‘Work hard, play hard’ is advice that nearly everyone has been given or followed at some point in their life.
In my work as a clinical hypnotherapist and coach, I see many people who apply this philosophy, but are nonetheless still stressed and unhappy. As a way of coping with the latter they also often develop bad, unhealthy habits too.
It is my belief that we need to re-imagine ‘play’, both individually and as a society. I will explore this idea in terms of individual experience, but as a theme it also comes up in my workshops for promoting corporate wellbeing.
It is an area that I am very passionate about since I regularly see the negative impact that a lack of ‘healthy’ play can have and, conversely, the incredible positive effects of changing a person’s approach to it.
I cover this topic in more detail in my book The Play Paradigm, but you can make a great start today by applying the information in this article.
You Were Born Playful
Play is central to our development as children and it is encouraged as a key way to learn. Born with no beliefs or prejudices (yes, someone puts these in!), this is the time when our minds are most open, free and malleable.
It is also a time when we can experience the purest type of joy and happiness, often through play. Something as simple as playing with an old box or a balloon can produce the most incredible mindful focus and feelings of unreserved joy.
Losing Our Way With Play
But then something happens… ‘playtime’s over!’
We even use that phrase – what was once the focus of our learning and a source of happiness becomes almost a dirty word. Someone who is not serious about something is said to be ‘playing around’ or ‘just playing at it’.
Socially and culturally, ‘growing up’ often becomes defined by the minimising or elimination of play. One holy book even describes the virtue of ‘putting away childish things’.
This programming naturally prepares us for the function of work which then becomes the focus of adult life. If you work hard enough, then you can have some ‘play’. That’s if you have enough time or energy left after the work.
Play Is Not Leisure
The mistake I see many people making is that they have a narrow definition of what play is and this is then combined with a dysfunctional relationship with the concept itself.
What most people would think of as play is in fact ‘leisure’ – activities that are not work, but at the same time do not produce that pure feeling of child-like joy.
If you don’t know what I mean by this feeling, think about a time when you did something that completely focused your attention. You got completely lost in the moment, time flew by, you were as happy as that child with a balloon. Afterwards, you felt rested and just somehow better for the experience.
I’m going to use the ‘s’ word here, people, play feels good for your soul!
If you still can’t remember a recent time you felt like this then you really need to continue reading this article, because play is very, very important.
The Role of Play in Life Balance
When I’m coaching people, I use a variation of the ‘wheel of life’ which I call the Life Balance Wheel (this is the version I use as part of my HD Coaching Method).
All of the segments are important, as is their relative harmony, but what I term the ‘Magic Three’ of Work, Play and Leisure are worth particular focus when it comes to developing strategies to function healthily and happily in the modern world.
I work with many ‘burned out’ executives who want my help to make positive changes in their life. When we perform the Life Balance Wheel analysis, it usually shows lots of work (no surprise!), a good amount of leisure, but very little or no positive play.
For example, golf might be play for some people but for others it’s leisure. Reading for some people is leisure, others find it play. Different folks, different strokes and all that.
Overcoming Negative Programming Around Play
Using the example of the burned out exec, when the idea of exploring and incorporating more play is discussed there is often an initial resistance.
They will say that they have to ‘focus on work’ or they ‘don’t have time for play’. This is the negative programming of not seeing the true value of play. We make time for what’s important, so as an adult you are told play is no longer as valuable, so you do not prioritise it.
The result is usually a sense of guilt around making time for their own play – surely they should be working. Anyone who knows my approach will know I don’t like ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ – the less you use them, the happier and more balanced you will generally be.
The Leap of Faith of Prioritising Play
I help such clients to gain a fresh perspective on play and to challenge their beliefs around the concept. This helps them to re-appraise the value of play.
It feels like a leap of faith, but I can tell you personally and from experience of working with thousands of people, it’s fantastic on the other side, so make the jump!
The real magic is that when you start to prioritise play, exploring and expanding it in your life, all the other areas of the Life Balance Wheel start to improve. It is counter-intuitive at times, but it really works.
For example, a person might minimise their play because they say they are spending more time with their family. However, if they are not getting the right amount of their own play or ‘me time’, then this time with the family might foster resentment and result in them snapping at their kids or being otherwise disagreeable.
When I help clients to balance their lives better and have a healthier approach to play, almost every other aspect of their life improves too. Ironically, the very thing they thought they were doing best by focusing on – work – also improves as they are more motivated and productive.
Ignore Play at Your Peril
A great deal of my work as a clinical hypnotherapist is helping people break bad habits like smoking, drinking and other substance use.
Very often, these people have the same unhealthy relationship with play as described above. In this sense the bad habits have become their ‘go to’ form of play – their way to reduce stress or get ‘me time’.
It goes without saying that if you try and nourish your soul with fags, booze and drugs, it probably won’t end happily.
I therefore always help my clients to explore other ways to reduce stress and explore positive, healthy play. This then acts as a replacement for the negative play they had previously become ‘stuck’ with as a habit.
The Process of Re-Imagining Play
I always say ‘re-imagining’ because exploring play means using your imagination.
It is important that you find YOUR play. No one can prescribe it for you and it has to satisfy no one except you. It does not have to fit your ‘image’, it just has to create that child-like feeling of absorption and joy. It also has to be positive and healthy.
I’ve seen people spend more time reading, explore a new hobby, build ‘adult’ lego, learn a martial art, even take up bird watching!
There is a big world of experiences waiting out there, so get experimenting.
For practical tips and guidance in how to expand play in your life and work, you can explore my book The Play Paradigm, available on Amazon in Kindle, Paperback and Audible Audiobook formats.
Re-imagine your play and you might just find new gears in your life!