How life rewards those of us who play

Reality is scary.

Even for adults.

In a chaotic and uncertain world, most of us have a strong need to control things tightly.

It’s understandable. Who wouldn’t?

We must be careful at every step. We don’t want to say the wrong thing. We can’t offend. We’ve already experienced all that pain in our past and must do everything we can to avoid shame; to dodge ridicule that could inflict new cuts into already bruised skin.

We are hyper aware of the image we project of ourselves. We need to be seen as professional. Serious. Definitely not weird. Weird is not cool.

It is dangerous to put a foot wrong, because we have a chilled, untarnished image to uphold.

So we train ourselves to tighten up.

We judge. We block. We hide.

This increases our sense of control, and reduces the risk of making a mistake, you see.

Even though we know we shouldn’t try to be perfect, we lust for it anyway.

We are dependent on things to turn out the way we want them to.

We have chosen, and we don’t dare loosen our grip on how we’ve decided the world is to be.

We do this because we are normal.

We do this because it is in our best interest — to be, and feel safer.

But is it?

Is it in our best interest to be stiff; to be moulded by our fears; to be deeply attached to the outcomes of things?

The problem is that when we close our minds and bodies, we are denying exploration and growth, and most of all, we are denying development into our full potential.

Could it be that in order to feel fulfilled; to know a deeper joy; to learn more effectively; and to ease into our creative genius, we need to do things a little differently?

Finding our potential requires a mode of action that most of us find completely alien.

That mode is play.

Let’s think about major discoveries of the past. When we dig deeper to the moment of breakthrough, we often find that the result was unintentional.

Perhaps the inventor made a mistake, or was playing around or testing or poking something without expecting anything, which then lead to a realisation.

For example, the ink jet printer was invented by a worker at Canon when he rested a hot iron on his pen by mistake. This meant that ink was ejected from the pen tip, leading to the revelation.

The Slinky spring toy was discovered after navy engineer Richard James accidentally dropped a spring used to keep sensitive instruments on a ship in place. It landed upright, which gave him the idea to create the toy.

These two examples focus on the invention of a product, but they already hint at the value in exploration without expectation.

Essentially, the inventors were rewarded by allowing a new perspective on reality to emerge. They were compensated by simply letting physics run its course.

“If you stumble, make it part of your dance.” ~Unknown

If we keep imposing limits on things to supposedly make our lives easier, we are restricting the magic that manifests when new objects collide; when new connections are made.

It is through play that we realise life’s greatest rewards.

What exactly is ‘play?’

…And what does it specifically mean for us ‘adults?’

I would define it as a process of exploration without expectation; of toying with reality; of trying things out to see what happens.

It is training our brains that there are no true boundaries.

Play, ultimately, is letting go.

Play allows us to relax. It allows us to make connections that lead to new breakthroughs. It floods us with energy.

It helps us overcome creative blocks and create in volume.

It encourages self-expression.

We were brilliant at play as children because we hadn’t yet begun to put limits on everything.

Picasso emphasised this when he said: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

So, what can we do to exercise our ‘play muscle?’

Simply observing things is a form of play.

Interacting with our surroundings is how we get out of our heads. It is how we take a break from constant judging, so that we just flow.

Moving; dancing; swimming; playing games; exercising; walking; people-watching. These are all ways to practice, but there are other kinds of play too.

A form of play I use when I feel stuck, is simply to be ok with creating ‘junk’.

If I cannot come up with something to write, I just write anything without expectation, beyond having an outline.

Eventually connections start being made through the jumble. I loosen up, and a spark of insight emerges.

Part of this is getting comfortable with volume and excess: producing more, extracting the gems, and being ok that a lot of it will be discarded.

“You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea.” ~Picasso

Set aside time for adventures. Go on walks with a notebook and write down any idea that comes to mind. Explore your town. Take pictures. Make a scrap book.

Ease into more things that feel uncomfortable and different. Learn to laugh at awkward moments, rather than running from them.

Train yourself to be ok with that feeling of vulnerability as you jump into the abyss. It is a sign that you are stepping into new, brain expanding territory.

Try things you wouldn’t normally try. Read books on topics you normally would not. Then use that knowledge to better inform your main expertise.

Do the things you don’t do because of your concern for being labelled weird. Turn that around and find ways to be called weird more often.

We’re all weird in our own way, especially if we’ve chosen play as our common mode of action. Do it and own it.

Life rewards the weird.

Choose humour. Sometimes we’re stunted because we’re taking the serious route. It’s amazing how creativity can flow when we just decide to have fun; to see the funny side to things.

Gamify. Turn things into a game that would otherwise have been difficult. Our entire reality shifts when we assume the role of a game-player. We ease up and become more committed.

Begin to sculpt a gentle welcoming of uncertainty.

Defy your usual emotional reactivity.

When you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, let that remind you to drop your shoulders and breathe.

Now we start to develop our ability to tolerate and even enjoy the unfamiliar.

We get better at loosening our grip.

And life doesn’t seem so scary any more.

What do you do to play? Tell us in the comments!

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Medium author Jane Hwangbo is creating an app to help us incorporate play into our lives called LucidPi. We are both very excited about it.

For more ideas like these, and to keep updated on the app, sign up here.