My goal this year is to embrace life with curiosity and experimentation to gain greater connection. One of the key habits I am endeavouring to establish is to undertake a monthly experiment where I do something new or something that I want to do more of. Regardless of what the activity is, I want it to increase my connection to those around me. For January I made a commitment to play every day.
As adults, we seem to just stop playing or we think we are playing but we aren’t really. The National Institute for Play has a great explanation of this:
Something that looks like a difficult task — writing a book or working on a complex jigsaw puzzle — might be play. If the person doing it is engaged and feeling content with the challenge, then it is play; if the person is feeling bored, irritated, or burdened by the task then it is not play….The characteristics of play all have to do with motivation and mental attitude, not with the … behavior.
The benefits of play
Play has long been considered an important part of childhood development, but it is often overlooked as a crucial aspect of adult health and well being. Both physical and mental health benefits can be derived from play and these benefits can help to improve our overall quality of life. This is absolutely something that I found during this experiment.
When play is of a physical nature for adults it can help improve cardiovascular health, increase muscle strength, enhance flexibility and coordination, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. I exercise at least six days a week, generally first thing in the morning but there are days after doing my run I am then at my desk (stand up) for most of the day and then go to standing at the kitchen bench to cook dinner. Breaking up my day with little bursts of play often got me outside and got me moving my body in a different movement pattern to running. The youngest and I had many games of totem tennis and mini basketball games. Phil and I had some great quoits competitions and when we were away it was playing in the pool or playing pool!
Most of these play activities were less than 15 minutes but the body always felt better for it and if I had to go back to work after it, I went back feeling refreshed and ready to focus.
It has been well documented that play also provides a number of mental health benefits for adults. These include reduced stress and anxiety, increased feelings of happiness and well-being, improved memory and cognitive function, and enhanced creativity and problem-solving skills. Play can also serve as a form of escapism, providing a welcome distraction from the demands and responsibilities of our adult daily life.
The benefit I enjoyed most and was seeking from playing every day was to increase feelings of connection. You can be in the house with your family, chat and do your own thing alongside them all day but taking even five minutes out to play some totem tennis or the like and the feeling is so very different.
The joy of play
When I was playing I wasn’t thinking about the physical and mental health benefits of play but simply enjoying the fun and the feeling of freedom play brings. While I love my routines as they help me to achieve all I do in my days, adding a little play into my day gave them a burst of positivity and lightheartedness.
Even if was just a five minute game of quoits with Phil, I would walk away with a smile on my face and feeling like I had had a break. Such a different feeling than had I spent five minutes scrolling social media. Incorporating more play into my days is something that I will continue beyond my January experiment. To see how I incorporated daily play into my days read on!
Create a monthly experiment
Connection to goal – Embrace life with curiosity and experimentation to gain greater connection –
I love my routines and they provide an excellent base from which I can achieve a great deal. My love of routines can mean that I can take a very well-worn path. This year I want to mix it up more. Add more play, challenge myself and try new things while bringing along others as I go.
Quote to connect to – “The true method of knowledge is experiment.” – William Blake
January performance – As noted above my monthly experiment for January was to play every day. I didn’t set a time of day, a time limit, or specify the style of play because I didn’t want the play to seem forced. I had play listed as my weekly task so I was constantly reminded about it and it helped keep it in the front of my mind. I then just looked for natural opportunities across the day to play with someone. Here is what it looked like in action:
- After dinner games of mastermind and chess
- Heading outside to have a hit of totem tennis and very soon someone would join in
- Having the quoits set up and when Phil was outside doing something in the garden either he or I would invite each other to a game
- Saying yes when I would normally say no, for example, I said yes to running a leg of a beer mile relay, I played laser tag with the kids instead of just waiting for them to play their games
- Playing pool very badly knowing I would lose but enjoying it anyway
- Having a weekly ice bath and getting others to join in (even if was just their feet!)
Once I started looking for opportunities to play they seemed to pop up everywhere. While I will create another experiment for February (take a video every day), I am going to still keep my play mindset and take up opportunities to play with family and friends when I can.
Practice switching from judgement to curiosity
Connection to goal – Embrace life with curiosity and experimentation to gain greater connection – Having strong opinions on issues means that when I hear a dissenting view I can move to judgement and not make an attempt to understand the opposing viewpoint – it stifles open communication.
When I hear/read/view something that triggers me, I want to be curious not judgemental about it and really listen and understand the thinking behind the differing view and have truly open communication with others. Communication is key to connection.
Quote to connect to – “Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand.” – Roy T. Bennett
January performance – This is much harder to rate and as I am judging the thoughts in my mind but I still think I have quite a bit of work to do. I am going to attempt to give myself a score out of 10 each month, knowing that I am starting from a low base from which I want to improve. For January I would rate myself 4/10. I have always aligned myself on one side of the political spectrum and have been a little closed to listening to views outside of this thinking. I have certainly improved from my younger very opinionated days but it is a very ingrained pattern of behaviour. While I am not argumentative in terms of challenging people openly, I certainly have thoughts about it.
For me switching from judgement to curiosity I think this is very much going to be like a meditation practice. In meditation my mind wanders all the time, I now simply notice it and redirect focus back to the breath, body or mantra. I am accepting that at the moment I will still have judgemental thoughts and honestly probably always will to some degree. When I feel this happening, I need to recognise it and then do a reframe to be curious as to why they might think this way and what other information I may need to obtain so I can understand the full picture of this issue.
Consume a diverse low information diet
Connection to goal – Embrace life with curiosity and experimentation to gain greater connection – When consuming information from many sources now, algorithms are feeding us what it thinks we want to see based on what we have already seen, listened to or read. It takes a concerted effort to diversify the information we are consuming.
We are becoming an increasingly polarised society on so many issues and it is causing deep division. If we only ever look at one side of the story our divisions will only grow bigger.
Quote to connect to – “We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” – Tim Berners-Lee
January performance – January got off to a great start and I have put into place a number of measures to help me establish a diverse low information consumption practice:
- I have set screen limits on my phone for Instagram (20 mins) and Strava (10 mins) and have let the 14 year old set the pin code to override this. If I wish to override I will need to get him to enter the code!
- I have subscribed to podcasts and Youtube channels that have views that are polar opposite to mine.
- I have banned myself from daily news reading and watching.
These measures have already had a significant impact in terms of where I am spending my time, how long I am spending on particular activities and changing the mix of podcasts and videos in my feeds. I will share some stats, images and links to the tools I use to paid members of my weekly newsletter this week. In January in the “some things you might like” section of the paid newsletter I also began sharing a podcast, video or article that I wouldn’t usually consume but did to add more diversity to my information diet.
Things I already had in place that have helped me limit my information consumption:
- Blocks so I cannot access my Instagram or Facebook feeds on my MacBook.
- Time limits for sites that I know I can waste time on. The time limits include any time I spend on links I click on from these sites too. It combines the time spent on sites so I only have a max of 15 minutes a day on them.
- Use a chrome extension to block out suggested videos etc on Youtube.
There are still some things that I need to do:
- Edit, add and cull the email newsletters I am subscribed to
- Completely overhaul my Feedly feed
- Review accounts I follow on Instagram
- Review podcast subscriptions
- Review Youtube subscriptions