It is said that play is the work of children, but various experts tell us it is also the work of adults, especially if we want to foster creativity and innovation. As for me, I have great intentions to do fun things! I just plan to do them after I finish all my work, which is kind of tricky because every to do list of mine is bottomless. Trying to mend my evil ways, I turn to three experts for insight on this subject: author Julia Cameron and researcher Brené Brown touch on the topic, and then the National Institute for Play provides loads of research to make things crystal clear.
Julia Cameron is an American teacher, author, artist, poet, playwright, novelist, and filmmaker. She has many books in print but is best known for her first book, The Artist’s Way. Its original publication date was in 1992. Thirty years later, it is still a best seller.
Her famous book is a how-to program for becoming more creative. She suggests two main activities. The first is to write “morning pages” (MP) every day. The purpose of this journaling assignment is to empty the brain of negative thoughts and worries thereby making space for creative and innovative ideas instead. The second part of her plan is to take yourself on an “artist’s date” (AD) each week. The goal of being alone on the date is to get in touch with your inner voice, opening yourself up to insight and inspiration.
One section of her book focuses on workaholism. There is even a Workaholism Quiz. It’s a game of 20 questions. Taking it, I proved myself to be a workaholic extraordinaire. And this quote surely expressed my difficulties doing the assigned MPs and ADs: “It is far easier to get people to do the extra work of the morning pages than it is to get them to do the assigned play of an artist date. Play can make a workaholic very nervous. Fun is scary.”
She is describing me perfectly. Over a twelve-week period, the MPs were no problem for me, but I definitely struggled with Saturdays, my chosen day for FUN. The first four weeks I took myself to restaurants and ate decadent things I wouldn’t ordinarily eat. The next four weeks I did retail therapy, adding to my already jammed closet. And then I tried three weeks of self-care options, a manicure, a facial, and a massage. On week twelve, I petered out. I couldn’t figure out anything to do.
All of these things were fun, but for this die-hard workaholic, none of it was as gratifying as working two hours at my desk and scratching a bunch of things off my to do list.
Brené Brown is an American researcher and the author of many best-selling books, the most famous of which is Daring Greatly. She is also known for her 2011 TEDx talk that went viral. Its topic was “The Power of Vulnerability,” and it has been seen by over 58.5 million people.
In an article posted on Oprah.com, Brené Brown talks about her own troubles with unstructured time. To her, that is the definition of an anxiety attack in the making. She says she feels like she is getting behind if she is not using “every last moment” to be productive – working, cleaning house, transporting kids, and the like.
But then she quotes research by another Dr. Brown. He is Stuart Brown, MD, a psychiatrist in Carmel Valley, California. Dr. Brown is definitely pro-play, calling it vital to human development. He says anything that makes us lose track of time and self-consciousness is the breeding ground for creativity and innovation.
Heeding his words, she encourages us to indulge in play time, telling us to create a play list. No, no, this is not for favorite music. It is a list of at least three activities we could do for hours on end. She also tells us to carve out – and protect – time on our calendar to actually engage in these activities.
Bottom line, she is working toward a new definition of self-worth based not on productivity alone but also on the ability to play.
The National Institute for Play
As it turns out, the psychiatrist Brené Brown quotes is the founder of the National Institute for Play. Dr. Stuart Brown is also the author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. His Ted Talk, “Play is More than Just Fun,” has been viewed by 2.3 million people.
The Institute’s website links us to the main researchers in the field, to books, and to videos. It shows lots of research articles as well, in neuroscience, behavioral science, and animal studies. All of this shows that play reduces stress and contributes to overall well-being. “The science is clear: The joy of play nourishes our minds like food nourishes our bodies.”
Dr. Brown tells us that how we play is “as unique to an individual as a fingerprint.” From stamp collecting to mountain climbing to reading a book, anything goes. There is no wrong way to play except to forget to play.
In light of all this, can I mend my evil ways?
An old adage comes to mind: All work and no play make Johnny a dull boy. As it turns out, it makes him stressed and depressed as well. Holding this thought in mind, I consider creating a new type of document. It’s not a to do list. It’s a list of fun things to do. Jigsaw puzzles jump immediately to mind. Hmmm…I’ll go start one now!
- I have written about Julia Cameron’s book before focusing on the morning pages as opposed to the artist’s dates. You can read it here: If You Don’t Know What Introspection Is, You Need to Take a Long, Hard Look at Yourself.
- Here is my review of Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. The book contains a dozen chapters and the review shares a quote from each.
- Adult coloring pages can provide fun and are a great way to relax. Try mine – available on Etsy!