All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Okay, so it’s a cliché, but it became one for a reason—we need downtime and silly activities to recharge after a long day or week of work!
As writers, we’re often constantly working—if we’re not at a day job, we’re thinking about our plot, structure, themes, or grammar…or we’re working on marketing our books and cranking out the next one.
Our brains are always on the go, even while our bodies are often firmly plunked in one place, typing at the computer.
In order to prevent burnout, refresh our creative energy, feel better, and improve our relationships (both with ourselves and others), we need to take some time off and get back to our roots: play!
We give kids recess time to run around, blow off some steam, and just be themselves.
Why don’t we treat ourselves the same way?
Being a grownup isn’t all about being serious all the time—we have a right and a need to play, too!
More and more scientific studies are showing that the power of play is just as magical for adults as it is for kids. And for creative folks like writers? Well, we need that outlet in order to stay at the top of our game, dreaming up ideas no one has ever thought of before.
Here’s 9 science-backed reasons to get out and play more:
1. You’ll Be Less Stressed
Playing releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that help us stay on an even keel or even feel happy as we go through our day.
The strong endorphin rush of playing a game you enjoy or just being silly for no reason counteracts the effects of a negative hormone, cortisol, that can leave you feeling sluggish or depressed.
When we do get stressed, having a playful disposition can help us cope better. Because play often involves doing things we’re not good at or that have no “real” purpose, we get used to periods of ups and downs and to looking silly—so we’re better able to deal with actual challenges when they come along, because we know they’re just temporary.
Plus, being playful enhances our general sense of well-being—a fact that’s been proven scientifically!
Running around playing tag for just a few minutes, taking a Candy Crush break, or jumping in rain puddles releases enough endorphins to boost you for the rest of the day…so imagine how much less stressed you’ll be if you give yourself a recess break to play every day!
2. You’ll Have Better Relationships
Participating in games or fun activities with friends and family brings you closer together.
By sharing an experience—especially one that releases feel-good endorphins—we bond more closely and are more likely to want to do even more together in the future.
Playing together regularly builds trust, as we start to understand that our friends and teammates have our back and we’ll take care of them, too.
Sharing a joke or laughing together also releases oxytocin, the chemical that helps us feel connected to another person.
So telling bad jokes or having a water fight with your significant other can help bring you closer together by letting you be less serious and bringing out the fun, spontaneous side that you originally fell for. Heck, being playful might even be what brought you together in the first place, as studies have shown that playfulness makes us more attractive.
With coworkers, being playful and spontaneous can help boost your level of connection, making people want to help you more and encouraging you to help them in return. You don’t want to be the office clown, obviously—you want to get your work done and done well!—but cracking a joke here and there or organizing an office picnic, complete with tag, might just bring you all together as a team.
3. You’ll Have More Energy
Play restores our vitality, supports our immune system, and gives us a zing of energy for the rest of the day.
Spending time outdoors, where a lot of play happens, has been proven to increase perceived energy levels. But even playing a game inside can be better than a cup of coffee if you’re feeling low—firing off different connections in your brain and trying something new stimulates both your brain and your body to perk up.
So if you’re feeling drained, the best thing to do might be to go outside and fly a kite for awhile instead of falling back on a latte or even a regular ol’ run. The combination of physical activity and no-strings-attached novelty will give you a longer pick-me-up!
4. You’ll Be More Creative
Play opens us up to new experiences, new ideas, and doing stuff just for the fun of it—everything that our “inner editor” tries to silence.
When we play, we don’t worry about if we’re doing something right or if we look silly—we just enjoy the moment and roll with it.
Think about little kids turning boxes into spaceships or race cars…they’re not telling themselves that the box is just a box, right?
Imagine unleashing that kind of weird, wild, wonderful thinking in your everyday life!
That’s the power of play right there—it lets you stop being a rational, analytical adult for a little bit and just be in the moment, letting your mind wander where it will.
The more you allow yourself to play, the more that kind of creative thinking will permeate your whole life.
The ability to “make believe” is our greatest superpower as writers. Take the time to nourish that part of you with free, unstructured, silly play and you’ll find yourself having more and better ideas than ever before.
