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[00:00:00] Mark Steadman: More than in any of the other episodes, the other, what, 15 we've done so far. This is the one that I get the feeling that I am about to sit at a seminar and I work for, I work for a company and I'm, I'm tolerating it because I'm basically getting the afternoon off.

[00:00:23] The reason being that we're going to the, the subject matter feels like one of those where you get some wacky people come in. And come and tell you how about how this thing No, it's, it's really important. Yeah. Because, uh, if you're gonna, if you're gonna meet those deliverables we've just gotta find more playful ways of doing it. Guys, you know, let's, let's all go round the circle and let's just laugh. Let's just have a laugh.


[00:00:52] Mark Steadman: Welcome to the A to Z of Happiness with Anya Pearse and me Mark Steadman. Join us as we unpack the science of happiness one letter at a time. This week it's P for play.

[00:01:08] Fake, fake, faux, uh, performative cynicism aside, Anya, we're talking about play. I'm delighted to be talking about play, but why are we talking about play, please?

[00:01:20] Anya: There are certain topics and certain ideas that come to our mind when we think about Happiness and, you know, the sense of feeling, feeling good, feeling lighthearted, feeling like we're doing things, which mean that time passes without us noticing.

[00:01:37] These are all things which I associate with play. And, you know, I love this quote by Dr. JT Brown, the author of Play, how it Shapes the Brain, opens the Imagination, invigorates the Soul. He says The opposite of play isn't work. The opposite of play is depression. There's so much, you know, the World Health Organization sends out these, you know, regular reports talking about how depression is one of the, if one of, if not the greatest sources of disability in the world right now. And so being able to recognize that, you know, play is something that's useful. I mean, there's a lovely story from his book when he talks about the Caltech Jet Propulsion Lab and trying to find engineers to deal with the problems and all these newly hired ones where like could understand the theories of stuff and, you know, and tease out the, but they couldn't really tease out the critical elements and, and put them together in new ways until, you know, and he realized when he met Nate Jones, who ran a Precision machine shop for, for Formula One racing, actually.

[00:02:45] That the 'cause he had the same problem with his recruits and it actually lay in how those engineers played as children. 'cause the ones who actually played with, you know, used their hands when playing, when growing up were able to see solutions that those who hadn't, couldn't, you know, the, they could play with ideas the way they played with taking things apart and then putting them back together again.

[00:03:09] And so it's this kind of, it feels to me like in this world where there are more problems than there are ready solutions, being able to take things apart and manipulate them in the positive sense to, to, to re-experience them, to find new ways, new avenues into understanding them is really, really helpful.

[00:03:34] And it's, you know, this isn't like new stuff, you know, this is one of the things that we are inherently born with. And when I was doing some research with this, I discovered Jack Pan's, uh, research. He's a neuroscientist, and he suggested there are, they've been born with these seven primary process emotional systems, you know, and that including things like seeking lust care, panic slash grief, rage and fear and play is amongst them.

[00:04:02] You know, this is something, you know, one of our emotional systems is actually built around this. This is, you know, our inheritance, our, our innate capacity. And you know, I love how the National Institute of Play actually has like these key neuroscience findings. You know, this is why I'm starting heavy with a neuroscience be purely because I think that we often think that play is, um. It needs to be justified. It doesn't lead to anything. It's, it's useless. But, you know, there's, there's this idea. They talk about these different key findings. You know, it is part, it's part of the neurobiology of all mammals and, you know, you won't be able to see this unless, unless you're watching the video.

[00:04:51] But there's a cat right now trying to play with Mark. I kid you not,

[00:04:56] Mark Steadman: And he's a very,

[00:04:57] Anya: his name is Roski. Come, come and say hello.

[00:05:00] Mark Steadman: positively vibrating, uh, with, with the, uh, with the things that he's got to say and the things that he wants to do. Uh, and yes, he um, he definitely wants my attention. He definitely wants to play and I don't play with him enough. Is is the honest truth.

[00:05:14] Anya: know, and with these, these, these, these circuits are crucial, the wiring of the cortex, the upper part of the brain in the, in the, in the early years. And I think, you know, with, with pets and with animals, they're a wonderful way to encourage us to play more because they take us back that, you know, an adult cat is

[00:05:31] Mark Steadman: Than I am

[00:05:31] Anya: to

[00:05:31] Mark Steadman: certainly.

