Creativity is unique to each individual, it encapsulates many different forms, processes and connections. Creativity and play can generate an important challenge; embracing fear and your inner critic. We lose interest in hobbies as we grow older, arguably this is as they need to hold a greater meaning than ‘just for fun’. Spending our precious time on something, anything, must produce a worthy outcome and once play is lost from our lives, it is difficult to regain.
A quick google search of the word ‘play’ will primarily show images of children playing, but it is just as important for adults to play too! The further removed we become from the idea of play, the more troubling the idea becomes. A purposeless activity becomes a concept that is impossible to grasp and often causes feelings of awkwardness. The average person has up to 60,000 thoughts a day and creative play has been shown to help focus the mind. Creative play and finding your flow can reduce anxiety, depression and stress. So why is it so alien to us?
Flow is a state of mind achieved when you are fully engrossed in an activity. When you lose all sense of self and time, that’s flow. It’s been found that repetitive creative tasks can help you find your flow, tasks such as writing, knitting and drawing are great examples of this. Once you have achieved a state of flow, your brain becomes flooded with dopamine, the feel good chemical that helps to motivate you and ultimately will encourage you to repeat your chosen form of play.
“…It is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.”
― Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Happiness
Having fun with creative play is often seen as a nice idea, but we are at a loss as to where to start. For most people, it’s been so long since they last played, they have forgotten altogether how to do it. Whilst it is a nice idea, we are no longer sure what it means to play. In the words of Maya Angelou, creativity is a bottomless pit: ‘The more you use it, the more you have’. Creative play becomes even more important as we age and as our lives get busier. When embracing play, it is important to remember that the act of play must be deemed as being more important than any form of outcome. Most of all, creative play should bring you joy, you should engage in play to immerse yourself in a moment to moment experience.
“Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival.Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively.”
― Stuart Brown, Play
Often, we recognise that people benefit from free spirited play such as dancing, scribbling or writing but cannot see the point in engaging in it ourselves. Art in any form wears a veil of elitist mysticism. If you view yourself as an ‘outsider’ to the culture, it becomes even more difficult to engage with it. Instinctively, we lean into these feelings of imposter syndrome by becoming more concerned with the physical outcome than the positive internal feelings the act brings us. Creative play is not about making great art, or a great piece of writing, it’s about finding your flow and happiness.
I think sometimes we need to grow down, free ourselves from the constraints of what it means to be an adult. Let yourself indulge in silly fun and stop thinking about what is and isn’t possible. Be in the moment, open your mind, find your flow and remember, the act is more important than the outcome.
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I think we are all feeling the strangeness of 2021. I accidentally wrote an email out to everyone at Tribe saying we should say good bye to 2020. Many of us are saying last year doesn’t count, but it does. And most likely in ways we don’t yet understand.
We have somewhat transitioned out of the high alert state and into life with normalised constant threat and high potential of change. Life with both feelings of normalised loss and at the same time, new levels of appreciation of things that used to be taken for granted. The constant stress of playing out the worst case scenarios is exhausting. With burnout hovering over or perhaps already landed for you, this year has been full and dull.
According to Adam Grant,
“We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing. Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
Psychologists find that one of the best strategies for managing emotions is to name them. Last spring, during the acute anguish of the pandemic, the most viral post in the history of Harvard Business Reviewwas an article describing our collective discomfort as grief. Along with the loss of loved ones, we were mourning the loss of normalcy.”
Simultaneously, I have had countless conversations with people expressing how they have found new levels of awareness and a better pace for life since Covid. Usually that is quickly followed up with how bad they feel about saying that when they know many people have suffered so greatly. I have caught myself saying that too. I liken this to hitting rock bottom and the perspective that gives you- the only way is up.
I purpose going against the cultural norm of numbing and leaning into meaningful acts. Adam describes this as flow- that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. Grant goes on to site a study of flow;
“During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their prepandemic happiness.”
Finding flow is becoming increasingly more challenging. We have a million things pulling at our attention all of the time. It takes a huge amount of discipline to stay focused. But a distracted mind is the enemy of flow.
I have noticed that when I am feeling a bit low, I check my emails more often and I scroll through my social channels in a mindless way. Now when I catch myself in this state, I take a moment to try and think about what is really bothering me. Sometimes it is easy to figure out, sometimes, all I can do is change my habits. I notice that behaviour now and stop. I find something more focused to do- even if that thing is to sit and do 4 mindful breaths. I disrupts the bad habit, one tiny task at a time.
This can come in many forms and probably why I crave playing cards or board games from time to time. They create a contained task that my mind can concentrate on. No need to think about the ever growing to do list or what I forgot to do or what I need to think about putting on my to do list. Although finding an effortless state and flow are different, it is a good place to start.
Csikszentmihalyi describes eight characteristics of flow:
Flow state is losing yourself in the moment; when you find your abilities are well matched to an activity, the world around you quietens and you may find yourself achieving things you only dreamt to be possible.
To me that sounds worth the effort and at least one way of approaching 2022; an antidote to some of 2021’s languishing.