By Brenda Riojas, I Start Wondering Columnist
Imagine two women (one just turned 50, another 62) dressed in business attire sitting on the floor playing a game of jacks. With deadlines piling up and a back log of work, my first instinct wanted to decline the invitation to play. But my co-worker’s invitation to play provided a needed stress reliever, time with a friend and a spark of creativity.
After our game, I returned with new energy to the tasks awaiting. The brief diversion from work reminded me that if we’re not careful, we can lose our inner child – the one who reminds us to play. Play is an essential ingredient to unleashing our creative spirits. One of the five Ps in my creativity equation [B (P⁵) = Aha], play is linked to being a kid at heart and it is this inner child that keeps us alert to the world.
Regaining Our Sense of Awe
When we tap into this energy, our sense of awe returns with new vigor. It’s as if we give ourselves permission and time to be in the moment, pausing our usual rush. Think about it — children know how to have fun and to laugh. They’re spontaneous; they’re fascinated and curious about everything around them. Everything is a new and exciting experience. Staying playful disarms our censors, allowing us to take things less seriously, to take risks. For children everything is possible. They don’t put roadblocks on their imagination and — my favorite — they know the art of asking questions.
We need to recapture that. When was the last time you played a game of jacks or finger painted? When was the last time you built a fort with blankets or did something for no reason at all other than for the joy it brings in the moment?
As noted in The Creative Spirit by Daniel Coleman, Paul Kaufman and Michael Ray, “…for the child, life is a creative adventure.” The authors add, “Having fun helps you disarm the inner censor that all too quickly condemns your ideas as ludicrous.”
I resolved years ago not to lose my inner child. However, I need reminders to tickle that inner child awake. At work once I had a good excuse to collect and play with toys when I organized the wellness program for a previous employer. Now I play with words in the poetry I write. I have also taken great strides to make my home a creative environment.
Make Time for Play
Unfortunately, it is easy as adults to say we don’t have time for fun and games. But science tells us otherwise. Games help keep our minds young. They help build brain power and tickle our brain cells. Gene Cohen, a geriatric psychiatrist who studied aging and creativity, said games “keep brain cells vigorous and the psyche agile.” He said games that are fun and captivating are the mental counterpart to physical exertion. “If you can work up a mental sweat doing something that is also fun, you’ve tingled your brain cells in a way they won’t forget.”
Also, research by Dr. Marian Diamond, who specializes in neuroscience, shows some additional benefits. It appears even rats get bored and need something interesting to stimulate brain cells. Her studies show that rats supplied with toys to play with did better maneuvering through mazes than rats raised in an unstimulating environment. The rats with stimulation also tend to live longer.
Given the research, I invite you to take a break from your routine and play.
Connect with Brenda on Twitter @brendarioja