Do you think play is something we leave behind in childhood? Or something we do only occasionally in the company of children?  

Do you know what deep play means? Or that it can be one of the most important things we do? Because deep play improves creativity and productivity.

Let’s start with Play

I’m sure you can appreciate the benefits of a hobby?

It takes us away from the stresses of work and allows us to focus on something completely different, or to let our minds wander.  It acts as a diversion. And may also exercise our bodies. 

Yet do you consider your hobby as play?

Play (hobby) is voluntary, intrinsically rewarding, mentally (and physically) engaging, and imaginative.  It can be absorbing and feel effortless. Even when it’s physically challenging or uncomfortable, it doesn’t feel difficult in the same way as a hard day at work does.

What about Deep Play?

I was first exposed to the concept of deep play in Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s book “Rest (Why you get more done when you work less)”.  He stated that overwork is the new normal, and that resting is not really resting for most of us.  We don’t plan it as a deliberate practice in and of itself.

I wrote about this in my last article….

Deliberate rest improves our ability to do meaningful work, rather than simply being a means of escaping work.  It’s not simply the absence of work, which is how many of us view it!

Deep Play (a term popularised by the anthropologist, Clifford Geertz) is a form of deliberate rest, that both energises and relaxes.  

It’s now recognised that under the right conditions, hobbies and physical activities become deep play.  Activities that are rewarding on their own but take on additional layers of meaning and personal significance.

I realise that I’ve been involved in a form of deep play all my life - Irish dancing.

When I dance it takes total focus.  I can’t be thinking about other things, as it takes concentration to remember the steps, to coordinate my body and to place my feet correctly.  It’s physically engaging and mentally absorbing. It also fulfills the four features of deep play highlighted in Pang’s book.

The Four Features of Deep Play

#1.  Mentally absorbing

It offers challenges and problem solving.  And may give you the chance to learn new things, or discover things about yourself, that you wouldn’t in your work. 

For example, Irish dancing is physical, yet dance connects and engages all our intelligences. It offers me the perfect opportunity to tune into my body which has helped me tune into and trust my intuition more in my work.

#2.  Offers a new context in which to use the same skills you use in your work

If you enjoy using those skills at work, then it’s not surprising you’d enjoy using them in your leisure time too.  

For example, I teach a weekly Irish dance class to adults, so I’m a guide and coach at the dancing class. I offer support, encouragement and challenge, in the same way I do in my work.

#3.  Offers the same satisfaction as work, as well as different rewards

Due to changes in media, scale or pace.  

For example, being a business owner and coach requires me to collaborate with people, interact with different audiences, and make choices in interpretation and performance.  All similar to what’s required as a dancer and as a dance teacher.

On the other hand, Irish dancing offers unambiguous rules in terms of timing, how to hold your body, and where to place your feet.  And this differs to leading a business in uncertain times, where little is clear or set, and there are no right or wrong answers!    

#4.  Provides a living connection to your past

It may build on things you did with your parents.  Remind you of your childhood home or activities. Or in some way keep your link with the past alive.  

I got involved in Irish dancing initially because my Mum had danced and became a qualified teacher.  I got hooked straight away, established some great friendships, and visited lots of cities with family and friends. Some of whom are still friends fifty years later!

Deep play is as important for your work as it is for your rest or recreation time.

According to Pang, top performers think and talk about rest and recreation (in terms of a serious hobby), as connected to their work.  They consider it valuable to their creativity and productivity and therefore their careers, because it’s engaging, absorbing, and linked to work (rather than competing with it) by common interests, and shared passions.  

This, of course, is different to what many of us think…. that we’ll do better work simply by Doing more and not resting!

What this means for You

So what does learning about Deep Play (serious hobby) mean for you, and how you spend your time for maximum creativity and productivity?  

I encourage you to consider these questions...

  • Does the idea of incorporating more play and deep play into your life, appeal?
  • If so, what hobbies do you currently have, that you love, yet act more as a distraction or allow your mind to wander?  (I love walking and reading, and would put them in this category of Play.)
  • What do you already do that fits the category of serious hobby.  That’s totally absorbing and engaging? (Perhaps you climb, sail, write or play a musical instrument?  These would be Deep Play.)
  • What do you want to start or do more of?
  • How and when can you plan these activities into your daily or weekly schedule?
  • What does this mean you need to stop or do less of?

One last thought to leave you with.

Creative people don’t engage in deep play despite their high levels of activity and productivity.  They’re active and productive because of deep play!

If you'd like my help with becoming more productive and creative whilst at the same time enjoying some deep play (or even simply more play), check out my current programmes and services.

Image by Uwe Baumann from Pixabay