All work and no play may make Jane a dull girl, but it can also lull her brain to sleep. “Nothing lights up the brain like play,” according to Stuart Brown, M.D., founder of the National Institute for Play, TED speaker and author of Play. How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul.
“Three-dimensional play fires up the cerebellum, puts a lot of impulses into the frontal lobe (the executive portion), helps contextual memory be developed and — and, and and,” Brown says. Brown actually first discovered the critical importance of play throughout the human life cycle by observing the negative impact of its absence in his work with criminals and drunk drivers.
“The thing that’s so unique about our species is that we’re really designed to play through our whole lifetime,” he says.
Fun means flexible
Being playful, research shows, gives us greater flexibility and adaptability and tends to make us better problem solvers. Adults who are able to adopt a playful demeanor can transform stressful situations into more positive, productive and even entertaining experiences.
“At work, play has been found to speed up learning, enhance productivity and increase job satisfaction . . .” according to Lynn Barnett, professor of recreation, sports and tourism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign quoted in The Washington Post.
Go with the flow
In fact, what we consider adult work is often most effective when it resembles play, opening you up to that state of total immersion, or flow, where concentration is high and distractions fade away.
Brown urges adults to explore backwards in time to the most clear, joyful, playful images they can remember and then look for ways to incorporate those types of activities and emotions into daily life. It is more effective to infuse your life minute by minute with various forms of play rather than separating work time and play time.
“We now know that play is a biological imperative, like sleep,” Brown says. “It’s hugely important in learning. It’s not just something you do in your spare time. You will enrich your life by prioritizing it and paying attention to it.”
Get in the game
If you’re ready play, your options are many. You can play a favorite sport, solve puzzles, enjoy board games, take a cooking class or even simply — and perhaps most powerfully — bring a playful mindset to everyday work and home experiences.
Although you don’t want to turn the workplace into a sandbox, bringing a playful spirit to challenging situations, enjoying a board game with colleagues on a lunch break and even joking with coworkers and clients in positive, upbeat ways can reduce stress, increase creativity and increase moments of flow.