[00:05:32] Anya: kitten, really. But then they also bring out in us that that childlike nature, that ability, that, that justification to play. You know? And it is remarkable that, you know, the, one of the findings that they offer is that inadequate play, you know, not having enough in our lives and that this is as children and as adults, can lead to depression and interfere with not just our social, uh, learning, but also our emotional development as well.

[00:06:01] Because, you know, one of the things which I'm, I. if you are a casual listen to this, you might not have heard me bang on about it for like a minute two, but polyvagal theory, you know, it's this way of being able to experience threat, you know, having this activation sense, but you're in connection with others, in connection with another. And so we can actually learn and experience aspects of

[00:06:31] Mark Steadman: Yeah. I guess a lot play has to involve

[00:06:34] Anya: is,

[00:06:35] Mark Steadman: things not necessarily working out or getting things wrong. You know, if you think about even something like doing a jigsaw, you have to contend with the fact that not every piece you pick up is going to be the, unless you've met incredible odds not every piece you pick up is suddenly gonna slot in.

[00:06:50] And so you are learning how to navigate around that to go, okay, that didn't work. What if I try this? And I imagine there's, there's gotta be a development aspect to that, that, that, you know, that's one of the reasons, surely it's gotta be necessary.

[00:07:05] Anya: Yes. And, and not just for all, for all um, and animals, really, but actually it's, it's funny when you're talking, you are making me think. 'cause I know that one of your loves is improvisation. I think, you know that for me always, I always, as someone who hasn't really improvised, I always think of it as being a primary way of experiencing play.

[00:07:26] You know, you create the container, create the, the context you can deal with perhaps, or, or come up with unexpected things which you might find challenging, perhaps outside of that arena. But there's this, this shared agreement and you know, each other, you know, you've

[00:07:41] Mark Steadman: Oh, absolutely. Yeah,

[00:07:42] completely. I can't remember if, if we've talked about this as the curse of the podcast. I can't remember if we've talked about this on previous episodes or just as people, uh, but one of the things that I was really taken with, one of the reasons I think I, I took to it, uh, and, and really enjoyed the, the form is that you get to make up the rules.

[00:08:01] You get to, if you accidentally call your scene dad they are now your dad. And that's fine. There's no, no one's, no one's looking at you poking at you going, oh, you called her dad. Like, that's not happening. That's just what the reality of the world is now. And so, you know, if you have a bit of social awkwardness, uh, or a lot of social awkwardness, uh, about you.

[00:08:22] The ability to go up on stage and for, for you to, to kind of not be able to make a mistake in a sense, or certainly, you know, the, the idea of the social faux part, it just becomes either part of the world and that's how everybody behaves. Or it becomes fodder, you know, it becomes content and there are aspects of that that you can, I think, take through to life to just go, eh, it's just, it's just grist for the mill.

[00:08:46] It's just, it's just, you know, it's just more stuff that we can play with. Because as an improviser, you are always looking for this idea of a game of the scene. You're always looking for the unusual thing, the unusual bit of behavior that you can then iterate on. And so what improvisation can teach you is the ability to spot that in yourself and spot that in others, and go, I just said a word weird.

[00:09:07] I'm gonna double down on that now. And I've just decided, that's how I say that word from now on. And everybody can, can get in and have a laugh on that rather than going, oh, you know, I'm, I'm live on stage. And I said the word wrong. It's like, you know. Case in point and, and, and we, we have to move on 'cause we've got so much.

[00:09:22] If I think about the talk that I did, uh, that, that you, uh, very kindly attended my mic literally fell off as we were talking and that got, you know, I was able to turn that into a, a, a moment and call it a mic drop and all these, you know, because I'd been equipped, I'd been far more embarrassed on stage doing improv.

[00:09:40] And, you know, so I was prepared for a little bit of, you know, of, of, of that to, to have something in my back pocket. And it's not like you've got these stored away somewhere, but the synapses or the, the neural pathways are kind of, are kind of there. And yes, play is the absolute rehearsal for that.

[00:09:58] Anya: And as, as you've been talking, like the image and the word of, uh, uh, Play-Doh has been coming to my mind actually. And you know, bear, bear with me for like 30 seconds while I go off on a limb on this.

[00:10:11] Mark Steadman: so salty.

[00:10:12] Anya: But it's the idea of going back to one of my favorite book Will's stores, uh, the Science of Storytelling. And he talks about how when we are until like late adolescence. We are building our picture of the world inside us in that the different rules, whatever. Once we get to a certain age though, we become world defenders.

