My roommate and I had a little marble battle going on earlier this month.
At the beginning of this month, I decided to play more and work less. I will share some insights I gained from doing that.
Playfulness is state of mind, not a habit.
Play is not something you schedule. You can schedule activities that might help you to reach a state of play, but you cannot schedule play. Think of it like the relationship between a brainstorm and creativity. Setting aside time for a brainstorm will greatly increase the chances of you being creative, but it doesn’t guarantee creativity. Maybe you are not feeling creative at all and you cannot think of a single idea.
I do think it’s good to open up your schedule to allow the possibility of play. But don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t happen despite of the reserved space and time. Rather than a fixed daily activity with a specific outcome (like reading a chapter of a book), playfulness is more of a mindset.
Working too hard can kill a playful mindset, but so can the fixed expectation of play. In conclusion: you can plan to work less, but you cannot plan to play more. You can only try to create the right conditions for play to flourish in.
Can work be play and play be work?
They say that if you do what you love, your play is work and your work is play. Is that true? Well, yes and no. Let me give you an example.
At the beginning of this month I started creating a video. I got inspired from something I saw while randomly browsing the Internet (something I allowed myself to do more of this month). On the first day of my creation process I was a bubble of creative energy and ideas. I put my other work aside to play. The second day wasn’t too bad, but the initial excitement that I had felt when I started had faded away. It took me about 4 days to realize that I wasn’t playing anymore. Instead, I was more focused on creating new content for my blog again. What started as a play project, turned into another obligation. That was the moment I cut the project and decided to simply not finish it, which was hard for me to do.
That being said, I don’t think work needs to feel like play all the time. In fact, I think that’s probably impossible. Because play and work are so closely related in what I do though, it can become difficult and confusing to simply play, without it being or becoming work. Some projects start as play and end as work. Some projects start as work but become play. Perhaps it’s a good sign that my play and work intertwine so fluently. But because I have the tendency to turn every single creative plaything I do into something that can serve my blog, I need to guard my true playtime.
Shots from the movie I will probably never finish.
True play does not serve other goals (like inspiring others, being visually interesting, being easy to turn into a DIY), but is done for it’s own sake: your enjoyment. True play means that you stop your activity when it isn’t fun anymore.
I have mixed feelings about my month of play. I was less productive in the traditional sense of the word: I wrote less blog posts and I ‘wasted’ my time on projects I didn’t finish. I did feel my mind open up when I played. I felt more relaxed and experienced sudden bursts of ideas, a spark of positive energy. The challenge of course is in finding a good balance between being productive and being playful. In an ideal world they work together, but sometimes you need to carefully split them for both to be effective.
Play is harder as an adult.
One of the characteristics of play is that it is done for it’s own sake. That also means that when you try to use play as a means for other goals: be more productive and relaxed, spark great ideas or grow your creativity, it might stop being play. This actually has become the core of my struggle with play. Too often I have had preconceptions of what play should and shouldn’t be: it shouldn’t be mindlessly watching TV, it should give me energy and be fun, it should happen when I open myself up to it. But play cannot be forced in any way. As a child you don’t think as much about how you spend your time. It’s easier to play for the sake of play when there are no other expectations of you. The challenge as an adult is to let go of all expectations the world has of you and you have of yourself.
I feel play is harder when you’re a grown-up than when you were a child. In a way I still expect myself to experience the same level of excitement I had as a child. For example, this month I’ve been to the circus. The last and only time I went to the circus was when I was 10 years old. It was a magical experience and I loved it. Add many years of experiences and the world is simply less magical. Now, you try to logically explain in what tiny space the performers must have been hidden to suddenly appear out of nowhere. Now, you know that the elephant is missing because it was on the news that the circus went bankrupt. Now, the clowns are simply not funny anymore. And suddenly another childhood dream shattered, because you feel like perhaps running away with the circus is not the most fulfilling career path for you anymore. It’s no wonder though that you feel less excited if you have experienced something before and can logically analyse what otherwise had remained magic.
Now, I am not saying it’s impossible to play as an adult, at all. But it can be harder to reach the same joyful and fulfilling state in which you forget everything around you and loose track of time. You need to break through your own critical thoughts and actively expose yourself to new or challenging experiences.
Play can result from the combination of a context, time and mindset. But you cannot force play. Play only happens when you don’t take yourself too seriously, and you let go of all other expectations.
What are your biggest struggles with play as a grown-up? I will probably write more about it, so tell me if you want a specific question answered.
PS. By the way, I
finally recently created an Instagram account. Sneak peeks of what I am up to in between posts (like playing with marbles, going to the circus and other nonsense) can be found @mariellecoppes.
October 8, 2015 at 18:28
As I was reading this blog post, I kept thinking that you should check out Bernie DeKoven’s blog, http://www.deepfun.com. He’s been writing about play for many many years.
You make very good points about play being for play’s sake, and not for some other objective. It makes me think about how when I would play with my G.I.Joe’s and Transformers, it was simply play. I wasn’t doing it for a blog or some other reason. It was just for the fun of it.
Perhaps what jacks us up as adults is that we develop expectations with our play. We know what certain results we’ll get. Although, doesn’t that happen with kids too? When they play with certain toys, sometimes they expect certain outcomes. When we play games we expect a certain something to happen. I suppose one of the tricks would be for us to remain open-minded to any result that may come.
With a blog/publishing, one of the expectations is when we reach a certain amount of interaction or attention on certain articles, we desire that to happen on more of our articles. Then disappointment comes in when that doesn’t happen. I still am working through that as my site used to get a lot more comments back in the early 00s. And now with the fracturization of publishing/media, it gets less attention (or perhaps that attention has turned to Facebook). Anyhow, I need to work through how to change my expectations with things when I self-publish online.
October 9, 2015 at 11:21
Oh wow, thank you for introducing me to a new amazing website and person! You raise a good point that even children might have expectations. Still, we can probably make a difference between ‘fun for it’s own sake expectations’ and ‘getting a certain level of professional success or growth in goals expectations’. I also noticed a decrease in comments, even compared to two years back. Online interaction changes constantly.