Make time for play this summer and stay connected to your best self.

Summer is near, and with the warm days beckoning us outside we often feel a yearning for the days of our youth—the time in our life when summer represented two months off of school, no homework and endless time to play.

Today, with work often limiting vacation time to a week here and there, those Excel spreadsheets not disappearing anytime soon and your children needing to be dropped off at camp and summer parties, the idea of taking time out to play is probably not at the top of your to-do list. Play probably feels like a luxury, so much so that when you do take time away from work, you spend most of your time feeling a little guilty.

But, what if I told you that research is showing that play is what you need to stay connected to the best parts of you? Play helps you tap into your growth mindset and will help you excel both at life, and at work. Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, M.D., compares play to oxygen. He writes, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated, until it is missing.”

When I suggest to clients to add more play into their lives, the first push-back I hear is, “I just don’t have the time.” Here is the part that we forget as grown-ups: You have to plan to play. As children, play was scheduled into our day. Our parents couldn’t wait to have us out of their hair and outside playing. As a child, play wasn’t optional, but now that it is, we need to schedule play into our week. We need to plan our playtime as though it was one of the most important meetings of our week.

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.” –Plato

Dr. Peter Gray from Boston University concluded that human play can be defined by five characteristics:

  1. Play is self-chosen and self-directed
  2. Play is intrinsically motivated
  3. Play is guided by mental rules, but leaves room for creativity
  4. Play is imaginative
  5. Play is conducted in an alert, active—but relatively non-stressed—state of mind

These characteristics are the same as being in a “flow state.” Flow is the sweet spot where our worries and stress disappear. Play allows us to tap into our internal motivation and connects us to the values of our present that will fuel our passion and purpose for the future. If we follow the guidelines for flow, every one of us needs to craft out two hours of play throughout our week. Play is active recovery for our brain, and the more attention you pay to playtime, the more effective and focused you will be at work. I believe the reason that we are so distracted and disengaged at work is because we are never fully engaged at home or in our lives.

“The opposite of play is not work, it is depression.” –Brian Sutton-Smith

What does playtime look like to you? Would it be an afternoon on your own, wandering through the streets of a nearby town, sampling the local foods? Perhaps it’s a trip to your local café, where you can sit outside and drink your favorite coffee as you read that book that has been sitting unopened on your bedside table. Maybe it is dusting off your golf clubs or getting the basketball out of the garage.

Or, could it be that you decide this summer you want to play a new game? I am with you! This month, I am playing at being a DJ. Yep, I just signed up for DJ school and will be learning how to spin records (OK, digitally) as I learn how to mix music. Yay for play!

Play asks you to put down your technology and pick up your connection. It is the doorway to a life of vitality and joy. I invite you to make this the summer of fun, where the only game you care about winning is the game of your life.

Get out, dive in and play.

Photo credit: boggy22, Thinkstock