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E31. Do We Outgrow Play?

Welcome to ADHD Crash Course! Today I want to talk about play. Now, as adults, we sometimes abandon this idea of play. Maybe it seems frivolous, or more likely, when we talk about play, we're not talking about the purest definition of play. We're talking about play with an agenda. By definition, play lacks an agenda. The purpose of play

It doesn't mean that if you are playing with an agenda, that it's bad or not valuable. It's just not what I'm talking about when I ask, "Do you play?" Do you have play in your life? An example would be if I'm taking my son out and we're playing soccer, but the real goal here is that he's improving his skills for his team.

My play with him is more centered around his skill improvement. Even if my play with him is more centered around spending quality time with him, there is an agenda here. It is not just "play to see where it goes". It is not just for the experience, or to enjoy and be in the experience.

That doesn't mean that I couldn't go out and play soccer with my son, be playful, and have it be play for me. I'm enjoying the experience of being there, and that is playful. I lose myself in that, and it is enjoyable in and of itself to play with him.

However, when there is an agenda (it does not make it wrong if I have an agenda that I want to spend quality time), it does not necessarily make it the play that I'm talking about. It could be. Both those things could exist. I could say, "Hey, I'm spending this time with him," and then in that moment, I get caught up in play and enjoy that play. There are definitely times as a parent that I might do something playful, or (especially when my kids were younger) play with them, but it was not play. It was not my play.

When my girls were little, they used to want me to play "baby girl kitty cats" with them. Now, baby girl kitty cats was pure torture for me. It was definitely play for my daughters. The whole point of baby girl kitty cats was the storyline (limited as it was). That whole experience in that moment was the point. I was showing up, however, because I wanted to be a good mom.

They wanted to play baby girl kitty cats. I felt like, this is what they want, so I'm going to spend this time with them. Doesn't make me wrong, but it definitely didn't make it play for me. Baby girl kitty cats, by the way (I know you're like "Oh cute." No, it was not cute), was pure torture.

All you could do (because my girls were a little controlling) with this game) is say "meow meow." I could change my intonation and be like, "Oh, meow meow," (I am angry), or "meow meow" (I'm so confused), but that's all I could say.

There was no other dialogue. It was rough. I, oftentimes, was the sick cat that would lay on the couch and say, "Could you bring, meow meow, bring me my medicine, I'm going to sleep." I would try to work that into storyline whenever I could.

Sometimes it was acceptable, sometimes not. That was tough. I remember feeling guilty that I didn't enjoy play, or that I didn't enjoy playing more. Especially because I was working as a pediatric occupational therapist at the time. I was a professional player, so I should really be able to enjoy playing with my own kids.

One of the things that I realized was that I enjoyed play in my work because it was kind of puzzling. It was about the outcome. It wasn't about play. It was about whatever that child was working on in therapy. That was very engaging for my brain. Yet again, it was not play. It was not play for me. It was still something I loved doing, but it wasn't play.

Recently, I was working with a client, and she's just somebody who gets it done. I mean, she just gets life done. She attacks her problems, she's super motivated to problem solve, work with her brain, and figure things out. She also has tons of demands on her, like most of us do. She's got a very demanding job, and she's got young kids, she's just in a pretty demanding place in life.

She's been knocking it out. She's been getting all kinds of things done, and she had a couple of weeks off of what is a pretty stressful work environment. She had that feeling like a lot of us do, "Oh, what am I going to do? How am I gonna maximize this time and to move me forward?" in some of the things that she wanted to move forward in.

She said, "Okay, I've got these two weeks that are uninterrupted (or at least low interruption). Well, what should I focus in on during these weeks?"

I asked her, "What do you do to play?"

She started laughing a little nervously. I mean, it was the funniest reaction. We were both laughing, and it was really hard to come up with an answer (like it is for most of us in adult life). It's hard. It's not just her.

I know that's maybe a strange question coming from a coach, because coaches by nature are results oriented. You don't see a coach because you need to learn how to play, you see a coach because you want an outcome.

That is good and well, and why I love what I'm doing, but we get better outcomes when we're balanced. We have better outcomes when we have parts of our lives that feed us, refresh us, and fortify us for work.

