I’ll answer this riddle shortly. But first, what is that asset?
What’s Playfulness as a Growth Asset Look Like?
Let’s start with an example in action. I often ask clients to develop affirmation-like statements for the outcomes they seek. Most clients are looking to escape heaviness and shame in some way. Yet, none have ever originated a statement like this:
“I enjoy playfulness and treat myself with compassion on this journey.”
Nearly all clients include it, though, when I invite them to—and often select it for priority focus.
And, guess what? That statement is typically a bellwether. If change is going to take place in the other areas, two of three times it shows up first around having a playful, forgiving, and self-compassionate way of being.
And conversely, when clients can’t find a way to bring humor and perspective to their work, especially on those days when one step forward is followed by two back, not much happens. There just isn’t room in rigidly held systems for growth or change.
Evidence for Playfulness (Riddle Revealed Here!)
There’s growing evidence that playfulness is important. Clues appear in areas as diverse as Internal Family Systems (a personal growth modality), homicidal young men, and corporate culture practices at places like Dropbox.
Back in 2010 when I took my Level I Internal Family Systems training, the qualities of “Self”—that aware, wise healing aspect of ourselves that we reach when centered—had 8 Cs and only 4 Ps. The “C” qualities were compassionate, curious, connected, clear, courageous, calm, confident, and creative. The “P” qualities were presence, persistence, perspective, and patience. I proposed a fifth be added: PLAYFULNESS. It has been (not directly from my proposal; others had the same insight at the same time). Think about it, and you’ll see that playfulness touches on a distinctive and critical aspect of how we are when we’re really in touch with Self.
Jana French, a client fascinated with developing her own playfulness, led me to the National Institute for Play. It conducts scientific research around the merits of play and playfulness. Its founder, Dr. Stuart Brown, first tuned in to the value of play by noticing its absence in a study of homicidal young males beginning with Charles Whitman, the University of Texas Tower mass murderer. Conversely, Brown’s research supports not only that no play damages us, but that more play heals us and helps us develop.
Unfortunately, as we’ve gotten older, we often misplace our ability to play—sometimes, in the mistaken belief results only happen when they’re attended to seriously. There’s a balance, no doubt. But being serious and being intentional are not identical!
Want to explore? Play with these ideas:
Embrace a playful mindset. Hang around kids playing. Get a sense of their energy: just the sheer fun of exploring and connecting around an unfolding universe. Invite your focus to be on embracing and adding to, rather than discerning, agreeing, and disagreeing.
- Build ok-ness with “not knowing.” Part of what makes it hard to be playful is fear that we won’t know something we’re supposed to. But, says who? One paradoxical intervention: have a goal to identify five things you realize you don’t know, and find the joy in not knowing.
- Notice the cost of being right vs. allowing mistakes—and embrace confidence in repairs. Another fear is that if we play, we’ll make a mistake. So we’re constantly vigilant in order to avoid the cost of that mistake. But do we ever measure the cost of that vigilance? Often times, it costs us a lot more energy and opportunity than relaxing—allowing that we will make mistakes, but that we can get pretty good at repairing them. By the way, that’s why playfulness and self-compassion are paired in that sample intention statement: they really go hand-in-hand, as there will be mistakes, and it helps to have compassion and forgiveness built in to the process. And, to also concentrate on the results we want, vs. being “right” about the manner of getting them.
- Find ways to bring a “play” activity to work. Noticing Rick Kasprzak’s ear-to-ear grin at a networking meeting, I asked about it. He responded with delight about the warm weather--it enables him to ride his Vespa to work and on jobs. He really loved riding one in Italy 15 years ago, so he bought one here.
- A second example: Elaine Quinn, a solopreneur specialist, wanted her web site to communicate that support could be fun and non-judgmental.
Here’s her homepage…get the idea?
- Play “pretend.” A student in my Core Intention class found herself anxious about a high-pressure sales meeting she’d agreed to attend. After researching various ways to resist--which created even more anxiety--she wondered if she could bring a playful approach. And, voila, it occurred to her she could pretend to be a reporter--just to herself. In that role, she didn’t have to “resist” anything…she could take it all in, and not expect to buy. It worked brilliantly!
- Karen Phelan, another colleague, uses exactly this approach in a communications game called Act Like a Leader. You draw a profile card for different leaders, and expand your repertoire of behaviors by acting as they would.
- Just do it. If you like, you can practice ways of being playful (I’ve found doing improv comedy a fun although challenging one, and for me dance is also one of those things that combines structure with play). Just bringing that energy of “it’s a game, how can I make it even more fun?” to the work we do helps also.
Let me know what else you discover!
In the meantime, I’m going off to Zumba!