I have to admit that when I began writing this article, I felt slightly hypocritical. I couldn’t even remember the last time I just played. I, like so many adults, had become overworked and overscheduled. I had overglorified busyness and assigned moments of free time to spiral down a path of Instagram stories instead of truly having fun.
Play was the opposite of what I was doing.
Then something magical happened: an afternoon dash to the park with my 10 year old showed me what I had been missing—ridiculous, sensational joy. She invited me to join her on the slides and swings and when I did, I began to feel butterflies in my stomach and noticed a winsome smile spreading on my face from ear-to-ear. I was illuminated from the inside out, feeling bliss in a way that I hadn’t in an eternity. I genuinely walked away from the park that day feeling like a whole person.
What I felt that day was the simple pleasure that we all have access to, but have forgotten to experience: the power of play. We watch children discover themselves through this art form, from bouncing and squealing as infants to elaborate imagination games as young kids. Playtime allows children to develop important life skills such as empathy, resilience and creativity in addition to allowing vast amounts of cognitive processing. Why should that end in childhood?
Most of our adult world revolves around schedules, solving daily challenges and using our logical minds to maintain the infrastructure of our lifestyles. As adults, we forget that unscripted fun is intrinsically linked to our development. Playtime allows us to process our experiences, sharpen our minds and continue our social and emotional development. Play relieves stress, produces endorphins and enables us to let go of our need for control. We can relax into the present moment, giving our brains a break and our hearts a chance to leap out of their scheduled cages and roam free.
In my life, I had been displacing play with a bulleted list of scheduled events, slowly putting the joy to sleep. I had replaced fun with productivity and substituted play-released dopamine with the mundane gratification of an accomplished to-do list.
There in the park on those gravity-defying play structures, I began to rediscover the lost power of play. I realized that I needed to reprioritize my relationship with play and include it in every day.
To do this, I have begun to follow the same rule I apply to my diet: 80/20. Eighty percent of my day can be allocated to the logical to-do list structure, but 20 percent is now intended for “play.” I realized if I was serious about personal playtime, I had to schedule it. It is ironic, but realistic. To make a lasting change, it is important to create space for it. Putting it on my schedule did that.
I also recognized I had to rediscover the part of me that wanted to play and how I defined fun. I consulted an old friend—my imagination—and together we created a list of all the activities I would LOVE to do if I had no other obligations, allowing my ideas to flow unrestricted. My list included sports, art events, travelling and “new experiences in general.” That first week, I devoted 15 minutes of each day to activities on my list. I also added time on the weekends to try new experiences in the city.
The results have been outstanding. I feel like a new person. I have had more aha moments than I can count; I have tested the waters of my courage and have grown enormously trying new things. I feel that my world is whole as I am engaging in living my life instead of just scheduling it.
If you are ready to add play to your day but don’t know where to start, consider the following ideas:
- Set a reminder on your phone for a specific time each day and label it “Play Time.” Allocate this time to doing something you enjoy and is just for you.
- With pen and paper in hand, grab a cup of coffee and invite your imagination to sit with you. Write out 10 fun things you would do today if you had nothing else planned.
- Divide that list into 15-minute, 30-minute and 60-minute sections.
- Using your favorite scheduling tool, place the 15-minute activities on your calendar during the day when you can give yourself 15 personal minutes. Spread out the longer activities at least two times per month. At this point, you should have a dash of play sprinkled into every day, with bigger play activities scheduled through the months.
- Stay committed to yourself. Remember this is for fun; it’s not another job. You deserve to have fun—every day.