Play to Get Ahead

We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.
-George Bernard Shaw


I’m in the throes of studying for the NCMHCE board exam for the third time now.  I failed it the first two times, or should I say, I learned a lot from the first two times (wink wink ).  It’s the hardest damn test I’ve ever taken and has required more than a whole year of my life to hopefully pass.  I’m seasoning my approach this time around with a heavy hand of confidence, salted ever so intentionally with openness and a good sense of humor.  Lord knows this process has been quite humbling.


In light of this seeming year-long testing “detour”, I’ve simultaneously become a wide-eyed student of myself.  Perhaps my most surprising finding in the process is how vitally important play is as it pertains to success.  Success can feel super nebulous, so I’ll define it as achieving a desired outcome in this context.


Imaginative play is not just for kids, OR people who make stuff for a living.  Play is integral as it pertains to work-life balance.  I sometimes refer to play as white space: carved out time to let the mind, body, and imagination reset and be free to engage in the moment’s fullness, though seemingly minuscule and unrelated to the task at hand.  Play might seem silly– for kids, however, we actually must play to get ahead.


For example, have you ever found yourself completely zoned out in the shower when a brilliant idea hits like a warm crashing wave from out of nowhere? Perhaps it was the gracious tiled reverb that filtered your morning song and flagged the idea gods, welcoming their favor. Or perhaps you were so engaged in the moment and stressful thoughts and to-do’s  were momentarily sidelined.  Hmmm, perhaps a bit of both?  Ideas happen most often when we’re engaging in something different, something simple.


Another example is weight loss.  Interestingly enough,  it’s quite common for people wanting to lose weight to get so stressed out throughout their process that despite doing diet and exercise perfectly, the number on the scale doesn’t budge, heck, it may even rise.  Why is this?  When we’re highly stressed, greater amounts of the stress hormone cortisol are released in the body which produces resistance and sends us into fight or flight, ultimately holding onto the unwanted weight.  Balance, rest, play, and variety are all necessary to keep our body’s equilibrium and functioning in tact.  Excessive productivity will eventually crash and burn, as will obsessively striving to reach a forced goal.  We’ve got to get off the proverbial treadmill and go build a sandcastle.


In my recent experience studying, I’m learning to build in practices that stimulate imagination and enjoyment instead of solely relying on my ability to pass these god-awful, counter-intuitive simulations that I’ve come to ultimately dread.  Despite knowing the information, I was failing them left and right.  Stress and anxiety prevented me from applying knowledge I’d amassed over months of studying.  Makes sense, right?  If I enjoy what I’m doing, chances are, I’ll naturally come out ahead more often than not.  We perform better when we learn to enjoy the process, not just the outcome.  


So, what’s the application?  Here are some helpful ways to get off the stringent productivity treadmill and play in the waves of possibility and imagination that eventually carry us further, with more fun.  “Work work work work work….” Rihanna got it all wrong.

Factor in some solitude

Carve out some time to connect with yourself, your emotions, your thoughts, and your imagination.  Solitude is not a lonely place.  We’re never alone when our imagination is engaged.

Become the observer

Non-judgement is critical as we cultivate more play in our lives.  Curious people are rock star observers.  For me, the posture of curiosity has been a life-saver this past year!  Guided meditation is a powerful catalyst in the transition from harsh judgment to open observation.  Need more help?  Go spend the afternoon with your favorite three-year-old.

Practice spontaneity

Do something different.  Changing up our routine and physical movement throughout the day seems insignificant, but both facilitate a nimble, vivid imagination.  Set up your workspace in a new coffee shop, take the scenic route home, ditch the gym and find a winding hiking trail somewhere green.

Go on a date

You heard me.  Go on a date…with you!  Find a couple hours in your week and plan something special, then go! Connecting with the dreamer inside happens when we honor and make space for him/her.  Check out the latest museum exhibit, movie, or whatever lights you up.

Goals are so very important.  I love goals!  However, we can’t be rigid with our goals.  They should serve us, not the other way around.  The willingness to be open and deviate from our goals when necessary is central to this journey.  Goals are stepping stones.  If we see a better way across the creek, let’s take it and build there.  Play is really about shifting perspective. Personally, I’d much rather look through the wide-eyed gaze of a child each passing day than get locked into the stale, listless stare of a forgotten dream.  So, simply…let’s go play.

Love & Gratitude,