Last week I attended an online event where one of the presenters was breakthrough play consultant Gary Ware. He led us through some games that had no immediate goal – what I mean by that is, there was nothing to win or lose, nobody was keeping score, and there was nothing to be gained except having fun.
Immediately I observed my brain try to take over and prioritize “getting it right.” Instead of allowing myself to be immersed in the flow and energy of the game, I habitually shifted my focus to trying to control the outcome.
I doubt I was the only one. And it was certainly not an isolated incident.
What it vividly illustrated was that, when left to its own devices, my mental pattern was to try to minimize mistakes and errors to the exclusion of everything else. It felt very closely related to being in survival mode, which is neither a fun nor creative place to be.
I said earlier that these games had no goal, and that’s not entirely true. Gary refers to himself as a creative catalyst. Part of what he was trying to show us was that play is an inventive and expansive state. It allows our brain to access more imaginative and unconventional possibilities. We tend to treat it as frivolous or a luxury, but it’s actually a critical part of discovering solutions, building resilience, and the ability to take risks.
As I sat with this experience, it became clear to me how habitually we go into a stress state instead of play in order to be practical and get work done.
Over time, we lose touch with the ability to play. Instead, we rely on distraction, rest, or entertainment to offset the work mode. This is an attempt to seek relief, not fun. It keeps us stuck in a cycle of depletion/recuperation without ever feeding and expanding our energy and creative connection.
Stress is anti-creative. It is the need to control and be right.
Yes, it can add urgency and fuel, forcing us to clarity. But it’s not a good precondition for insight, originality, and imagination. It’s also not sustainable. Over time it wears us down and produces diminishing returns.
Stress is not the same thing as high stakes, which can be inspiring. Stress is about having something to lose as opposed to having something to gain – an opportunity. It’s not trusting the ability to produce your genius and vision without force.
The paradox is that we don’t take play or fun seriously.
The part of us that’s trying so hard to be good at adulting feels it can’t afford to waste time with kids’ stuff. As a result, we divorce ourselves from the most magical, spiritual, and unrestricted part of us. The most powerful aspect is disguised as the least important.
If your spirit is prompting you to have a conversation about play, I encourage you to consider working with me.