Play is still important for us, even though we have this adult life and all these responsibilities! We have all these ambitions, but play is still an important pursuit for us at any age.

My client did come back the next week with the best stories of play, and how she dug in and discovered that. She went on a treasure hunt and did all kinds of things that were truly play to her. She enjoyed them thoroughly, just for what they were. It was refreshing for her. She needed and deserved that.

If you say something like, "Oh, this was a complete waste of time, but it was so fun," that's a good hint that you might be approaching play. For us, this is hard as adults to say, "Hey, we're wasting time."

One of my clients was trying to find a hobby. It was kind of stressing her out, because she didn't want to be wasteful. She also wanted to make sure she finished what she started. The whole process of finding a hobby was stressful for her and was making her not feel great about herself.

When we were teasing this apart, there was a lot of standards that she had for herself for this hobby. It's hard for a lot of us, myself included, to just be okay with the process. Maybe this hobby is not going to amount to anything, maybe I will abandon it, or maybe I will be bad at it.

For this client, it was about just being able to explore whether she could enjoy the process. This is hard for us; it's hard for some personality types, and it's definitely hard for adults. For adults, and in our culture, we don't have a lot of space for just "frivolous" play.

Even our play is usually killing two birds with one stone.

I'm out playing a tennis match and my partner has her Fitbit, I ask "Oh, what are we doing? How many steps did we get?" I love playing tennis, but I can't say I'm always (even though, grammatically, I would say I'm playing) playful.

Sometimes it is playful, but if it becomes, "I need to go work out and I have this agenda," it's less playful.

If it's "Oh, we're in this playoff match, and it really matters what this outcome is," it's less playful.

I like to focus when I play tennis on having fun. Before we start the match, people are always saying, "Good luck, good luck." I'm always intentionally choosing to say, "Have fun, have fun," because it's too easy for everything we do to become very outcome-driven and not playful. Even when we have hobbies and interests outside of our productive work, they still end up driven by this produce-achieve vibe. Our "play just to play" is so rare.

The cool thing about this is that nobody can really define play for you. What is play for you will not be play for someone else. The client that I was telling you about, she ended up finding a way to make her own metal detector. She was literally hunting treasure, and had a blast doing it. If I was trying to find steps on how to make my own metal detector, I would probably end up in tears because of my combination of working memory and difficulty following written directions!

What was playful for her would not have been playful for me. It's the same with puzzles. My sister and my husband love doing puzzles. That makes me very nervous. I can't do puzzles. I love art and creative pursuits, I enjoy the process. I usually am not super tough or critical on myself about the outcome. I usually just love the process of it and love creating.

Many of my friends have my same "puzzle reaction" to art pursuits and creative pursuits. It just is not their thing. It's not playful. No one can tell you what play is for you. Something that is play for you might be really different than what it is for somebody else.

That's the cool part of it, is that you get to define and decide what your play looks like. This is the process of this fun. I'm not saying that having outcome-driven play isn't great. Sometimes a lot of what I do is like that. A lot of what I do is meeting more than one need for me, more than one goal.

We do need some areas where there is no attached goal or outcome, where we're just enjoying, doing, playing, and having fun. Let's be honest, this becomes harder to pursue and find as adults.

In one of my group coaching sessions recently (I didn't even bring up the topic of play) we were all talking about what we were committing to do that week for ourselves and our goals. One of the group members was talking about taxes and getting some tax things done.

She just had this epiphany and she said, "I'm not having any fun!" It was like group mutiny. Everybody said, "Well, I'm not having fun," and, "Well, I'm not having fun either." Everybody was talking about how we weren't having fun, we weren't pursuing much fun.

It was this great discussion about play, fun, and what we could commit to during the week in terms of bringing that into our lives as well. It's not frivolous, we need to take care of ourselves.

We need to rest, and we need to play. These are important parts of recharging us for that productive part of our lives. I have a challenge for you, if you are willing to accept it; this week, think about play. Think about if it's in your life, or how it's in your life and if it's not there, work on adding it!


Interested in learning more about my group coaching program, Embrace Your Brain? Considering 1:1 coaching or have other questions for me? Please feel free to contact me here.

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