[00:10:34] And so we end up rejecting data and information and narratives that don't, uh, or confirm the story, the map of the world that we have created. As you are talking, I'm linking this to my idea of Play-Doh in, is the fact that we can feel that things are very set and hard made of Lego, like block bricks.

[00:10:56] And so, you know, to get to a certain point, I need to put this brick on this brick on this brick, and there's a certain amount of creativity in that, but the b the bricks themselves are hard and solid and fixed. Whereas what you are introducing now is the idea of these things. Everything can soften into Play-Doh.

[00:11:13] So yes, you can make Lego bricks outta Playdough and I think they'd be pretty rubbish. but the fact that you are bringing in this sense of malleability of our reality, I think that is an interesting aspect and an interesting concept just to play with. I

[00:11:31] mean, we've just talked about some very concrete examples about how play can benefit us that we've, we've experienced or you've experienced. But, you know, ju just a little one to end, end on the science of this, you know, about how it can benefit us. And these are things which research is pointed to.

[00:11:47] You know, it relieves stress through releasing endorphins. You know, endorphins, one of the happy chemicals that, uh, along with the oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine tend to be associated with giving us a pleasant, a pleasant feeling of being human. It also improves brain function. There's some suggestion that it even may, uh, possibly delay Alzheimer's.

[00:12:10] Which I think is a remarkable thing and, you know, helps us to learn. I think, you know, your thing with the jigsaw puzzle going, oh, that doesn't quite fit. Or maybe this one, or this, whatever. Being able to do this trial and error aspect. But also, you know, I mentioned the, the, uh, polyvagal stuff earlier on.

[00:12:28] My, my favorite thing when we are in a state where our nervous system is parasympathetic, where we are quite calm, quite relaxed or engaged, we are more open to, to learning. Now we are able to, to understand more and to retain more in our memory. And then, you know, I think we've already touched on this idea of, you know, uh, stimulating new ideas and new pro thinking and problem solving.

[00:12:55] But I think it's not just like physical problems out in the world. The idea of healing emotional wounds through new, positive, safe experiences. I think, you know, again, this, it's this thing of being able to test the water on things and be able to experience them in a container which allows us to just, just down regulate, just feel a little bit safer, a little bit better, a little bit more open to experience.

[00:13:25] And, you know, through that, that's, that's improves our relationships and our connections. You know, there's a lovely book by Barbara Frederickson called um, love 2.0, which talks about these micro moments of connection, you know, and I love that. One of the things, and I don't get out, I don't get out much anymore, you know, due to health reasons.

[00:13:44] Um, But one of the things, you know, when I do go out meeting dog owners when I go for a little, little walk or whatever, just having. A playful conversation. It'd just be a little eye flash. You know, you look at the dog, then you re register. There's actually an owner nearby as well. And it's just makes this moment of I see you, which I think so many of us, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, can certainly have more of in our lives.

[00:14:15] I think a lot of us though, as while we as a whole may not be completely unseen, I think we tend to have, and maybe I'm spit balling on this, and the aspects of ourselves that might not be witnessed by others. And I think being involved in play can allow some of those aspects to come out. And you know, it help and as you put out, pointed out about your talk and the literal mic drop and your microphone fell off, you know, it helps us to function under difficulties, you know, bringing this perspective, bringing this humor, which brings us this little bit of.

[00:14:49] Respite. You know, I think that it, it's, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that a lot of us are feeling tired or exhausted or emotional overwhelmed we got world fatigue. Yeah. Yeah. And so being able to have these oasis in our lives, these little moments of play and, and, and respite,

[00:15:16] quite frankly,

[00:15:18] Mark Steadman: needed.

[00:15:19] Anya: Mm-Hmm

[00:15:19] Mark Steadman: the other for anyone who may struggle with justifying play. I'm thinking of play in terms of practice,

[00:15:30] Anya: mm-Hmm.

[00:15:31] Mark Steadman: a couple of things that we've, that we've talked about here is it's, it can be practice for certain situations that might be, uh, you know, there's a call, you know, talk about role playing, um, as a way of, you often in training we, we do role play.

[00:15:47] Um, But I think also whether it's improv, I mean, I'm, I'm starting a standup course next, uh, next year, uh, early year, which, which will be another way of playing, um, obviously, but another way of practicing, you know, for me the improv thing was about practicing my ability to, for my brain to be a little bit more um, have a bit more neuroplasticity, quicker, think around corners.

