How to Embrace Our Inner Child Physically
We really have forgotten how to play and let’s relearn the joy of being silly
26 years later I was in Disneyland again.
We queued for hours and finally got on the Space Mountain ride.
Nothing has changed. Pitch dark, neon signs, an adventure that didn’t make sense to me, R2D2. Within minutes, the ride’s over.
But I screamed the hell out of myself, and walked out with the biggest smile I had ever made for a long long time. I was happy, not because I had achieved anything but because I had fun.
I permitted myself to have fun. Today, I invite you to do the same, and I will tell you why it’s important and how to embrace your inner child.
Fun — why we need it
When I put the title this way it does seem really stupid. It seems like a no-brainer that we should have fun in life.
But adults (sometimes even teenagers and children now) are really bad at having fun. We aren’t even taking it for granted, we have, at times, deliberately chosen torture over fun.
The times we choose painful gym workouts over fun sports so that we can stay thin; the times we choose extreme yo-yo diet over surprising ourselves in the kitchen; the times we work so many extra hours for the promotion that guarantees nothing but longer working hours going forward; the time we pick a partner that screws us over and makes us feel small, over healthy, secure relationships with a focus of respect and self-love.
They sound so familiar. If I put it that way, it’s clear that we are very good at punishing ourselves.
The merits of having fun
In all fairness, adults sometimes have fun too. Netflix and chill, masturbation, party and drugs. The activities don’t matter (just like for children, what they play with don’t matter as much as having time to play), the question is whether the activity provides us with the benefits of having fun.
What fun brings us:
“the relevance of play in the adult world and its vital role in fostering imagination, enabling independent thought and challenging the status quo” — Wellcome Trust, Play Well Exhibition
- Recharge our energy
- Boost creativity
- Forget about worries and practise mindfulness (try asking a kid in the mud what they want for dinner, they will eat dirt and it’s still good)
- Become less self-conscious
- Move our bodies and limps (just play twister)
- Release happy chemicals that boost our moods
- True, unpretentious, mad laughter
I would say, for adults, playing is a form of therapy. Sometimes we need to talk about childhood crap, sometimes we need to drink until we pass out, and now I am suggesting that we try playing again!
I tried studying for a kindergarten teacher qualification once. During my placement, I was triggered by the children who were just innocently climbing up and down some wood structures and covering themselves in mud.
My upbringing as an Asian child was quite rigid. We have a timetable after school for studying, and all hobbies are done purely for strengthening our CV (yep, for a five-year-old). Playing doesn’t come naturally to many of us. The best question we can ask is, how long has it been since we do things for the sake of enjoyment?
Many of us struggle with permitting themselves the time for active play. The best we manage is to permit ourselves to rest by watching the television.
Playing can be active or calm, the key is that we are actively engaged in the process. It should be a two-way interaction (unlike television, it’s a one-way interaction). Unlike books, television’s sense stimulation limits our use of imagination as well, which is a key component of play. So reading novels, which uses our imagination, is also play.
The last criterion of play is that we are actually enjoying it. By that, it usually means that we have an additional motive behind the play, for example, acquiring knowledge or status, it’s more likely to be a hobby than play. Play really is meaningless, it takes up our precious time with the sole aim of having fun. But if we are willing to spend time watching TV, I’m sure we can permit ourselves to play.
Here’s the mantra, if we are ready to play again:
I permit myself to play.
Five ways to start playing now
Unlike children who can play with the gift wrap paper and find joy, we adults are so inhibited by logic and social pressure that we probably won’t do that.
Paper is actually a great place to start playing. It’s less frantic (as in we are not running around), it’s cheap and readily available. So here are five ways we can start playing…with paper.
- Origami: that’s when you fold the paper in specific ways to create paper animals, hearts or whatever. It’s particularly great for people who like structure, instructions and systems. It’s akin to lego but more organic and elegant. Here’s a website with instructions to start with.
- The Exquisite Corpse game: This is a game created by Parisian surrealists. One person draws on part of the paper and when they finish, they fold to cover the drawing but leave a little hint. The second person takes over and base on the hint, they draw a bit more and then cover it again. Then the next person…until the paper is filled up. This game trains our creative muscles and is a great game to play between couples or at a sophisticated wine-tasting party (or any time).
- Drawing: A very successful entrepreneur friend of mine recently moved from LA to London. He’s overwhelmed by the new environment and culture. Although he’s an extrovert, he feels that his energy has been drained by the new social norms and meeting new friends. So he started to carve out time to draw with some lo-fi background music on. He enjoys this time a lot as it’s not on the computer, or with people. I asked him about how he started on a blank piece of paper, he told me that in the beginning, he would look up pictures online to copy, but slowly, he just does whatever he wants. Again, play is a muscle we can train.
- For something more active, I suggest silly yoga. There are a bunch of yoga postures that are so fun to do and not obsessed with flexibility. For example, the Happy Baby, Lion‘s Breath, and you can totally try this particular video that I go back to all the time with my rainbow yogic outfit (I really do have one!)
- Christmas? Yes! Boardgame, cards against humanities, Rummikub, they will be so fun whilst the family gather around for the festive season. But rather than eating so much and paralyse with a food coma, how about a hike in the woods? When all the stores are closed, it’s always great to escape from the internet and consumerism, and embrace nature. Choose a route that requires a bit of climbing up and down the rocks, put on your waterproof wellingtons, and that’s your playground right there.
It’s important to remember two things. We have to give ourselves permission to play as an adult, and if we struggle with getting into the flow, remember that playing is a muscle.
Everyone can play, we have just got a little rusty!
I will be talking more about self-belief and the limiting narrative we have built unconsciously about ourselves in my upcoming newsletter this Sunday. Have you subscribed to it yet? No? What! Do it now and go through the 8-week self-discovery and new year resolution series for a truly joyful Christmas and new year!