Sometimes, we all hit empty. Searching for inspiration doesn’t always help. Neither does trying to just “work through it.”
When the work needs to get done and you just don’t have the fire anymore, there needs to be a way to get the juices flowing again.
As kids, we were never at a loss for creativity.
What did we know as kids that could help us now? A whole lot, actually.
Playing as a Form of Therapy
D.W. Winnicott, a psychoanalyst of the past century, suggested that playing was the key to emotional and psychological well-being. He devised a mode of therapy with children known as “play therapy.”
The child leads the therapist in some kind of play activity until the child can trust the therapist enough and open up . However, the child must initiate the playing in a spontaneous way.
Because you can’t force playing, just like you can’t force creativity.
The Way That Children Play
Ever watch children play?
They’re constantly creating and changing rules for games they invent.
And when the rules don’t work, they re-invent them.
For children, a stick could become a magic wand, a sword and a lightsaber all in one afternoon. Kids don’t limit it to just being a stick because someone told them it’s a stick. Heck, they’ll use the stick to make a circle in the dirt and tell you it’s their secret base that you’re not allowed into. Then, five minutes later (when they get bored), you’re suddenly allowed in.
They keep adjusting the ‘rules’ of playing until they work.
Changing the Rules of Teaching
A few years ago, when I taught high school, I struggled to come up with a final assignment for my students. When I failed to find one that fit with my students, I decided to change the rules.
Instead of a typical writing assignment based on class readings, I asked my students to create the ‘ultimate super villain’ and present it in two different ways. The only guideline? The villain’s attributes had to be based on characters we studied that semester. That’s it.
The result was a production of their best creative work all semester. I was so blown away that for the final exam, instead of a “traditional reading,” I asked my students to read a Lifehack article and provide a response. It was the most enjoyable marking experience I’ve had.
I threw out the rules of teaching and had fun. And the results were spectacular. All it took was a willingness to let my ideas go wild .
What does This Teach Us ?
Our best work comes when we’re having fun with what we do.
As adults, we get stuck in our heads, limiting ourselves to set rules and guidelines. Sometimes, you have to throw away the rules and just let things flow. Be spontaneous and do something different.
Be yourself in your work. As a student, I hindered my creativity out of a fear to put my own voice in my essays. I depended on the voice of others because it felt ‘proper.’ But when I wrote with my voice, essays became fun to write, and sounded infinitely better .
The second you stop following the prescribed rules, you’ll uncover creativity you never knew you had. According to Winnicott, only in creativity do we find ourselves.
Don’t lock yourself within a set of self-imposed rules.
Act like a kid: when the game doesn’t work, change the rules until it does.
Now go play… and tell me how it turns out for you.
(Photo credit: Boy Throwing a Paper Airplane via Shutterstock)