Do you remember a time when you were young when you would go outside and play? Maybe you ran through the forest, climbed trees, traversed monkey bars like your favorite cartoon hero or swung as high in a swing imagining that you were flying like your favorite super hero? Well I sure do. During those times nothing else mattered and we were totally 100% immersed in the present moment. We noticed the smell of the tree we were climbing and the rustling of the leaves in the tree. We squinted our eyes and smiled as the wind whisked over our face on the swing set. In those moments we were free and in those moments we were completely happy. We didn’t need music to motivate us to run, we didn’t have a watch to monitor our heart rate on the swing or pace us as we ran around parks or through the woods. We simply desired to go outside and play. It was fun and that is why we loved it.
Unfortunately, as we grew up, we became busy with work, family, deadlines, bills, etc. etc. Our daily play transformed into sitting in meetings, not sleeping enough, eating a pour diet, and a life filled with stress, A LOT of caffeine, and “no time” for much else. All of a sudden our desire to play turned into our need to “workout”. However we didn’t workout because it was fun, we worked out because we were overweight and unhealthy. Now our play has turned into a job/chore. Something we need to do for our health, not so much because we want to. We forgot how to play.
Or maybe you were an athlete all of your life. Still, your once free and happy play was transformed into constant performance goals and competition. You ate, breathed, and slept competition, goal times, races, etc. You are still very active but you too have traded in your free happy play for endless strava updates, run split times, obsession on hitting a certain pace, or finishing in the top of your age group. Every workout is goal focused and you dare not attempt a training session without your “Get It” play list jamming. You wake up hours before dawn, exhausted, to get your training in before heading off for 12+ hours of work. You miss out on social gatherings or dates with your spouse and/or children because you “have to get your training session in”. You too have forgotten how to play. I am not saying there is anything wrong with being competitive or wanting to do your best in a workout or race. Quite the contrary. I LOVE competition. However, I know that too much of this type of training can lead to burnout, injury, and a complete lack of desire to do what we once loved. We have become too obsessed/focused on numbers and goals. We have forgotten how to play.
I noticed this in myself a while back and I have noticed it in my athletes and non-athlete clients over the years. For me, my race training workouts started feeling more like a job than something I enjoyed. I trained because I had a race goal ahead but I didn’t enjoy the training. I was obsessed with power and heart rate numbers on my bike sessions. I constantly checked my watch during my runs for pace and heart rate data. I was completely oblivious to my surroundings. I trained like it was a job and I began to dread the workouts. I felt the need to do something fun. Something that I enjoyed doing simply for the sake of doing it. So I decided I would set my GPS watch to the side, go outside, pick an activity that I wanted to do just for fun and go play. So one morning I packed my kayak on the top of my jeep, drove to a local lake as the sun was rising, hopped in and paddled up the creek that fed the lake and just explored. I was careful to listen to my paddle brush across the water. I watched the swirls as each stroke passed from the bow to the stern of the kayak. I looked at the deep green and bright green variations of the leaves on the trees that I passed under and by. I listened to the birds and to the breeze. I immersed myself in my play and was totally lost in my play. Before I knew it an hour and a half had passed and I didn’t even realize it.
Now before you get the impression that I have now turned into a nature loving meditation dude that get’s lost in his thoughts let me assure you, I still train hard, I still put on my headphones and jam some loud ass music to motivate me through a hard session or set. I yell, sweat like hell and sometimes limp away from sessions. The difference is now I balance my hard sessions with play. Maybe it’s a fun mountain bike, maybe it was a run through the neighborhood observing the sound and rhythm of my steps and checking out the architecture and landscaping of the houses. I will also go ride my skateboard at a local skate park. It’s whatever I FEEL drawn to do. No watches to monitor my pace, power, vertical osscilation, etc. Just me going out to play. This brings me balance and it helps me keep the drive to train hard for my races. Remember, we have enough going on in life. We don’t need another “job” of training. What we need is the ability to release from our stress, and troubles. We need to smile and remember what it was like to be that happy kid on the swing set with wind whipping through our hair.
How does this benefit you? Glad you asked ☺. When we are active at play, are happy, smiling, and immersed in our activity our brains and nervous system release hormones known as endorphins. Endorphins give us a feeling/sensation of pleasure. This helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Playing and being happy has also been shown in studies to not only reduce stress but it can also strengthen immune function and help fight off disease.
So here’s your assignment.
1- Think of some activity you love or loved to do
2- If it requires buying equipment i.e. a skateboard ☺, go do that. However your activity could be just going for a walk or wandering through a park.
3- Schedule a time when you are not rushed to either start or finish
4- GO PLAY. While your playing take note and observe your surroundings. Absolutely immerse yourself in your activity.
5- While you are at play, smile, be happy, and think of 3 things in your life that you are grateful for. This will have a huge impact on your enjoyment of your activity.
***Note: Remember there is ZERO pressure or need to perform. If you want to run, ride, etc. hard and get your heart rate up and sweat, then go for it. If you want to just chill and be outside, that is perfect as well***
That’s it! Pick one activity a week and do it for 4 weeks. I guarantee you will be happier for it ☺.