, and develop a greater capacity for risk-taking. Plus, things are just more fun when they involve play!

The Power of Play

When you think of the word “play,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? There’s a good chance that you think of kids. Play is often thought of as child’s stuff. Most people assume that it’s something we engage in when we’re young, and then we’re supposed to grow up and leave it behind.

The truth of the matter, though, is that play can last for a lifetime. There’s no requirement for you to outgrow it and move on. In fact, holding on to play can be an incredibly resourceful choice for you to make.

Play encourages you to live in the moment. It allows you to release your sense of obligation that you must do something or become something to be a complete human being. Instead, it frees you to appreciate where you are in life, and it encourages you to fully engage with the people who are in front of you.

Play is the pinnacle way of being. It’s effective in our relationships and our businesses.

In particular, I think that play can help us in four key areas:

  1. Play helps us learn.
  2. Play fosters our creativity.
  3. Play motivates us to take more risks.
  4. Play is just downright fun!

That’s why I consider play one of my core values in life. In everything I do, play helps me experience a life of freedom.

Play and Learning

If you’ve spent any time at all in the corporate world, then you’ve surely sat through a workplace training before.

Which experiences were more memorable for you? The ones where you sat still while an instructor spoke at you? Or the ones where you were encouraged to move, interact and enjoy yourself?

If you’re like most people, your answer is probably the latter. Not only is that sort of training more memorable, but it’s often more effective as well. That’s because play has the power to facilitate learning.

Children’s educators have known this for a long time. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) says that play is essential for kids because it enhances their learning in five key areas:

  • Cognition
  • Literacy
  • Vocabulary
  • Physical ability
  • Social interactions

That’s why early childhood classrooms center around the idea of play. Preschoolers spend their days exploring imaginative centers and joining their teachers and classmates in games and songs.

But there isn’t a magic cutoff age where play stops being a useful tool for learning. All throughout our lives, we can learn through the power of play.

In play, you involve your body and your mind in a topic. You try out new possibilities and see what happens. You interact with others and learn from their ideas and perspectives.

In addition, play develops your mental fitness. As you engage with the world and explore, important areas of your brain activate, and you build new neural connections.

Research has demonstrated that playing video games every day can improve your memory. Physical play has been linked to improved brain health too, especially if you regularly switch up the type of movement you engage in.

I believe that the most powerful learning happens through play.

Play and Creativity

Play can usher you into a flow state. That’s a popular buzzword these days, but you may not be sure what it involves.

To find out more, let’s go straight to the source. Mihaly “Mike” Csikszentmihalyi was the researcher who pioneered the idea of flow. Here’s how he described flow states:

“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

Play and flow go hand in hand. When you’re engaged in playful activities, time often passes faster. You may lose track of where you are and what’s going on around you. Your focus is on what you’re doing and how much you’re enjoying it.

Flow state and creativity go hand in hand. In fact, that’s where Csikszentmihalyi’s research on the topic began: with creative types.

He observed that artists, musicians and other creatives often entered a state in which their art received all of their attention. The world around them didn’t matter in those moments. All that mattered was their creative endeavors. What they were producing seemed to simply flow out of them while in that heightened, hyper-focused state.

If you can tap into your flow state, you can connect with your creativity as well. Play could help you get there.

What could greater creativity do for you? Sure, it might allow you to create incredible works of art, but that’s not all that creativity is good for. Creative thinking can also help you see problems from a new angle, brainstorm out-of-the-box solutions, and determine the next steps for your business.

Through play, you can access your most resourceful, creative state of mind.

Play and Taking Risks

You’ve played a round of Monopoly before, right? Close your eyes and picture the setup. You can see the neatly divided game board, the classic metal game pieces and the brightly colored bills.

Monopoly is a great example of the power of play at work in our lives.In this game, everyone is agreeing to suspend disbelief. We step into the mindset that we are real estate moguls in New York.

Monopoly is a great example of the power of play at work in our lives.

In this game, everyone is agreeing to suspend disbelief. We step into the mindset that we are real estate moguls in New York.

We collectively agree to play by the rules that what we are doing is real and important.

When we do that, the bills are no longer just colored pieces of paper. To us, they’re real money, and they really matter.

In that Monopoly world, we enter into a spirit where we’re able to do things we wouldn’t normally do. The game becomes a safe place to try things out and fail. If things don’t go our way, we don’t take it so personally. We pick ourselves up and move on.

What a great model this offers us. When we approach our business endeavors and our interactions as opportunities for play, we may be willing to take greater risks.

Fear of failure can hold you back, but play provides a sense of insulation. It creates an environment in which you feel more protected from what you might have perceived as failure. 

When you’re less worried about failing, you’re more likely to go for whatever it is that you want. A spirit of play encourages you to tell yourself, If it works out, great. If not, it’s no big deal. I can always try something else.

And guess what? It might work out! But you’ll never find out unless you take the leap and try.

Play and Fun

If you’re feeling stressed, playfulness could be one of your best tools to combat it. There’s even scientific research to back that up.

One study assessed nearly 900 young adults. The people who were more playful reported lower levels of stress. And when stressful situations arose in their lives, they were more likely to use healthy and productive coping mechanisms.

Stress can weigh you down and sap your fun. Play offers a means of escape so that you can restore joy to your life. Why invest your life in stress and worry when you don’t have to?

I don’t think I have to tell you that we all have a limited amount of time here on this planet. We see examples of that all around us when the people we love and admire are here one day and gone the next.

Knowing how finite your time on the earth is may encourage you to play more. As Mary Oliver wrote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

Playfulness might be the best way to invest the days that you have.

What could happen if you were to stop taking life so seriously and, instead, started to have a little more fun? The best way to find out is simply to start doing it.

Perhaps a life of play could help you learn more, achieve more, take more risks or find more delight in your days.

Becoming a more playful person may take a concerted effort, especially if you’re out of the habit. You may want to check out the National Institute for Play’s guide to Play Personalities to help you decide what playfulness could look like in your life.
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