“Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.”
― Tom Robbins
Whether outrunning a speeding bullet as Superman, shooting the bad guys as a cowboy or merely parading down the street with arms out making jet plane noises, children spend a lot of time playing pretend. Of course this eventually becomes frowned upon as the child becomes older, as it becomes time to get serious, and go to school. School followed by more school, which is eventually followed by work, and eventually retirement.
Even by age 8 you may have some children telling you that playing pretend is for babies. A perfectly valid statement to make for someone who is growing up and seeking their own independence to some extent. Teachers and parents stop encouraging it as they direct their children down the more professional path.
One universally powerful lesson I learned, was that while the type of play may change, being able to be playful is universally beneficial, in all aspects of life. That isn’t to say you don’t take things seriously, this isn’t about entering the extreme of being a clown. A state of play works as a flow state. The actual playing is the meaningful part, not the result of it. Just as playing a game of soccer or listening to a musical piece, isn’t about the end result, but the activity of doing it.
Let’s cut away definitions and techniques, and just look at what playfulness implies. In a relationship, this means you won’t freak out if something unexpected happens, like losing a job, or getting injured. It shows you’re a person in good spirits who is stable and has inner strength. In a workplace, it demonstrates not letting stress get to you, or becoming reactive. It can even shift the power balance and provide you with the dominant frame in a business setting, letting you Pitch Anything.
But most importantly, it breaks the expected pattern of life. Whether you’re trying to ask out a cute girl or guy in a coffee shop or pitch a million dollar deal, the awareness of the situation in both settings makes it an uncomfortable atmosphere. It appears as if one person is trying to get something from the other. In a state of play, you are sharing in the experience. You are stepping outside the world as it exists, and enjoying a moment with the other person.
Hot Tip: Here’s a really easy way to channel a little playfulness. Simply consider, in any scenario, what’s everyone else doing, and how can I do it differently? You’ll automatically be breaking the pattern of expected behavior, and you can use the reactions you get as feedback. You’ll continually calibrate and grow as you naturally become better at determining how to approach situations. Next time you go to swipe your credit card at a coffee shop, do it in a karate chop motion, and see what happens.
So at this point you may or may not be convinced over the power of play, but what does playfulness look like? If you mean to approach a potential partner, it may mean asking her to run away with you to Paris so you may get married under the moonlit Eiffel Tower, before pulling back and saying you may be getting ahead of yourself, and moving onto introductions. In a business pitch, it may be telling a story of a childhood experience of using the particular product, instead of throwing stats and numbers at potential investors.
Children know what they’re doing when they play cops and robbers, they aren’t at any point convinced they may kill someone by firing their finger at them. Awareness of a situation combined with playfulness is an incredibly powerful tool that can immediately shift how others interact with you. It spawns creativity and a general appreciation for the world when you spend more time in a state of play. Why not have a little more fun?
Bonus Tip: Not the playful type? Start by not labeling yourself that way. Next, simply observe what brings you some level of joy as you go through your day. Is it the matching hats of a young couple? The funky colors on an exotic bird? Is it the fact that your co-worker has an expensive espresso machine on his desk but you’ve never seen him use it? Awareness of what makes you smile will help build your playfulness muscle until it comes naturally.