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The Power of Play: How It Can Boost Productivity and Shift Your Mindset


two men having fun playing chess

Hey there, friends! I want to talk about something we all loved as kids but often forget as adults—taking time out to play. Remember the joy of running around the playground, imagining you were a superhero while jumping from the swings, or just goofing off with friends? Well, guess what? That same playfulness can still work wonders for you today.


 Play First: Feel Good Now


When we take time out to play, our brains get a hit of those feel-good chemicals like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. Think of these as your brain's natural mood boosters. They help us feel good, reduce stress, enhance creativity, and make us more resilient. And the best part? Unlike when you were a kid, you don't have to "earn" playtime by finishing all your tasks first.


 Childhood Messages: Work Before Play


I['m sure we all heard something similar: "Finish your homework before you can play" or "No dessert until you eat your dinner." These childhood rules were meant to teach us discipline, but they also set up a mindset that work always comes before play. Well, my friends, it's time to flip that script! Play isn't just a reward; it's a vital part of living a balanced, productive, happy life.


Stuck? Time to Play!


Ever feel like you're banging your head against a wall, trying to solve a problem or come up with a new idea? That's your brain's way of telling you it needs a break. Research shows that when we feel stuck, letting our minds wander or taking a play break can help us regain focus and creativity.


When I feel stuck, as I’m writing a blog post, creating content for my podcast, or coming with the format for a new program, I’ll turn on some music. But not just any kind of music; 80s music. (Think The Cure, Depeche Mode, English Beat, Adam Ant, etc.) And I’ll spend some time “vibing out” which often leads to a spontaneous dance party of one in my office.


This works wonders for getting me unstuck and all with a side of increased energy and creativity.

 

So, next time you're stuck in a rut, give yourself permission to daydream or play a quick game. Your brain and productivity will thank you!


 Fun Science Facts About Play


1. Neuroplasticity Boost: Play isn't just fun; it can actually make your brain more adaptable! Engaging in playful activities stimulates neuroplasticity, which is your brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. This helps you learn new skills and adapt to changes more easily.


2. Memory Enhancement: Studies show that play can enhance memory and learning. When you play games, for example, you often engage in activities that require problem-solving and strategic thinking, which can improve your cognitive functions and help you remember information better.


3. Stress Reduction: Play is a natural stress buster. When you're engaged in a fun activity, your body produces lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This helps you relax and improves your overall well-being.


4. Creativity and Innovation: Play stimulates the brain regions involved in imagination and creativity (the Default Mode Network for all my fellow brain science geeks). By engaging in playful activities, you can think more creatively and come up with innovative solutions to problems.


Playful Suggestions


Ready to incorporate more play into your life? Here are a few fun activities to get you started:


1. Dance Party: Turn on your favorite tunes and “dance like no one’s watching.” Dancing not only lifts your spirits but also stimulates your brain's motor cortex, which can improve coordination and cognitive functions.


2. Play with Pets: Spending time with animals can increase levels of oxytocin, the "love hormone," which reduces stress and promotes feelings of happiness. Play fetch, tug-of-war, or simply cuddle with your furry friend.


3. Laughter Yoga: Combine deep breathing exercises with laughter. Laughter yoga has been shown to increase oxygen flow to the brain and release endorphins, leading to a more relaxed and positive state of mind.

 

4. Outdoor Adventures: Nature walks, hiking, or exploring a new park can refresh your mind. Being in nature has been shown to lower cortisol levels and enhance overall well-being. (I’ve been known to hug or sit up against a tree – studies have shown that doing so can lower stress and increase positive energy.)


5. Puzzle Games: Engage in puzzle games like Sudoku, crossword puzzles, or jigsaw puzzles. These activities challenge your brain and improve problem-solving skills while providing a sense of accomplishment (which activates the reward center of your brain).


6. Improv Games: Join an improv class or play improv games with friends. Improv encourages quick thinking, creativity, and can be a lot of fun, boosting your mood and cognitive flexibility.


7. Bubble Blowing: Blowing bubbles might seem childish, but it's a great way to practice deep breathing and mindfulness. Watching bubbles float can be incredibly calming and joyful.


8. Gardening: Get your hands dirty and plant some flowers or vegetables. Gardening connects you with nature, provides a sense of achievement, and has been shown to reduce stress and improve mood.


9. Art and Crafting: Try your hand at painting, knitting, or any DIY craft project. These activities tap into your creative side, reduce stress, and can be incredibly satisfying.


10. Memory Lane: Look through old photo albums or scrapbooks. Reminiscing about happy memories can boost your mood and provide a sense of continuity and connection.


11. Singing: Whether in the shower, car, or a karaoke night with friends, singing releases endorphins and oxytocin, which can reduce anxiety and elevate your mood.


What do you like to do for play? I dare ya, take out a piece of paper right now and list all the things you like to do or used to like to do as a kid. (Voilà, in doing so you've created a Play Menu to choose from the next time you’re ready to play.)

 

Final Thoughts on Play

 

So, there you have it! Who said playing was just for kids and a waste of time?  By making time to play regularly, you’ll boost your mood, enhance your creativity, and tackle life's challenges with a fresh perspective. So, go ahead, give yourself permission to play first. Your brain (and your heart) will be all the better for it.

 

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