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Go Out and Play!

Go Out and Play!

Go out and play!

    We all know that play is important for kids. Play teaches them coordination, adult roles, social interaction, and basic problem-solving skills. But somehow, we’ve fallen prey to the idea that play is only important for kids. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

    Bzzz! Wrong! Neener-neener-neener!

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    Play is important no matter what your age. Play is so important, in fact, that Dutch historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) once described it as the defining characteristic of our species. For Huizinga, humanity is notable not as Homo sapiens, “wise people”, but Homo ludens, “playful people”.

    Play, What Is It Good For?!

    Absolutely everything, as it turns out.

    Of course play is good for our health. A lot of play involves exercise, which is a good thing in and of itself, but there’s more to it than that. Play relieves stress, easing relaxation. Play releases a whole range of feel-good chemicals in the brain, which not only make play fun but relieves tension across the whole of our bodies. Feeling pressure? Get up and dance!

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    Play’s good for our brains, too. Play lights up the entire right side of our brain like a barrel of Light Brites, creating a state of hyper-creativity that quite literally changes the way we see the world. In this mind-set, nothing is just what it seems – things take on new forms (is that an empty Red Bull can next to your trash can, or is it a marooned space capsule on the Lost Planet of Garbagania?), problems seem not just solvable but trivial (wrap a towel around your neck and fly over them!), and we feel empowered to take on the world. Dum dum DAAAAAHHHH!

    Play unites our mind and bodies. In play, the gap between physical sensation and mental sensation is bridged – transforming random movements into acts of derring-do. See Charlie Brown raking leaves. Feel body hurtling through air. Sense whoosh of leaves scattering beneath your body. Hear old Chuck’s plaintive “good grief!” It just feels good. Leave your detachment at home (praise the Great Pumpkin it’s detachable!)

    Play creates social bonds. There’s evidence that the earliest social bonds we make – those between our infant selves and our parents – are primarily playful ones. The newborn infant doesn’t encounter other people as people but just as extensions of self that are more-or-less reliable. As the infant develops a sense of its own identity and begins to recognize other people as beings with identities of their own, it begins to learn play and sociality at the same time. Enter mom or dad, leaning down and making googly-eyes at the smiling baby – bam! Sociality achieved.

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    That doesn’t go away as we get older – play is still a rock-solid foundation for social behavior. It’s why people who can’t stand each other can bond over a company softball game or round of pick-up mud football in the park. Tomorrow might be back to the same old everyday loathing, but for today… (And maybe tomorrow will be different, after all!)

    Can You Come Out and Play?

    When’s the last time you played? I mean, really played. Not just a half-hearted round of Minesweeper during a meeting, or a couple of Sudokus in a magazine at the dentist’s office.

    When’s the last time you plopped yourself in front of a mirror, turned your eyelids inside out, stuck out your tongue, and made Chewbacca noises? The last time you grabbed your kid, threw her up in the air, and laughed with her in glee? (And hopefully you caught her on the way down!) Or chilled with family or friends over a board game? Or just went all wiggly all by your lonesome?

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    We get to feeling so darn serious, it’s hard to play, to let ourselves play. You know your life has gone down an evil, evil path (the Dark Side is strong, but… well, it’s Dark. Duh!) when playing makes you embarrassed. Even when you’re alone.

    I’d suggest you fix that.

    Fortunately, there’s an easy and proven effective remedy for play deprivation and seriousitis: go out and play! Come on, you know how! That’s right, shake your booty, do a gold miner dance, flail your arms around your head like a squid-person, tell your secretary you love her but you’re not a cannibal and interfaith relationships are so difficult – do something downright goofy. That’s an order, soldier!

    And here’s the thing: spending some profoundly non-serious time with yourself or with others may well make you better at all that serious stuff that’s been sucking at your soul and preventing you from playing in the first place. You’ll feel better, be more relaxed, and enjoy more creativity – which unless you’re a drill sergeant in a Vietnam-era coming of age story, can’t help but make the rest of your life that much better.

    See you out there!

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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