Executive Vitality™: Play Builds Your Brain

Executive Vitality™: Play Builds Your BrainEven during a crisis, we need to play … whatever that means to you. Play is a necessary contributor to success and to your personal health. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Life is too short.

We will all inevitably face personal crises and professional and/or organizational crises in our lives. We cannot plan them or prevent them, but we can think about how to weather them and come out on the other side strong enough to be healthy and relaxed, and to shine professionally.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately both because of some events occurring to people dear to me and also to people with whom I work as an executive coach. I have seen leaders struggle with “how can I ‘play’ when I feel my world is crumbling around me?”  I would like to suggest that if we don’t give ourselves a chance to play, whatever the crisis is, it may get the better of us.

There is research that backs up the value of play. Edward Hallowell, MD wrote in Harvard Business Review What Brain Science Tells us about How to Excel:  “We know from neuroscience that play builds your brain. It stimulates … nerve growth. Play engages … helps regulate emotions. In addition, it has a beneficial effect on the prefrontal cortex, which regulates executive functions such as planning, organizing, prioritizing, deciding, scheduling, anticipating, delegating, analyzing—in short, most of the skills you need to excel in business.”

That is very scientific, but it is also compelling. To summarize: Play builds your brain. It helps you function better.

When do you feel on top of your game, both on the job and in your personal life?  I bet it is when you are having fun. If you are in a job that is the wrong one for you, if you have tasks you have been putting off and now you have no choice, if you don’t really want to get out of bed and go into the office, none of that is fun.

Play can be used to lighten a moment, get you or others to shift perspective, promote renewal and resilience, handle relationships better. In short, be happier and more productive.  Try introducing some play into your day:

  • The next time you feel a situation is hopeless, go play – whatever that is for you. You will come back to whatever the problem is with a renewed focus and perspective.
  • Ensure you have play on a regular basis (weekly) built into your schedule. This is the preventative approach.
  • Life is hard sometimes for us all and those we care about. There are times to face those times with great seriousness and sobriety and there are times to lighten the moment and focus on lightening the moment with play. Think about which is which and when play can be introduced.

When did you last feel like you were playing? How did you feel afterwards?  What can you do to ensure you do not forget to play?

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