My client Erin had a rough childhood that made feeling free in her body nearly impossible. That feeling understandably frustrated her, so we spent our initial consultation working on acknowledging and processing the lack of joy she experienced as a kid. Eventually she had a breakthrough. Erin remembered going to the beach once with friends and how liberating running into the surf and playing in the waves felt.
"I just wanted to become a part of those waves," she said when I asked her to explain that memory in detail. "I loved having my arms over my head and jumping at just the right moment, so I would be lifted by the swell. I remember I had the biggest grin on my face. And I felt so giant, so a part of it all—the ocean, the sun, the sand. I remember getting home and loving that there was so much sand in my bathing suit! It was a sign that I was alive."
Is play the missing nutrient?
As a health and life coach, it might sound strange that I regularly recommend play to my clients. But think about it: Play helps you connect with the most authentic, elemental part of yourself where your deepest desires live. You can only get there by letting go and letting yourself have fun. Without sufficient play, everything health-wise suffers—including cravings, sleep, and stress. As my clients attest, the more you fit play into your life, the better off you'll feel in your body and soul.
How do we define playfulness?
Cheerfulness, humor, creativity, and expressiveness are the defining characteristics of playfulness. When you play, you're open to the unexpected and therefore new behaviors. Playing takes you out of your head and finally lets your body take the lead. Play lets you step into action, and you need to act to change any habit. "Play is something done for its own sake," says Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the nonprofit the National Institute for Play (yes, such an institute does exist!). "It's voluntary, it's pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome."
How do we get more play in our lives?
Play becomes a key activity for changing habits because it gets you out of your comfort zone to reset your attitude in affirmative, creative, solution-oriented ways. What other activity begs you to surrender so wholeheartedly without having any idea about the outcome? For my perfectionist type-A clients, play lets them let go and have fun.
And you can incorporate play anywhere, even in places you might not consider. For many clients, their biggest obstacle to play is that they work...a lot. "How can I incorporate play into my uber-stressful office?" they sometimes ask. Yet interestingly, studies show play makes you better at your job.
Shouldn't being healthy also be fun?
As a society we've been brainwashed to think we must suffer to get healthy. I show clients how we've got it all wrong: Playfulness becomes the key to health and happiness. Play can help us:
1. Trust others: We get out of the competition that keeps us stuck and afraid to shine.
2. De-stress: Stressors constantly bombard us, and we need a healthy outlet.
3. Turn on our brains: Play can make us more creative and releases "happy hormones."
4. Feel alive: We feel more fully engaged and find true joy.
5. Love our body: Play helps us get out of the emotionally abusive cycle.
Why do we stop playing when we get older?
Overwork, the Puritan work ethic, and pressure to be "on" and hyper-focused all the time are among the reason some of my clients initially seem skeptical about incorporating more play. That inner critic tells us others will somehow find us weird if we employ play. Others are total type-A personalities who have to control everything. Play demands surrender and accepting you're not in control, which can be scary but ultimately liberating.
So my challenge to you today is to add more play to your day. Here are seven easy ways to do that:
1. Bring movement toys like a mini-trampoline or hula hoop into your office.
2. Bike to work or walk your kids to school.
3. Get an adult-size scooter and scoot to work!
4. Keep a bouncy ball in your pocket to use on your walks.
5. Ask colleagues at work, or your family at home, to join you for a garbage can basketball contest at lunch (offer a prize: people love prizes!).
6. Keep small coloring books and colored pencils at work to encourage coloring breaks for phone calls, lunch, or creative breaks.
7. Take lunch outside and take off your shoes, or bring a picnic blanket.