Prioritizing Play and the Quest for a Freedom-Focused Mindset

prioritizing play

Philosophy has been saying it for years, but now science and our health experts also back up the theory about leading a more integrated life: we need to play more as adults.

We continuously decide and convey our values by what we choose to prioritize. For example, if you prioritize safety and financial security, regardless of the underlying reason, you may choose to work long hours instead of spending more time with your friends, family or in nature.

COVID, the light shone on systemic racism and the polarity of the presidential election provided us an opportunity to reevaluate many things in our lives, such as who we spend our time with, alignment between our career and our passion, the number of hours we’re willing to work cuffed to a computer, and the frequency at which we explore the outdoors. Once we begin to prioritize play more often in our lives, then we can take a closer look at the intentionality and quality of our joy, pleasure, and relaxation. An increase in play positively impacts all other aspects of life.

We know it isn’t easy to switch mindsets, and yet it’s actually what agency leaders really want. Play will make you a better partner, a healthier person, and a more effective leader.

“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche.

The Philosophy of Play

In Buddhism, energy is referred to as either ‘being’ or ‘doing’—or ‘feminine’ or masculine,’ respectively. Our bodies need to be active, and our mind is intended to be free and happy. We have not evolved to engage with the stresses of our current environment. According to the book, The Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying, the number one wish for the terminally ill is that they hadn’t worked so hard, followed closely by wishing they’d had more contact with friends. With this philosophy in mind, playfulness isn’t just a silly indulgence. Instead, it’s integral to living a good and meaningful life. It helps us avoid regrets. Play initiates social bonding and keeps us close to those we love. Most critically, it gives us a chance to reevaluate where we are in life and possibly chart a new direction.

Of course, you can’t fake it. You can’t pretend to play to check off a box that would make others believe that we have achieved balance. It isn’t about others and how they view you; It’s about you and your happiness and mental freedom.

What Is Mental Freedom?

It means that even in a professional context, you consciously fit your work in between your play. And in a personal context, it means creating more joy in everyday activities (such as an impromptu dance party while cooking) and viewing this as equal to the activities that most people would typically associate with relaxation (such as driving to a vacation destination for a week off).

“Play is a robust predictor of how satisfied we are with our lives.”
— Christopher E. Peterson

The Science of Play

Playful adults can mentally transform what would typically be a stress-inducing incident into an entertaining one. Even the brain patterns of an active adult show a more relaxed attitude when presented with stressful stimuli.

Lynn Barnett, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, co-authored a study that found that young adults who rated themselves high on personality characteristics such as being spontaneous or energetic reported less stressful thoughts in their lives and possessed better coping skills. “Highly playful adults feel the same stressors as anyone else, but they appear to experience and react to them differently, allowing stressors to roll off more easily than those who are less playful,” she says.

The more playful you are about it, the easier it all is.”
— Abraham Hicks

How to Prioritize Play

We get to choose how we live; the reality is that working long hours, not moving our bodies, not connecting with friends and family, or not infusing joy into daily activities causes suffering. It can be helpful to remember that we choose each and every day to live in a repetitive, anxious state (fear) or live a life that embraces change and feels like authentic self-expression (love). Playfulness helps us cope with the stresses of life and work. When 77 percent of people experience stress that affects their physical health, we can’t afford NOT to take it seriously. Being playful, ironically, has become a very serious business.

There has never been a more poignant moment in our lifetime than this to shift our mindset. Do you embrace a childlike essence when it comes to your playfulness, or are you getting play over with so you can get back to work? Taking some time to self-assess will make all the difference in your happiness quotient. The road to a playful, freedom-focused mindset can be challenging for many; if you’re struggling, let’s find out together what’s holding you back.

Author: Kelly Campbell
Kelly Campbell (she/they) is a Trauma-Informed Conscious Leadership Coach, helping creative and technology leaders transform both life and agency. The former owner of a cause marketing firm for 14 years, her coaching and consulting work focuses on personal development, purpose, positioning, people, pipeline and profitability. She is the host of THRIVE: Your Agency Resource, a bi-weekly video podcast for agency leaders, sponsored by E2M and Workamajig. A keynote speaker at leadership conferences across the country, Kelly writes for Entrepreneur, and has been featured in Forbes, Woman Entrepreneur and The Startup on Medium. She is also the founder of Consciousness Leaders, a representation agency pairing trusted and diverse experts with organizations to create positive change and drive lasting results. She is currently authoring her first book on the connective tissue between healing trauma and becoming a conscious leader. Sign up for the book's pre-launch list here.

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