Use Play to Achieve Mastery in Your Practice

by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA

“Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.” Who do you think said this quote? A lazy college student brushing off work? An amateur athlete who doesn’t take things seriously?

It's NBA Superstar Michael Jordan who “played” his way to become the most decorated athlete in the history of the NBA. While he is famously competitive, according to his father, he most loved to outdo himself. Competing with yourself is a form of play. What if you transformed your practice from work, work, work…to play, play, play?

“If anyone goes without play for too long, grinding out the work that is expected of them, they will at some point look at their lives and ask…is this all there is?” writes author and psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD, in his book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. Often, financial advisors turn to quick fixes to address the side effects of not playing—buy a new car or tech gadget, move into bigger house or dine out in search of happiness. While enjoying some of the material pleasures of life is usually harmless, it is eventually and always empty. The path back to authentic happiness is something you knew as a child…play!

Most of us have long forgotten the sense of play we had as a child, though it is still in us as adults. So let’s start with answering the question—what the heck is play?

    • Purposeless (done for its own sake)

    • Voluntary

    • Inherent attraction (it’s fun!)

    • Freedom from time

    • Diminished consciousness of self (you lose yourself in the moment)

    • Improvisational potential (can allow us to find new ways of problem-solving)

    • Continuation desire (you want to do more!)

    (Source: Brown)

Here’s how to invite play back into your life:

1) Reflect on your life and think of things that you have done in the past that caused you to lose track of time in a place of pure joy. Visualize those moments. 2) How did you feel while you were playing? Commit this sensation to memory. It will help to guide you back to a more playful way of living. 3) Next, find activities that allow you to experience this feeling again. For example, if as a child you enjoyed building forts, playing kick the can, looking at the stars and playing in sandboxes what are some applications in adulthood? How about refinishing an antique in a wood shop, taking up a new sport, visiting an observatory or taking up gardening? 

4) Try it! This summer, head out an hour early on Fridays to go “play.” Put it right on your schedule and do it.

Why play?

Brown compares the necessity of play to oxygen. Play is pleasurable, energizing, stress relieving and it opens up ideas and possibilities. Even more powerful, play is a biological process that changes our brains. It is believed to enhance emotional intelligence, increase empathy and promote social connection. Play is, “probably [one of] the most important factors in being a fulfilled human begin. The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person,” writes Brown.

In my experience of coaching Northwestern Mutual advisors across the country, the ones who play seem to discover how to take their practices in a new level. “I can’t explain how it’s happening really, but I am working less and producing more,” describes one client who recently returned to his love of playing in the water through taking up wake boarding.

“When people are able to find that sense of play in their work, they become truly powerful figures,” writes Brown. Try taking a page from Michael Jordan’s book and play your way to greatness.