[00:16:08] Um, But play in lots of other ways is an opportunity for us to, I think, practice a social situation or practice a, a particular problem. Because as you talked about, it's in that safe container. It's in that safe space where. If you do get it wrong, you know, just like a video game, worst thing that happens is you lose a

[00:16:28] Anya: Absolutely. And so this kind of like, you know, there were so many. Benefits to play, which kind of takes me to the first prompt, you know, what's stopping you from playing? And, you know, again, go, go. Going back to my guru on this, uh, Dr. Stewart Brown, he suggests that, you know, play itself. You know, let's, let's, let's, let's get some language around what play means.

[00:16:51] And so, you know, these are the seven properties. He suggests that, you know, one, it's apparently purposeless, you know, and done for its own sake, rather than for survival, food, money, or something practical, which is why I think a lot of people don't wanna do it.

[00:17:05] Mark Steadman: Yep.

[00:17:07] Anya: sO you mentioned about the seminar. This, uh, like the beginning of this, you know, and, and on the contrary, you know, play is voluntary, you know, it's not obligatory or required by duty.

[00:17:16] You know, we've got a choice in it. We, we can decide

[00:17:19] to do it on our own volition. And

[00:17:21] Mark Steadman: But of course if you do not attend the seminar,

[00:17:24] then

[00:17:24] uh,

[00:17:24] Anya: You will, you will indeed and also miss out on the donuts they inevitably will bring at the

[00:17:28] end, And which is quite, this is the bribe.

[00:17:31] Mark Steadman: And if you're

[00:17:32] Anya: Now we all want to be validated. And so, yeah, so now another thing that, that, uh, Dr. Stewart Brown suggests is, is, uh, a property of play is the fact that it has an inherent attraction to it. You know, it's fun and it makes you feel good. Another one is it offers freedom from time. I think I, I dunno about you, but I've been looking at my schedule for this ha

[00:18:00] and, and everything I know, and I know everything takes me twice as long as I think it's going to take as well, so I'm buggered. Um, And so, you know, during the, you know, when we're playing, we lose a sense of time passing and then perhaps feel less self-conscious, you know, stop worrying and thinking and find, find flow as, as, as is put by um, HAI.

[00:18:22] And then, you know, uh, interestingly enough, you know, mentioning the improvisation thing, you know, he suggest that one of the properties is that it has the potential for improvisation. We're open to serendipity and chance, and I think it's the having this open awareness of what is available to us and what is around us and what is before us, I think particularly because in, did we get applied? If I say polyvagal theory three times, is that or

[00:18:49] Mark Steadman: Oh sure.

[00:18:50] Anya: oh, is it like a drinking game now for the listener? Uh, each time I say polyvagal theory, you have to have a sip of tea and or something stronger. Um, But when we are in the threat zone, we had developed something called foveal vision, which means that instead of being aware of the periphery of our site, we are very focused on what's directly in front of us.

[00:19:13] And I think, you know, when we think about, like blinkered thinking, it's, it's, it's not just metaphorical. It can come to us, you know, in, in a very literal sense like that. And so being able to be open to serendipity and chance to these things which didn't Darren Brown do something like this of teaching people to be lucky and one of his programs

[00:19:41] Mark Steadman: That sounds about right.

[00:19:43] Anya: Yeah, I mean, I think this is, like, I've heard it like maybe third hand from this, but this idea of, 'cause this guy kept on saying how un, how unlucky he was and Darren Brown was like placing these like 50 pound notes on the pavement in front of him and he never spotted

[00:19:57] Mark Steadman: Mm-Hmm.

[00:19:58] Anya: Something ridiculous like that.

[00:20:01] And so often, you know, again, going back to the will store thing, we have a map of the world and we defend it and we unconsciously block out information that contradicts it. And so, again, which is why I think, you know, play is so important. And then last but not least, of these, these seven properties, we wanna keep doing it.

[00:20:24] You know, this is why in, in your, in your puff piece at the beginning, you're talking about being in that seminar and going, Hey, let's look, let's find a playful way to, uh, to, to, to, to, to do this. Guys can, like, it's, it's because, you know, we want to. Is there is so much of being an adult that sucks and you don't want to do, and so actually having things that you actively have innate inner motivation to do is really, really

[00:20:53] helpful.

