When did you realise you had become an adult? Was there a right of passage or did your parents and teachers remark at how grown-up you are? Perhaps you just decided to stop playing? No more toys, games, pranks, fun and allowing your mind and body to relax and enjoy. You had to be serious now, determined, goal focused and striving towards success.
If this is a familiar story don't dismay, as I think it is like this for most of us. We then go through our lives determined to structure everything, set goals, get serious and forget to smile.
We forget to have some fun. I don't mean adult fun like getting drunk with friends on Friday nights but I mean the sort of fun where you play. Play board games, play video games, play some basketball at the local sports hall. Not playing for competition, medals or anything else.
I think there is a connection with this kind of play and our ability to use our imagination. To create stories and adventures in our mind, or to use our bodies and minds in fun ways.
As an English Trainer, I often ask people to use their imaginations, to create a story or write down a list of words. Many hit a blank. Even if I ask the question in their native language they are still at a blank. Perhaps this has to do with play?
Similarly, when I give Voice Training to people for speaking and singing purposes, they are draw a blank when I ask then to act something out. I have heard 'but I don't want to change who I am.' I am not asking for them to change themselves but simply to explore different versions of themselves.
Think about the roles you have in your life. I myself, am a Husband, Father, Trainer, Singer, Foreigner in Vienna, Friend and so on. Each of these roles I play has different ways of being and while all a version of me, are different. I am not the Voice Trainer with my kids. And this is ok. This is how it should be. We all 'play' different roles in our lives.
Play for me, is more and more of a concept I am exploring with people. Someone asked me the other day, so how do you get into your 'flow' moments when you are singing or training? Moments where I feel happy and excited to be doing what I am doing. Moments where I lose track of time for the enjoyment of everything. I said, 'I play with them'. Seeing how far I can push a concept of idea with someone is play. Showing them how I play with my voice. So, how can you learn to play again?
Here are some ideas that work for me:
Dr. Stuart Brown gave a TED talk 'Play is more than just fun' and in it he discusses the fact that play is an integral part of our development and our lives. Whether it is 'body play', 'social play' or 'imaginative play' and even 'story play' all these types of play do wonders for the brain. Play works certain parts of the brain and helps memory development as well. Animals naturally use play in their interactions even between species. He shows a picture of a hungry polar bear engaging in play with some wolves as the play signals by each were given. When animals are played deprived they don't develop normally according to research.
He gives us a word, Neoteny, which means a retention of childhood qualities in adulthood and suggests we all have a personal play history that we need to understand and continue to develop.
What does a life without play look like? Brown suggests we can be more likely to suffer depression without play. We are meant to play throughout our lifetimes. Not just as children.
Trust is established through play. Unfortunately, we begin to lose these signals in adulthood and play less. The animal kingdom uses vocal, facial, bodily and gestural signs to help establish trust in groups.
He suggests we should want to infuse our lives with play for all purposes, business, personal and social. All kinds of play to have a better and more empowered life.
Play is not about rehearsing for life. Play is life. So go play and find ways to act like a kid again!
David Corcoran is a Executive Voice Coach. He helps people take responsibility for their communication. This Blog contains his regular musings, thoughts and ideas. He is based in Vienna, Austria.