Joy Ignites Success

To Play or Not To Play-Part 1

By - Saturday, July 13, 2013

When you think about the times in your life when you were truly productive, you might notice that it didn’t feel like you were working hard.
In his bestselling book, Flow,  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) describes a natural state of being that is not only enjoyable, but highly productive.  Flow is defined as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” (p.4).  The Flow state is harmonious and effortless and whether performing a mundane task or climbing a mountain, the experience is optimal in personal satisfaction.  The flow state is non-resistant.  Flow can be found while hiking, dancing, dining with friends, writing a book or being on an assembly line.  It is both a state of mind and a feeling state in the body; the mind is non-resistant, the body is alert and aware of sensation.  When in a state of flow, we feel alive, in tune with what is going on inside of us, and also, what is happening in our environment.  It is a state that can be cultivated, but also one that naturally occurs.

My own definitions of play and flow merge together.  Any activity that allows me to be in this moment brings me into a state of openness.  From this open state, I can play with anything; including thoughts, objects, art materials, music, etc.  It is the place of creativity.  Nothing gets stuck or solid.  So in this moment, I am imagining the words bouncing around on the page.  Play with the words.  Words with the play.  With the words play.  Would that I would…

In our society, play is akin to a ‘four letter word’.  It’s something we relegate to the bottom of the priority list and completely miss its value.  I remember the first time I started working with a business coach many years ago.  I was asked to rank things in order from 1 to 25 in terms of what was most important to me.  The list included relationship, work, church, children, play, ethics and more.  In completing it, most of it came easy, except when it came to play and relationships.  Which came first for me?  I finally decided on play, because to me, play is the highest spiritual place I can be.  It is a state of mind that means I am relaxed, at ease, willing, curious, flexible and in joy.  If I am in a playful state of mind, my relationships are easier.  So relationships came second on my list.  And everything else followed.  When I got the analysis of my personality type and business challenges, I was stunned.  The report said I didn’t care about people and used words along the lines of lazy and non-motivated.  It certainly didn’t match the way I saw myself.  But I checked with the people who knew me well and would be honest with me.  They were equally shocked and assured me that this was not an accurate picture.  When I went back to the coach and explored this, it was revealed that putting play at the top of my list is what drove this analysis.  Though I continued to work with this coach for a few months, I never felt that she got it, or got me.

People are more productive, have better relationships and are healthier when they are having fun.  "The truth about the human species is that in body, spirit, feeling and conduct we are designed to grow and develop in ways that emphasize rather than minimize childlike traits.  We are intended to remain in many ways childlike; we were never intended to grow "up" into the kind of adults most of us have become" (Montague, 1981, p. 2).
Play is a biological imperative for human beings.  Anthropologist Ashley Montague and others before him (Bolk, DeBeer, Lorenz, Gould and others) have identified human beings as neotenous creatures.  Neoteny is the quality of staying young longer in form and function.  What this means is that humans are designed to maintain childlike qualities into adulthood.  At the top of the list of childlike qualities is play.
As adults, we have forgotten how to have fun.  We have replaced movement and laughter with eating and alcohol.  Statistics on depression, stress and job and life dissatisfaction are at all time highs.  But suggest that it’s because we’ve forgotten how to play and lookout….

So, ready for any fallout, I’m going to say it again.  We have forgotten how to play and its costing us.  Costing us our health, our relationships, our ability to learn and our ability to earn.  
We can have fun while we work; having fun will add to our productivity and performance.  It was a tool used by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Carl Jung.  Don’t you want to play?

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Melanie Smithson Institute is dedicated to enriching lives through embodied education and training; using movement, play and releasing to connect with innate wisdom and joy.  

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