I heard from the brilliant Portia Tung over at The School of Play that those magical anonymous scientists are telling us we only need 10 to 15 minutes of play a day to make a real difference. I’m (obviously) a huge fan of play, so I’m not about to suggest that 10 minutes of play couldn’t revolutionise the life of someone who does none. I guess I’m just very sceptical that there really is anyone who doesn’t play even that much each day.
Part of how I begin my coaching with new clients is to explore how they do play. Some of that is about identifying their play persona, for example. But quite a bit is helping them to uncover the play they already do, but just don’t know about or don’t realise that it is play.
What do I mean?
I mean those elaborate doodles they do in meetings – that they then screw up and throw away. Or the whistling in the shower. The sprint they enjoy to the bus stop, or the stories they tell in the pub.
Most astonishing are the cases when people do huge amounts of play in full view, but go to great lengths to deny that it’s play. Like the person who plays a round of squash twice a week but insists it’s ‘just exercise’ and doesn’t count as play. Oftentimes the reason it can’t be play is because it’s ‘just the part of work that I enjoy’, as if work is the opposite of play.
But even when it’s not obvious at all, I always find that someone has something they do that’s a highlight of the day.
It’s often small, and not shared with anyone else. Collecting new advert-sightings on the tube, or setting up a meeting with just the right people to ensure a good outcome. For others, these things might not appear to be play – ironing is a great example – but for some there’s real delight at turning the attention, just for a short while, to something they can really focus on and connect with.
I talk about play being ‘the application of a type of serious attention to an activity that others perceive as trivial’ – and to the outsider someone’s ten minutes of play often look dull or inconsequential. But I believe the first step to rediscovering one’s play isn’t about adding ten minutes of tabletop golf or finger-painting, as an activity quite separate from your normal life. I think it’s finding the play within. It’s always a better place to start from what you know, and if it’s a mystery then start first by finding how you currently play so you can know it.
I hope everyone plays at least 10 to 15 minutes a day (I’d prescribe at least an hour, myself!) and I think many of us can achieve this just by finding those minutes.