5. You’ll Improve Brain Function
Puzzles, escape rooms, and even just tricky situations in a sport, like a challenging golf shot, make your brain work harder and form new connections, helping to prevent some of the decline that comes with age.
From animal experiments to human studies, science has shown that being in an “enriched” environment and having the opportunity to try new things and solve puzzles improves both your mental function and your mood.
Doing the crossword, taking up Sudoku, or playing chess can all keep your brain young and active, firing up those neurons and ensuring that you stay sharp.
You can also try science-backed brain-training options like Lumosity, but all you really need is to challenge yourself to do something new and enjoyable just for the sake of doing it. Trying new things makes us create new connections in our brains, and if it’s something fun, you’re more likely to do it again, forming even more connections.
So how about finally trying out that Aqua Zumba class you’ve been eyeing?
6. You’ll Write Better
A number of studies have shown that pretend play and make believe significantly affect children’s language ability.
Odds are, the same is true for adults!
Play helps us establish new neural connections and be more flexible in our thinking, and all of these habits carry over into how we write. As you play more, you’ll also expand your ability to write interesting, complex concepts and express yourself more clearly and fluidly.
One study suggests that playing word games like word search, crossword, or Boggle helps both kids and adults become better speakers and writers!
And there’s a huge collection of scientific work that’s establishing the link between play and confidence with writing and speaking.
So in order to write better, you really need to go be silly and playful for a bit. Well, darn!
7. You’ll Sleep Better
The more we move around, the better we sleep!
Active play helps tire us out and allows us to sleep more soundly at night, waking up less and having more restorative deep sleep. It also helps cue our bodies to fall asleep at the right time, because our energy levels start to fall naturally at an earlier time after getting out and playing outside.
8. You’ll Be More Confident
Every time you succeed at something, it boosts your confidence. Little by little, you start believing that you can do anything you put your mind to, developing unstoppable self-confidence and the attitude you need to succeed.
You don’t need to ace a presentation or sell 10,000 books to take that first step. You can play a game instead!
Succeeding at a game—even a round of checkers or Angry Birds—gives you a jolt of self-confidence that will support your efforts in the future in totally different areas. If it’s a game that requires strategy, teamwork, or a lot of effort, the results will be even better.
What a great excuse to go play some World of Warcraft or Ultimate Frisbee: you’re working on improving your confidence!
9. You’ll Set More Ambitious Goals
Right up there with boosting your confidence, play and games encourage you to set better goals for yourself.
As you get better at a game, you want to play at a higher level, right? So you challenge yourself to do better and to improve your skills.
That mindset of constant improvement carries over into all aspects of your life—you’ll find yourself setting higher goals, like writing three books this year or becoming a bestseller in your category.
Easy Ways to Play More
Want to fit more play into your day? Try out these easy ideas:
- Splash in puddles the next time it rains
- Romp with a dog (Don’t have a dog? Volunteer at your local shelter!)
- Have a snowball fight
- Try out a maze or escape room in your area
- Go ziplining (you can often find discounts on Groupon)
- Play Frisbee (either with friends or with your dog)
- Go for a swim
- Play Charades or Pictionary at your next party
- Take a bike ride
- Pick flowers (or challenge yourself to make a flower arrangement out of dandelions and whatever else you find)
- Go bowling
- Sing karaoke
- Play mini-golf
- Fly a kite
- Try finger-painting and pretend you’re 5 again
- Have a board game night
- Climb a tree
- Mess around with some Play-Doh or make slime
- Play hopscotch
- Build a model car
- Try a vintage video game like Pong or Tetris
- Jump rope
- Talk in Pig Latin
- Blow bubbles
- Do a jigsaw puzzle
- Learn to juggle
- Go to a carnival or fair just for fun
- Ride a carousel
- Play Go Fish
- Build something with blocks or LEGO
Do you build play into your day? Share your thoughts in the comments!
For more fun and easy ways to boost your creativity, read on:
- Hydrate More to Write—and Think—Better
- 5 Ways Writing By Hand Can Boost Your Creative Career
- The Great Outdoors: 11 Ways Spending Time Outside Will Boost Your Creativity and Productivity