[00:20:54] Mark Steadman: uh, yes, I was thinking about that earlier of, uh, uh, many of us, uh, perhaps you listening, uh, have some degree of autonomy over our lives in terms of what we do. Um, And, and there's some inherent risk there as well. But if you are in at a point where you are thinking about what you wanna do, are those moments where you just find that you are, you are losing time and you are enjoying, you know, even, even if there's, there's aspects of, of work that feels very capital w work, um, what are those moments where you actually go, oh, you know, this bit here, I always look forward to, or, this bit always feels a bit fun, or I, I don't care if I get it wrong.

[00:21:28] And it feels like that's a nice thing to navigate towards.

[00:21:30] Anya: Yeah.

[00:21:31] Yeah, absolutely. And I know that you know, you are moving into, I mean, I, I, I'm loving having this conversation with you because I know that you're now, you know, you are a creativity coach and so, you know, using these things and guiding people towards you, the things that spark this kind of energy is, is surely no part of what you're doing.

[00:21:52] Mark Steadman: Yes, it's permission, and some scaffolding as well. but yes, absolutely. So, uh, what's, what's stopping us from playing then? Any,

[00:22:01] Anya: Well I think, you know, we've touched on a lot of them already. You know, when, you know, we forget to, because there's so many, I. Demands on us. You know, we are world

[00:22:11] wary. We're, we're up to here, she says, indicating six inches above her head with

[00:22:17] world.

[00:22:19] Mark Steadman: I, and I will refer you back to, I ain't got time to go to enough stones. He's not well again, ha.

[00:22:28] Anya: when, you know, but like when I was mentioning like the properties of how, you know, we do it, you know, it is apparently purposeless. when, when you are stretched for time doing something that you don't see any purpose in, even if it'll be benefit of benefit to you. Actually, this is why, again, I, I, I went with the science and there's gonna be, there's a ton of

[00:22:47] links. Oh my, there's like a, a, a co,

[00:22:50] Mark Steadman: them.

[00:22:50] Anya: a cornucopia of, of things to click on, uh, in the show notes for this. Just to, so you know, like there's, there's, there's science behind all of this

[00:22:58] Mark Steadman: Mm-Hmm.

[00:22:59] Anya: And then. I think one of the other things that we, that can block us is to be quite honest, we forget how to, I, you know, I'm, I'm, I sound a fairly cheerful soul, but I have had my, my moments and not a good way.

[00:23:17] Um, And gosh, I'm trying to, it must be 20 years ago now when I was going to the doctors and with, with, you know, depressive symptoms and being diagnosed with anhedonia, which was an inability to experience pleasure and, being asked by the doctor, what do you, what do you enjoy doing? And being, finding it a real struggle to answer actually.

[00:23:43] And when we have been caught up so much in, in surviving. I think that's the thing, you know, and I'm not gonna get on my, on my soapbox too much, I'll just put a toe on it. But, you know, the modern society, the fact that it very often exhausts you so much that all you can do is participate in it further, to numb the exhaustion and the overwhelm.

[00:24:14] That's a fe, that's a feature, not a bug.

[00:24:17] Mark Steadman: Sing it. Sister

[00:24:19] Anya: and then, you know, when we are drowning in all these adult responsibilities, it's very easy, easy to dismiss, play as something immature or useless. It's just for children, be, stop being so childish that yeah. Grow up, you know? Oh. Uh, and, and, and it's so easy to internalize these things as well.

[00:24:44] I am at, at a point with a couple of projects now, and I'm ha and I can feel myself occasionally going, oh shit, I need to be a grownup now. You know? I am. So one of the stories I tell myself is, I'm just the toddlers in a trench quote, pretending brackets, badly closed brackets. You know, it's like, it's

[00:25:03] like when the Muppets do a thing where they're trying to get into like a, a fancy restaurant and then you can like see

[00:25:08] Mark Steadman: Hey, Mr.

[00:25:10] Anya: it's like curb, it's p poking.

[00:25:12] Why is Kermit at the top of those things? I know he's the leader, but he's a frog. He looks the least.

[00:25:17] Mark Steadman: He looks at least like a, like a humanoid.

[00:25:19] Anya: Yeah. But then, you know, you get fozzy poking his head out as well. Like he's on, he's underneath it. It's, it's that kind of thing. And so being able to. Accept. And as you just mentioned, now we know in, in your coaching work, giving people permission for this.

