Play isn’t just inherently fun — it’s also a powerful way to connect to our creativity, loosen routine and rigidity and spark new insights.
According to creativity coach Gail McMeekin, “Play brings us back to childhood when we were free to play with abandon and we were not afraid of being judged or criticized.”
When we’re able to reconnect to that blissful time, it helps us tinker with new ideas and make novel connections, she said.
Michelle Ward, a creative career coach, also views play as a window into our smaller selves. “Kids are the ultimate creativity cultivators, and we can really only tap into that as adults by playing.”
She gave the example of photographer Jason Lee, who takes creative photos of his daughters. Most of the playful ideas come from the girls.
For artist Jolie Guillebeau, who creates one painting per day, play quiets the pressure to produce and actually leads to better work.
Recently, a painting she was working on just wasn’t working – no matter what fixes she tried. She decided to change her approach. She stopped caring about the end result.
“I added all sorts of crazy colors to the work and just decided to have fun with it. When I finally stepped back, I had a product that I loved.”
According to artist Carla Sonheim, play provides the opportunity to take risks, which prepares us for taking bigger chances in our creative work.
“When we play with pen and paper, we risk writing or drawing something that doesn’t quite measure up to our original visions. When we play at something, we risk looking silly — but it’s usually in a relatively safe environment.”
“In the same way young animals play fight to prepare them for future hunting, playing at something on a regular basis ‘primes the pump’ for risk-taking in bigger life issues, such as relationships, our work lives, or our creative explorations.”
Below, these artists and authors reveal their favorite ways to play.
Playing the Ukulele
Ward, co-author of The Declaration of You, loves to play her pink ukulele, Lucille. “Whether I’m writing my own songs or learning others I already know [or] love, I get such joy in picking her up and strumming and singing for an hour.”
She also keeps that playful spirit while she’s working on other projects, such as writing, creating a video and speaking. Her website even includes a video on 10 ways to find work that feels like play.
Hunting for Blobs
“As a visual artist my favorite way to play is with pen and paper,” said Sonheim, author of The Art of Silliness. She loves going “blob hunting” around Seattle.
She records a variety of irregular shapes, which she finds in “cracks, water puddles, oil stains, dried leaves, and peeling paint.” Then she transforms the shapes into imaginary animals. (Here’s one example of her unique work.)
Playing with Movement
Guillebeau studies tae kwon do. She attends both adult classes and classes that are open to all ages.
“When kids are in the class, everything is a little more playful and fun. Instead of just working on our jumping skills, we’ll play reverse limbo. It’s the same result, just with a playful approach.”
Immersing Yourself in New Things
McMeekin, also author of the best-selling books The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women and The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women, loves to travel and go out for dinner. She regularly attends theater and film productions and immerses herself in music and art.
To her this “feels like play and nurtures my creative spirit and sparks new inspirations for my writing and my own art.” She researches new places and is known for her knack of picking fun spots. “Lots of surprises and successes as a result!”
Having A Playful Attitude
“For me, art and creative expression are play, but I am able to get into the most fluid artistic space the more I approach anything creative with a playful attitude,” said Christine Mason Miller, a mixed-media artist and author of Desire to Inspire: Using Creative Passion to Transform the World.
Gratitude helps Miller cultivate this kind of attitude. She reminds herself regularly of how blessed she is to be creating and making art.
She also makes the choice to experience joy. “Even if I am creating something for ‘work,’ by starting with joy I am able to instill a sense of play that always leads to my best work.”
Miller loves playing with her dog, laughing with friends and even organizing. “As much as I love creating a mess from painting or making books or anything else, I love getting all my supplies back in order just as much.”
Guillebeau once received this wise advice: “Take your art seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Play.”
“That stuck with me, and I realize whenever I’m getting frustrated or annoyed with myself or my work, it’s because I haven’t taken time to play.”
Play offers us serious benefits. As Ward said, “Carving out time for play allows us to be healthier, happier adults, and also leave us feeling refreshed, recharged, and with our best ideas.”