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The Importance Of Play At Work And In Life

The definition of grind is to reduce something into small particles by crushing it. As we become adults and take on more responsibilities and obligations (families, jobs, bills) our work and life can become a grind—pulverizing our spirit. And, that’s just sad. While hard work is important, working harder is not an effective long-term solution. Remember the character Boxer from the book Animal Farm? His mantra was "I will work harder" and things didn't end well for him.

Let’s consider the benefits of play.

Here are a few that I pulled from TEDx talks on the subject (links below):

  • Play stimulates creativity

  • Play helps us learn

  • Play teaches us empathy, teamwork and leadership

  • Play promotes pre-frontal cortex development (the area of our brain where cognition happens)

  • Play improves our decision-making ability

  • Play reduces stress

  • Play stimulates nerve growth in our amygdala (the area of our brain that controls emotions)

  • Play helps us work through grief

  • Play teaches us to deal with failure

  • Play promotes self-expression

  • Play is the instrument of innovation

  • Play teaches us how to socialize

  • Play makes us happier

Jill Vialet says, “The philosopher Bernard Suits defined a game as the voluntary attempt to overcome an unnecessary challenge…. (We) choose it, it’s a challenge. No longer should you think of play as the opposite of work or the purview of slackers. It is the fundamental sign of our inner drive and ambition.”

To paraphrase Steve Keil: the opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression. Play improves our work. We shouldn’t feel guilty about play… we should celebrate it.

In an earlier blog, I discussed the importance of “walking away” from a problem when you become stuck or unable to find a solution. The idea is to allow your powerful unconscious mind to work on the problem while your conscious mind is focussed on something else. And it works. The unconscious mind is an effective problem-solver. The problem is our societal perception of what work looks like. Look busy the boss is coming! I would challenge that position with this one: work should produce results.

If your boss is more concerned with how you look at work than your results, he or she is actually interested in control rather than outcomes. Time to find a new boss.

Play gets a bad wrap. As all of the benefits listed above prove, play should be an integral part of our lives. It is proven to be important to our work, health and overall wellbeing. Now, get out and play!

If you need a little inspiration (or justification) to get out and play… here you go:

Peter Gray (The Decline of Play)

Jill Vialet (What Play Can Teach Us)

Steve Keil (A Play Manifesto)

This talk is interesting because Steve is speaking to Bulgarians (in English) about the problems of Bulgaria, but he could have easily replaced “Bulgaria” with “The United States.” He provides a fascinating take on the effects of communism on Bulgaria, but again, the parallels of the problems in that country and the U.S. are eye opening.

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