Life is pretty intense. We grow up and go to work. We have things to do and expectations to meet. Eventually, all the doing and have-tos crowd out everything else. Most people are in a reality of getting through life rather than living it. There’s a hamster wheel of to dos and that’s that. Unless something jarring happens, most people resign to life as something to get done, without much thought about it.
Most people forget that life is happening now. Trying to get to the weekend, or the next vacation, or just get to the next thing and the next thing, erodes your minutes, hours and days of you being you on this planet.
Most of us forget how to live. And many completely abandon certain qualities that do not contribute to productivity: playing, curiosity, creativity, wonder and presence. We don’t even consider valuing certain playful qualities and therefore repress them. I see this all the time. I personally had to rehabilitate my own ability to bring more joy into my life consciously. I have even put reminders in my phone or calendar to make sure I have more fun.
Why do we stop playing?
We don’t want to look dumb.
We avoid embarrassment at all costs (including our own joy).
We want that mean voice in our heads to stay quiet.
Playing isn’t worth the inner criticism that comes with looking dumb or not getting it right. The endless, toe curling loop of self-judgment berating us over and over again is so uncomfortable, we don’t want to create more experiences we could judge or reject.
I see this in my clients all the time. Here are a few examples from memory:
- Not using a Kayak out of fear of looking fat while getting in and out of the device.
- Not playing their favourite instrument, because, “why bother”.
- Not taking Zumba or a Dance class because of the mirrors.
- Not going on a trip because it is too “silly” and a “waste of money.”
- Avoiding photos entirely, missing out on memories and milestones.
- Sitting on the sidelines during a dance. Not because it’s the authentic thing to do, but because the self-criticism in their head is too high.
Avoiding flubbing up at all costs would be fine if you were in the Olympics or taking a law exam. But, this is your LIFE, not something to get right. So many people, and I include myself in this, have lost the ability to just live and create experiences out of fear of “getting it wrong”.
Perhaps instead of avoiding looking dumb, consider how do you actually want to LIVE?
What do you want more of? And what do you want less of? I doubt you want more traffic, errands, overthinking, self-judgment and hours at work putting in extra time. I propose you want more pleasure, joy, levity, laughing, connection, learning, and perhaps playing.
Fun. Joy. Play.
Are these qualities and experiences only allowed before the age of 12?
Being too busy is not the reason people don’t play
The reality is, some people are legitimately surviving: Paying bills and getting by just enough to pay rent and put food in bellies. And yet, I see that a lot of these people find the joy in living. They work hard, but their being hasn’t hardened. They find ways to smile, and exist without being overburdened. Their being informs their doing.
Viktor Frankl, who wrote, “A Man’s Search for Meaning,” realized, while in a concentration camp no less, that no one can take away the freedom in his own mind. He used his will and a connection to something beyond himself to get through some of the most atrocious daily realities.
“Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.” – Viktor Frankl
When you feel safe you can let go
The main reason I see that people have lost their connection to play, is because they do not feel safe.
Of course, being physically safe goes without saying, adrenalin will course through your veins and kick you into a heightened gear to fight, flight, or freeze. So…no play there. No one has been known to skip and do cartwheels while running away from a Cheetah.
We are looking more at the intangible sense of safety- our mind and emotions.
Emotionally safe- the ability to feel safe no matter what because you know how to process all emotions. There is nothing to try to avoid if you allow all of your emotions to flow through and process naturally.
Mentally safe- the ability to have freedom of thought in order to share creative ideas confidently. The ability to think for yourself despite being in a crowd allows for mental safety. Even if others do not understand you, or outright challenge your opinion, you can feel safe to share your thoughts.
When you learn to have your own back, and develop a strong self of self-relationship you can express yourself with more joy in all areas of life.
(Side Note: If you are healing from trauma, this is a longer road to recovery before playing feels safe. Many people with family histories of addiction or dysfunction had to grow up early, and shove down emotions an innocence. The memories that will be dislodged from exploring play will require more professional support than this article. Feel free to message me questions at: Jennasmithcoaching.com)
Play allows for other celebrated qualities such as authenticity and innovation. It is also an extension of creativity. You cannot force yourself to be creative, nor can you entertain perfectionism. Most people haven’t realized how to tap into their creative mind simply because their mind is too full of noisy, busy things.
In the book Neurowisdom, neuroscience researchers Mark Waldman and Chris Manning show the difference in brain activity between the “decision making mind” and the “creative mind.” When one is focused on a task and working on completing a goal, he or she is using the decision making mind. “Aha moments” often come when one takes a break from a task and engages the creative mind by allowing for mind-wandering activities like daydreaming.
Daydreaming, is a playful way of thinking. It allows for wandering and wonder.
Steven King, Steve Jobs, Stephen Spielberg and many others have popularly shared that their greatest projects are born from walking, showering, or other activities that distract the critical mind long enough to allow our creative mind to play.
“Life doesn’t have to be serious to be legitimate.
You can be present, playful, poised, and powerful all while being productive.”
Inner child = Happy adult
As an extension of feeling safe, our inner child is key to play, creativity and authenticity.
The inner child includes all the ages we have ever been that exist in our psyche. In particular, these aspects are known to be accessed from our body and emotions. Living in our heads, overthinking, and repressing most of our emotions has severed our connection with essential parts of ourselves.
We need to get into our body, and allow our emotions in order to truly let out our potential for joy. You can start small by moving to a song you like, being active more, journalling in the morning, colouring or doodling, and letting feelings move through your body when they arise rather than overthinking or analyzing them. Just let them move like water flows through a stream, e-motions are meant to move.
Watch kids, they let emotions move through them, don’t take things so seriously, and show up as themselves. Eventually kids learn they need to care what people think to fit in, but that programming can be reversed ;).
“When you decide your opinion matters more than what other people think, you will free yourself up to play more and experience more joy.”
Cultivating Presence Muscles
A very cool phenomenon happens when you give yourself over to playing. You forget to take yourself so seriously!
You enter into Presence. That state where you are only here in the moment, no leaking energy on the past or the future, just immersed in life as you right now.
Presence is worth cultivating. Presence is life.
When we have more presence, we feel satisfied because we are actually here. We can feel more joy, and give more love.
Rev. Lydia Sohn posed a simple question to a man in his 90s.
“Do you wish you had accomplished more?” she asked.
“No, I wished I loved more,” he responded.
When you can be here more, you can let creativity delight you, senses ignite experiences, and have your tank full enough to give more presence and love to others.
For Further Insight: