Remember how you used to play outside for hours, climb in trees, play hide and seek, chalk on the sidewalk? Remember the giddy anticipation you once felt the night before your birthday? Remember how it feels when you forget everything around you when you doodle in your art journal?
Play is not something you can only experience as a child. You still have the need to play, as well as the capacity to do so.
As a grown-up playing regularly becomes slightly more challenging though. That’s why I will explain 7 truths about play that will help you to experience all the wonderful childlike feelings you long for, time and time again.
1. Labeling it play doesn’t make it play.
You want to play more and spend more time making your Pinterest boards meet your real life. One day you will add that mason jar terrarium to your windowsill. But unconsciously there is an awful lot of ‘need to, should, and must’ involved. You still remember the goal: ‘make alllll the things’, but somewhere down the line you forgot why you wanted it in the first place: to experience happiness and childlike joy.
Grown-ups are really good at making something that could be exhilarating into yet another stupid task or overwhelming to-do list.
“I need to be more mindful. Tomorrow, I will chew on a raisin because this will make me a happier person.” Play loses its appeal when you focus too much on the form, rather than the attitude.
“From interaction design to performance art and game design, the activity of creating play, or evoking playfulness, is slowly becoming intellectual work. The form of play obsesses our culture. Of course, this is the wrong obsession, since what is important about play is not its form, which will, after all, mutate as part of play itself, but the activity or the attitude, that is, the process of engaging with the world and oneself through play.” – Miguel Sicart
In other words, if you don’t think you will have fun doodling in a colouring book or jumping rope, then by all means, don’t do it. Play is only play when you feel good from engaging in the activity.
2. Play because you want to
Play because you want to; because it is the one thing you would rather do this moment than everything else you’re working on. Play because you love the energy you get from being completely indulged in a playful state and how you forget everything around you. Never ‘play’ because it is something you should do. Even, or especially, when it ‘should be fun’. Should and play don’t go together very well. Don’t bake rainbow pancakes because it will increase your Instagram status or it’s your new 100-step-plan to a more creative you. Eat rainbow pancakes because it makes you feel giddy and excited to start a new day with endless possibilities. Play because you want to, not because you feel you should.
The other thing to keep in mind is that just because somebody else enjoys an activity, or even when you yourself did as a kid, doesn’t automatically make it fun for you today.
3. If you turn your hobby into a business, you need a new hobby.
Many creative entrepeneurs make the mistake of thinking that because they make a living out of something they love, their work is play. On good days, it might be. Much more likely though, is that all the additional goals and tasks make your work a lot further from play than you would like to acknowledge.
When you make a business out of a hobby, you transform its pure form (doing it for the sake of fun) into a subset of goals and activities that you need to accomplish. Nobody tells you about this shift, but it is a likely and natural result. There is nothing wrong with you, or with that change. It also doesn’t mean that you stopped loving ‘your thing’. You probably still adore doing big parts of the process, but it no longer serves the only goal of being done for its own sake (one of the characteristics of play). So hey creative entrepreneur, I think you might need a new hobby.
Find new creative activities that fill you up with energy. Something you can loose yourself in completely. Something not related to your business. Something of which the only purpose is to make you feel happy about yourself and your life.
4. Making a list of things you want to play helps
What would you want to do right now, if it could be anything?
There are two rules though: 1. You cannot answer sleeping or watching TV. 2. Let’s assume that nobody else would ever know about what you did. No Instagram worthy pictures to share of your life; only your personal enjoyment.
Make a list of fun activities.
In my experience, the more work you’re doing that you don’t want to do (upcoming deadlines, stressful tasks, huge workload), the more ideas you’ll have of what better, more awesome things you could be doing with your life. Unless you’re borderline burn-out. Then your only answer probably will be that you just want to lie in bed (and maybe you should, no judgement here). Your bucket list is also an excellent place to start, if you’ve made one in the past.
I’ll give you my list as an example.
♥ make a glitter floor
♥ make a papier-mâché unicorn
♥ try aerial silk
♥ make or buy myself a mermaid costume
♥ read nostalgic comic books
♥ get myself a mood ring and stare at it while it changes colour
♥ sing a beautiful song with someone else, in two-part vocal harmony
♥ design a smart dress, one that lights up or changes shape
♥ interview people on what helps them to play
Now, what would be on your list? The purpose is not to give you another list with tasks you need to accomplish. The purpose is to get you in touch with your heart’s desires, the things that make you enthusiastic and fill you with joy.
5. You’ll have objections that will keep you from playing
Making the list is the relatively easy part. Doing something with it is hard. Because let’s face it, most things you would like to do are difficult to accomplish. They require others. They require you putting on pants and leaving the house. They require time, energy and money. There is not a single idea on this list that I could just get started on right away by myself (read: that I have all the ingredients for in my house).
I might like the idea of having a life-size papier-mâché unicorn, but would I really enjoy spending several days making it? Apart from the fact that I don’t know what to do with it or where to keep it. Maybe yes, maybe no. Then there is the idea of a glitter floor. Love the glitter floor. Not in love with the idea of getting every piece of furniture out of my room and spend a shitload of money on glitters and floor coating for a rental space.
From your objections, some play activities will become a definite ‘no’, others will become a ‘maybe’ or a ‘maybe, but…’ or perhaps even a ‘yes’. Especially when you’re just starting to rediscover your need for play, it can help to pick an activity with little resistance. Try to scan and rate your list-items roughly on how difficult they are to accomplish and how badly you want to do them.
6. You need to drag the sleigh up, before you can freely slide down.
What people don’t tell you about play, is that it usually takes some effort, before you get to the fun part. The part where you can really start playing. Think of it as sleighing down a hill. First you need to drag the sleigh all the way up the hill, before you can actually slide down and sit back and enjoy the ride.
So your challenge is to make a tiny step, even if the step itself is not fun. The step will however open the doors to more fun. So even if you cannot start playing right away, think about what comes close or what you can do now. Research online photography courses. Order a bulk of glitters. Buy a knitting pattern from a blogger you love. Send an email to a friend asking if she knows a good ballet teacher. Find the perfect fabric on Etsy.
I have actually sent an email for a try-out aerial yoga lesson & aerial silk lesson in the process of writing this blog-post. The latter is all the way up in Amsterdam, but I figured that I might as well put in some effort to try it out and at least see if I like it.
7. Every step towards more play in your life is worth celebrating
Now, take a break. Make yourself a nice cup of coffee. Especially if taking the tiny step felt like procrastination from your real work. You did a great thing for yourself. Seriously. Not many people put in the effort to rediscover what they would like to play. Your step might not have made you actually play today, but it is the essential first step in putting your energetic ideas into action. I’m confident that you are capable of finding activities that you love doing.
You’re a grown-up. You make the decisions in your life. That includes making sure you have fun. Give yourself permission to play. It will only make you happier.
What would you love to do right now, even if it’s not possible? Tell me in the comments if you like.