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When the Alarm Goes Off, It’s Time to Play

Posted on June 17, 2015 at 6:00 am

By Jane Baker

Has this ever happened to you? You arrive at work and have a moment of panic that you’ve left your cell phone at home. Quickly checking its usual location, you find your cellphone is there after all. It’s weird that you didn’t remember putting it there, but then again, you don’t remember leaving the house that morning or even the drive to work.

This question was posed to me by a friend who had recently taken a class on the psychology of play. Ironically, I had just experienced a similar panic that morning. “That’s your alarm,” he said, “warning you that you’re in automatic-mode and you don’t want to be there.”

The automatic alarm warns us that we’re living dangerously. It’s dangerous, not only because we’re not focused on the morning rush hour traffic (there is that), but also because automatic-mode pockets our creative ideas, chips away at productivity, and can even bite into our health. When this alarm goes off, our work/play is out of balance.

Ok, so I need to play more. Aren’t I a little too old for that?

When the Alarm Goes Off, It's Time to Play by Jane Baker | Spokane County Library District

When my son was young, he asked me to play a Zelda video game with him in which Link, the main character, needed to find his way around a village and collect various rewards. At one point, we couldn’t get to the other side of a fence to collect the prize. I was stumped and ready to give up, when my son suggested flying over the fence by picking up a chicken. Before I could begin explaining how chickens can’t fly, he had maneuvered Link to pick up a chicken, causing it to squawk and flap its wings enough to lift Link over the fence. I realized at that moment that I had become too boxed in by reality, while his young mind still flexed with imagination.

Many of us have heard how important play is for children and their development, but in our society, adults glorify being busy. Leisure time is a luxury to be enjoyed only when the to-do list is done; for some, that never happens. In addition, we’re lead to believe that we’re done growing by the time we reach our twenties—suddenly, poof, we’re mature adults ready for decades of responsibility to come. Play seems low on the priority list.

In a TED Talk by Stuart Brown, psychiatrist and author of the book, Play. Brown discusses the power of play, and its importance in problem solving and creativity for all ages. “The brain can keep developing long after we leave adolescence and play promotes that growth. We are designed to be lifelong players, built to benefit from play at any age. The human animal is shaped by evolution to be the most flexible of all animals: as we play, we continue to change and adapt into old age.”

I’ll get to it this weekend.

I used to work for a manager who would do things like occasionally schedule a 20-minute, all department meeting outside. When we all arrived, the meeting turned out to be something such as a cherry pit-spit competition. My manager would offer bags of freshly-picked Green Bluff cherries and we had the option of whether to compete or not. Some of us would simply enjoy munching on cherries and the camaraderie of co-workers. A few minutes of fun together was not only good for team building, but incorporated play that benefited each of us individually, as well.

It seems counterproductive to have to add play to an already busy schedule. Some of us already experience guilt from not having enough time to schedule for daily exercise or decent meals. An easier way to add play to your life may be to simply add a playful attitude to something you already do. In my department at the library, we have a thing called, Quote of the Day, where we laugh at things we say that could mean something else entirely, if taken out of context. It takes no extra time or effort, but adds a few laughs into each day.

Permission to play every day—granted

What kind of play should adults be doing? Join a softball league? Sign-up for a golf tournament? Both sound like acceptable adult play, but Brown says that play is more a state-of-being rather than a goal. If you enjoy golf or softball for the pleasurable experience and not competition, join up. What constitutes play for each person is going to be different. Brown suggests thinking back to your childhood play, what excited you and how can you recreate that today?

My happiest, early memories included our family dog. Today, my dog is as much as part of the family as the humans. Our play is agility classes. She isn’t a pedigree and I don’t train to win awards; we do it for fun—a grown-up way to incorporate a form of play from childhood.

How do you incorporate fun into your life? Share with us in the comments section below.

Jane Baker

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