Achieving Your Dreams,  Health,  Lifestyle,  Motivation

The Importance of Play (As An Adult)

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I am what some people would call an overachiever. I always have 10 different projects that I’m working on and my days are usually packed full with commitments.

On one hand, I get a lot of things done. I’m really good at prioritizing my time. I am great at checking off things on my to do list. And I’m rarely bored.

I’m also usually really tired and stressed.

The danger of this busy lifestyle was first brought to my attention a few years back when I picked up a copy of Arianna Huffington’s (of Huffington Post fame) book Thrive. She started exploring the negative side effects of overachievement after she broke her cheekbone falling down a flight of stairs because of her exhausted state. I remember reading the book and recognizing myself in its pages.  I agreed with so many of her principles and was determined to put them into practice. But then, as time has passed, and without any real plan, I forgot or ignored most of them.

Until now. As I mentioned in a recent post, I am currently working my way The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Subtitled “A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” Cameron’s book is all about removing the blocks that hold back our creative impulses, whether they be art, music, writing, dance, or more. I picked up the book on a recommendation from a friend and have seriously been loving every moment of the 12-week process.

Well, almost every moment. One of the things that Cameron requires every week is an “artist date.” An artist date is, as she describes it:

“a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date in an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers.”

In short an artist date is a date with yourself. (In fact, one of the rules is that you can’t take anyone with you – which includes spouse, friends, or children.) It is taking an hour or two every week and spending quality time with yourself. The point is that as you spend this time with yourself – going to an art gallery, walking along the beach, watching an old movie – you learn how to listen better to your inner wants and needs.

I’ve been doing these artist dates for about a month now. They’ve ranged from visiting a few museums, to watching Bob Ross on Netflix, to wandering around Hobby Lobby. All of them have stemmed from the question “what sounds like fun today?” All of them have taught me the important of play as an adult. All have brought a feeling of refresh to my soul. And all of them have been extremely challenging to make happen.

Yes that is an elephant made out of walnuts.

Why challenging? Well, because there is a house to clean. And baby to take care of. And a husband to support. And, of course, a work project that needs my attention. There is always someone or something else to take care of which makes stealing away this time to do something, well, frivolous, seem like it should take a low place on my priority totem pole.

Except it’s not frivolous. As I’ve made the commitment each week to prioritize this moment of play, I have found that my stress levels have reduced, my ability to focus has increased, and my general sense of happiness has grown.

The crazy things you find when you’re out on a walk

Because there’s a funny thing about play. Whether it is sitting and drawing with my daughter’s crayons (an activity that I have been surprised to find I thoroughly enjoy) or listening to some music that I’ve had on my list for forever or watching Bob Ross talk about happy little accidents, I have felt my soul lighten.

What does that mean? Well…I have noticed that:

  • I feel better about myself (including all my problems)
  • I have discovered a ruthless need to remove the things and activities in my life that are merely filling (or wasting) my time
  • I have an increased desire to work on activities that bring me joy
  • I am more present when playing with my daughter
  • I have found myself starting to dream in big, wonderful, sometimes scary-yet-exhilarating ways
  • I sleep much better at night
Art made from willow trees.

I even, occasionally, find that I am bored. But instead of that being a bad thing, an emotion that has me reaching for my phone or the tv remote, I take a moment to really assess the answer to the question: “What do I want to do right now? What will make me happy?” And I am endlessly surprised by the answers.

So I pass the challenge on to you. Block out an hour or two this week where you can be by yourself and ask yourself this question: What could I do right now that would make me happy?” Then, no matter what the answer is, go and do it. Try it for a few weeks and let me know how it goes!

Now, of course, I recognize that coming up with an idea of what to do can actually be the trickiest part. If you’re struggling with that part, here are just a few to get you started. And don’t be afraid if your impulses lead you in a different direction!

  • Go to the aquarium
  • Take a long country walk
  • Eat at a new, ethnic, restaurant
  • Try on perfumes at a department store
  • Visit a florist and make yourself a bouquet of your favorite flowers
  • Color in a coloring book
  • Visit a craft shop

Want some more ideas? Sign up here to get my free full list of 33 ways to play today.

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Don’t forget to share your experiences (or your play ideas!) in the comments section below.

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43 Comments

  • Kristi @ Way Beyond The Norm

    What a great article! I love coloring. There have been many times my kids pull out their coloring books and I drop what I’m doing to color too. But I’d have never thought to visit a museum by myself. I’m always thinking of the kids when I want to do something like that. I might just have to go by myself one day.

    • Janine

      It is hard sometimes because I think, I want to share this experience with my daughter! But there’s something about taking that time for yourself. And I figure I can always bring her another time.

  • Brittany

    First of all, I LOVE that elephant made out of walnuts!!!
    It is so so important to spend time alone. I have come to this realization lately, and I never thought of it as “play.” It’s much more fun to think of it as play than as alone time! Having adult play time has allowed me to be more present and focused. Great article (and pictures!)

