As adults, I think we’ve forgotten how to play and have fun.

We’ve become all serious and focussed on other things. As we grow up, play gives way to study, career progression, mortgage, babies, relationships and many, many more “adult” commitments and responsibilities. We’ve lost our creative spirit, which is what engages us in rejuvenate play.

Adult play is a time to forget about work and responsibilities, and to socialise in a less structured way. Focus your play on the actual experience, not on accomplishing any goal.

Did you know that the connection between creativity and innovation is play? And it’s no surprise because, somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we stopped being playful and having fun.

So it makes sense that adult play is about forgetting about our work worries and enjoying ourselves. Play shapes and structures the brain, especially imaginative play, which children are marvellous at. When we are at play, it activates neural pathways and promotes memory skills. So if adults were to engage in more play, I believe they too could share ideas, experiences and feelings, and learn to explore and experiment with their lifestyle.

Play has great benefits. It relieves stress by triggering the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Play stimulates brain function so puzzles and games like chess are great brain stimulators. But just what kind of play am I talking about?

My work is strongly influenced by Gestalt, a type of therapy that encourages clients to be more aware of their thoughts, feelings, behaviours, self, environmental supports, authentic self- expressions and to be more responsible for their actions. They do this through playful engagement with themselves and/or their environment. They are called experiments because we are testing and trying other ways.

Can you imagine yourself being playful?

My client, Iris, was invited to do just that. Iris was in her late fifties and had been divorced for over ten years. The kids were now independent adults, and when her daughter married and moved out of home, Iris found her thoughts turning to finding a partner. Iris longed for male companionship, someone who would share her love for opera and fine dining. However, she felt uncomfortable initiating friendships.

After a few sessions together, Iris realised she had shut down her playfulness to appease her ex-husband based on what she thought were the cultural norms of her workplace. In other words, that part of herself – her fun, bubbly, flirty self – was not welcome. Her strong Catholic upbringing – particularly her mother’s influence – created a belief that women who were flirty were loose, tarts or homewreckers.

Iris and I set about creating an experiment around flirting. We found a way that Iris could flirt with men without risk or consequences. It involved her winking to fellow drivers at the traffic lights from her car. The experiment allowed a gradual awakening of that part of her without any serious consequences. Iris loved the idea. She thought it was bold and cheeky, and for a week, used any opportunity to wink, flirt and drive off.

When Iris saw me next session, she was more upbeat and alive. I noticed she wasn’t editing herself. She was a little more outspoken. Iris also reflected on the relationship her parents had and how their divorce strongly affected her beliefs about men. She realised that experience of the family unit dissolving still held a lot of power over her, causing her to distrust men. She felt men would let her down, as she her father, mother and ex-husband had.

As a result, Iris used our flirting experiments to gradually awaken her real, authentic self. She did not need to be edited, only regulated for appropriate social setting. Iris then became comfortable exhibiting her best authentic self to a greater variety of people, including her work colleagues.

So, in Iris’s example, it’s through these experiments with playful engagement that a client can increase their self-awareness. I help individuals find and become more aware of their authentic self and stop always acting like who they’re expected to be.

I think I’m more playful in my fifties than I was in my thirties because I’m not so worried about ridicule or the rejection of my peers. However, this doesn’t mean age should determine your ability to take risks and develop your playful side. Sometimes being playful means doing something spontaneous. You may prefer setting aside an afternoon or evening to try something new or different.

Let’s start a adult play action plan. First, we need some great play ideas. I have twelve here. Some are quirky, kooky, but they are, above all, creative.

  • If you have a pet, organise a party. I held a Saint Valentine’s Day party with my doggy friends. All dogs had to come dressed in pink. It was a hilarious afternoon and an excuse to laugh and be playful.
  • Try a day at a theme park.
  • Try playing card games, pool, or having bowling nights with friends.
  • Fly a kite or model airplane with the kids.
  • Play family games like Twister, Jenga, Pictionary and charades.
  • Host a murder mystery night. Have a night out at a comedy club for a good belly laugh.
  • Attend acting, singing or dancing classes.
  • If you have a dog, try dressing it up for Halloween. Last year, our dog was Bat Dog, my son was Doctor Who and I went as River Song.
  • Join a musical, or a local theatre or charity production for children.

You may notice that all these great play ideas involve being with others. It’s so much more fun to engage in play with a family member, friend or pet. Above all, don’t forget to give yourself permission to play with the joyful abandon of a child. Let go of your responsibilities and be fully present.

It’s time to play! Play adds joy to your life. It will boost creative thinking and learning, and relieves stress while you’re feeling stuck.

life coach sydney, stuck in a rut, Fiona CraigFiona Craig is an NLP practitioner & life coach, psychotherapist, business mentor, and published author of the award winning self-help book, “Stuck in a Rut – How to rescue yourself & live your truth” helping women remove the fear, worry and guilt to confidently take the steps towards creating the life they want to live.

Fiona has been interviewed by The Australian Women’s Weekly, Women’s Fitness Magazine and The New Daily and written articles for Collective Magazine, Herald Sun Melbourne, Sunday Life Magazine, Career One, I Am Woman Magazine, plus Mouths Of Mums and other online publications. You can learn more about working with Fiona at www.lifebalancecoach.com.au or call 0405 433 217.