5 ways to prioritize play

Tired? Disenchanted? Feeling disconnected from your work, your family, your friends…the person you used to be before the COVID-19 pandemic started and your world shrunk to the size of your living room?

There’s a solution at hand, but it might not be what you think. It’s not about eating well or getting more exercise or talking to a therapist. There’s no doubt that each of those things has its place in helping us be healthy, well-rounded individuals, but when it comes to re-centring yourself, there’s something that we’re all too likely to miss out on these days: play.

And no, we don’t mean pandemic-style play. No more “well, what else are we going to do?” 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles. No Zoom trivia nights or FaceTime Yahtzee. We mean the kind of play that lets you get into the zone – bringing a deep sense of engagement, satisfaction and, yes, even joy into your life.

It’s time to get a hobby.

Research shows that having a hobby – or several – can help improve your mental health, find balance with your work commitments and stimulate your brain, building new neural connections and further developing your ability to focus. Focusing on your hobby can open you up to new experiences and social connections, all things that better health and well-being as you age. In addition, having hobbies can also help your cardiovascular health. Taken together, it all means that working on a hobby can help you foster your well-being and become more resilient.

Right. So where to start?

Take some time
Make a cup of tea or coffee, grab a sheet of paper and a pen, and do some daydreaming. Think about things that you’d like to make, do or learn, plus activities that you used to enjoy but haven’t been working on lately. Maybe your inner nine-year-old loves stamp collecting, or the pandemic put a stop to your weekly pottery class. What would you love to revisit?

Choose carefully
Next, take some time to narrow down your list to two or three pursuits that you think would be a good fit for your current lifestyle. (If you’re living in a tiny condo, you probably won’t be taking up sculpting tree stumps with chainsaws, for instance.) Think about how much time and money you want to invest – there are lots of hobbies that you can do in 15 minutes a day, with materials that you already have or that are easy to find second-hand. Gather your materials and put them somewhere where they’re easy to see – on a shelf in your living room or in a basket on your desk, for example.

Go with the flow
This is not necessarily the time to pick up that same old hobby you’ve been picking away at for years. A big part of the satisfaction that comes from play comes from “being in the zone” or entering “a state of flow” – and that doesn’t necessarily come from doing something that is so easy that it’s second nature. When psychologists talk about a “flow state” they are referring to being engaged in a task that takes intense focus, a merging of action and awareness, a loss of reflective self-consciousness, a sense of personal agency, a distortion of time, and experience of the activity as rewarding in itself. In other words, if you’re an experienced knitter, working on a basic scarf while you binge yet another TV show isn’t going to cut it. It might be time to experiment with embroidery, learn to garden or try tying flies instead.

Make a commitment
To get back into the swing of things, try making a commitment to yourself to work on your hobby every day for 10 or 15 minutes. It’s less about making huge leaps of progress and more about honouring the commitment you’ve made to yourself. (That said, it’s amazing how much you can do if you chip away at something.) Try committing to a project for a month – like Canadian quilter Cheryl Arkison does with her “Morning Make” projects – or take the plunge and start a 100-day project.

Don’t be afraid to fail
As we get older, it’s harder to learn new things – but failure is an important part of the learning process. If you miss a day of your 100-day project or make a tea pot that looks more like a chamber pot, don’t be discouraged – it’s all part of the process. Keep trying!

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