    • Janine

      Isn’t it amazing? I couldn’t stop staring at it. I like the shift from play to alone time as well. Alone time feels sad in a way. Play feels refreshing!

  • Sarah

    Love this!!
    It’s so easy to see intentional rest and creativity (outside of work) as a waste of time but it’s just as important for adults as it is for kids!
    Great post!

    • Janine

      Thanks! I think the trick is that it is mindful. Making a conscious choice to take an hour or two to do an activity that feeds your soul is much different than sitting around “killing” time.

  • Jen

    It’s so true! I recently wrote a similar article about kids needing adventure in their lives and parents need to set the example. Otherwise how do they learn all those lessons you mentioned above? Great article! I really liked it

    • Janine

      Thank you so much! I hope that my daughter learns how important it is to take that time for herself. And hopefully “my” adventures will lead to lots of “us” adventures!

  • Anna

    I really love this idea! I am definitely going to try it out. Just a couple time a week, just a time for myself. This sounds amazing. And I think it truly will benefit not only me but all my family. I can see that I will be able to have more desire to take care of them and be more present. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Janine

      You’re very welcome! I find that taking time for myself makes me a much better mom and wife because I have filled my well and therefore have more to give. Its a win win!

  • Nikki

    This article is point on! I myself sometimes forget to take a break from life. With my hubby traveling so much I tend to keep myself over busy; work, house, projects, favors, etc. But I absolutely get burned out. For myself I tend to like to take off for a walk or bike ride down to the ocean and just sit in the sand and do nothing. The ocean air does something to smooth your mind. I also sometimes grab a book and go to Panera, order soup and a sandwich and find a corner and sit, read and eat for an hour. It is recharging.

    • Janine

      I love this! When I’ve lived close to the ocean that has been my go too. I love to walk along the shore, especially in the quieter winter months. I really miss it right now living so far away.

  • Caitlin

    I believe this is the secret to life! My husband and I still feel like kids in our 30s and I hope we never grow up. The world has so much to offer if you’re open to it and it breaks my heart when people kill their creativity. Great post!

    • Janine

      That is so wonderful! I feel like I’m getting a little closer everyday and it makes me so happy! I hope you never lose it either.

  • Hollysbirdnest

    It’s amazing how many of us relate to being overachievers! Ever since I started my day by saying what I am grateful for I have noticed huge changes in my life! Grateful for this post!! Thank you!

  • Jenna

    Reading your first few paragraphs, I felt like you were describing me! This post is such a great reminder that we, as moms, need to take care of ourselves even if we are so busy it is hard to fit time in for it!

    • Janine

      Thank you so much! It seems like it’s a common issues amongst us bloggers, which I’m not really surprised about. I hope you have a fun play date this week!

  • Angela Greven

    Super article! So many great tips and I just adore this idea, especially being a Type A personality I can relate in many ways. I can’t imagine breaking a cheekbone due to utter exhaustion but I can totally see how it could happen. Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

  • Michele Vadnais

    Perfect timing! I literally spent 20 minutes telling my husband (in response to his “what’s on your mind” question) about the litany of things I need to get done in whatever spare time I can find. Not once did I mention time for myself…a play date! What a great idea!

  • Cindy

    I love Julia’s books! The Artist’s Dates are an amazing way to reconnect with the inner child…who wants to play and explore. Playing fosters creativity I’ve discovered and opens me up to new ideas.

  • Artsy Chow Roamer

    Janine,
    This was the greatest post! I so connected with it because I started my journey with a new blog, social platforms and learning a new way to play the piano after reading The Artists Way myself! I follow Julia on social and she continues to inspire me! I loved the picture of the mural on the building, the elephant and willow posts as well. I am a street art junkie and wrote a blog about it!

    I so realized how stressed I had become when I sat down in the middle of the floor and had a meltdown cry after a marathon 12 hour day and feeling like I had gotten nothing done. My husband was at a loss and I finally started laughing after I told Seri (after a tech issue on my phone) that she was full of shit and she responded with “Well that doesn’t sound good!” LMAO…..needless to say I realized I just needed to take a break from it all and just laugh! Thanks for letting me know I am not the only one who is stressed!
    Cheers,
    Artsy

    • Janine

      Thank you so much for sharing this! I relate on so many levels (and I love your Siri story). I hope that things have gotten better for you and that you are finding ways to destress.

  • Dennis Alongi

    Great post!! It’s so hard to take time for yourself. However, it’s so important. It should be a top priority!!

  • T.M. Brown

    Oh, do I need this. I’m a workaholic and always feel as if I need to be pushing forward in order to succeed. I need to take those moments to breathe and find something fun to do, something that gives me more joy or a different kind of joy. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Nicki

    I have been thinking for a while now that I need to start prioritizing some “me time”. Thank you for sharing. Perhaps this is the motivation I need!

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