The old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is more than just a fun party line.

Failing to take time to do things that support your well-being can lead to burnout and illness.

Play supports your emotional well-being and helps fuel your creativity, imagination, and problem-solving ability.  It does this by serving as a tension relief valve, a source of novelty, and a chance to socialize and get perspective.  Play can also boost your immune system, improve your relationships, and increase your productivity.

With all these benefits, it seems obvious that taking time out to have fun, socialize, laugh, and decompress from work and life stress is essential.  Yet so many of us don’t spend enough time playing in ways that truly restore us.

We either don’t see enough slack in our schedule for it or we find our play skills are a little rusty from lack of regular use.  Just like your work-related talents, the ability to play well is a muscle that needs exercising. 

To get you “back in the game”, here are 5 keys to honing your play skills for maximum benefit:


1)  Utilize what’s naturally playful in your environment

Make it a habit to surround yourself with people who like to laugh and are naturally good at making things fun.  Take a cue from how these people seem to lighten things up in conversation and how their perspective on work and life keeps them playful.

If you have kids or pets, tap into their natural joy and enthusiasm.  Be fully present when you are with them, feeding them, helping them, or cuddling them.  Observe what they find fascinating, funny, or engaging.   Look for ways to make a game of some routine activity such as taking out the trash, brushing teeth, or bathing.


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2)  Figure out what type of play is most meaningful to you

Think about what types of play and recreation you most enjoy.  Is there a form of play that with a little effort, would provide a greater sense of joy and fun than what you usually do for recreation by default?  Push yourself to think beyond what’s just routine and convenient.

If nothing comes to mind, then maybe it’s just extending the amount of time doing what recreation you already do and being more mindful and present while you are doing it.

Sometimes routine play activity can become much more meaningful when you go deeper with it (i.e., more time, novelty, spontaneity, challenge).

For example, if eating out at a certain restaurant is joyful and fun for you, then go deeper by inviting some different friends to join you, or committing yourself to a knowing more about the chef, the menu, and the service providers.   If you enjoy running, then maybe it’s just taking a new route or running with friends instead of on your own.  The idea is to maximize the play activity with more novelty, stimulation, learning, challenge, etc.


3) Be open to trying something completely new

Sometimes the best forms of play are ones that you haven’t tried before.   Keep an open mind to ideas that spark your interest or requests from family and friends to do something different.

Exposing yourself to more variety and new learning can help you feel more alive and stimulated.   Don’t assume that you won’t like it.  As the saying goes, “You won’t know if you like it unless you try it.”


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4)  Add play into your work life

Remember that not all play has to happen outside of work.  Most work environments benefit from and even encourage at least some elements of fun and play.   Look for ways to add some humor or make activities into a game to get things done.  Socialize with co-workers and engage with their stories or jokes.  Keep it professional but find ways to make the time you spend at work more engaging and playful.


5)  Schedule it

What gets scheduled gets done.  Make play time an important part of your weekly routine.  Don’t save up all fun and joy for once a month or year.   Start with something small, such as Thursday Movie Night, or Saturday morning walks to a park.  Build up to incorporating monthly activities too, like a monthly card game with your friends or a visit to a nearby city.


DIVE DEEPER:  Boost your performance and resilience even more by mastering how you think about your life story here.

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