[00:25:33] And this is why I'm, you know, I, I've put a lot of detail into this particular podcast because I too want to help people explore or understand there is scaffolding for this if they want to explore it further. And then, you know, because very often we feel like we need an excuse, you mentioned it earlier on, we need to justify why we are, you know, playing and, and so that we don't have to worry about what other people think.

[00:26:01] And then, you know, one of the things which I think is really interesting, you know, talking about the improvisation and you were saying how you can't, can't really make a mistake. I think there are some aspects of play that I. Gravitate towards and some, which make me feel very anxious because there is this fear of, oh, I need to do that perfectly.

[00:26:25] You know, this is why I keep talking to you about improvisation. 'cause I know that I would enjoy it, but I'm still a bit scared

[00:26:29] Mark Steadman: Mm-Hmm.

[00:26:31] Anya: and it's because of this fear of not doing it right. Which kind of like ties into this thing of, you know, rediscovering or uncovering the ways of play that, that really work for us.

[00:26:44] You know, if we're gonna see or create opportunities for play in our lives, really need to know what, what suits us, what fits us, what allows us to relax and fully be ourselves and ask and access that inner child that is just, just waiting to get out.

[00:27:04] Mark Steadman: Well, that sounds like it brings us neatly to, uh, to figuring out our kinds of play, which, uh, having gone through some of this, I'm quite excited by this. 'cause it feels, uh, this feels quite sort of, tangible and we can, you know, practical and we can actually dig around in this kind of stuff.

[00:27:20] So, uh, what, what would you, uh, walk us through this.

[00:27:22] Anya: Yeah. absolutely. So I'm gonna preface it by saying there's, there's like different kinds of play and then there are particular play personalities. And so, you know, I, I'm, I'm trying not to throw too much spaghetti at this wall, but you know, the National Institute for Play suggests that there are things like, you know, attunement play, which is particularly what we do with babies and small children where we are mirroring them, you know, body and movement play.

[00:27:50] And I know a number of our friends, you know, love to go out, uh, salsa dancing and doing yoga object play, which is kind of what I do when I'm sewing. You know, I'm manipulating things, I'm moving things around. Imaginative play. It's kind of like the improv stuff, I guess, you know, with, with others. Social play, rough and tumble.

[00:28:11] If you

[00:28:12] have kids who love to, who want to, uh, wrestle Yes. Or climb an uncle, I'm sure in your

[00:28:18] case.

[00:28:19] Mark Steadman: Uh, yep. I, I, I enjoyed, uh, well, back in the day, just as a kid, like that was, that was the thing, you know, we'd watch Gladiator on a Saturday night and then me and my brother would fight my dad. We, you know, he'd, he'd, he'd, uh, crawl around on his, um, uh, on his knees, uh, and elbows down on the ground like a silverback gorilla.

[00:28:38] And, um, and we would jump on him.

[00:28:41] Anya: and the thing is, you know, that it's, it's these kinds of things that, that play kind of like creates in us these memories

[00:28:48] because it generates these positive

[00:28:50] emotions,

[00:28:51] Mark Steadman: Mm,

[00:28:52] Anya: you know?

[00:28:53] Mark Steadman: Yeah. And again, it's, it's, it's doing all of those things. It's doing, it's doing all that stuff within safety.

[00:28:59] Anya: So, alright, so if, if, if you're, if you're listening to this, just kind of make a mental, just listen and see if the descriptions suit you and then you'll get a bit of an idea. And so, so, the first one is, I love to be disruptive and silly and make other people laugh through jokes, impressions, or mischief.

[00:29:21] Mark Steadman: I'll, I'll let you know. Now. I'm binging on a couple of these. Uh, there's, there's three. I've got three. I've got three

[00:29:27] Anya: Fabulous. And so if that rings true for you, you're probably a joker. And you know, and this is what most of us think of when we think about being playful because it evolves around this idea of being silly, nonsensical, and, you know, obviously making others laugh. And if you were the, uh, class clown in school or, you know, engage in play with telling jokes or doing impersonations or even practical jokes, it's pro this is probably a good fit for you.

[00:29:54] And I can see Mark is nodding and smiling.

[00:29:57] Mark Steadman: I was very much, uh, the, the, the, um, class clown in primary school, and then in secondary school I was not, but I did once. Oh, it's mean. But it was funny and it was, you know, that's, that's, that's my justification is I did pull someone's chair out from under them just as they were about to sit down and have lunch.

[00:30:16] Like the timing of it. It was, it was Chef's kiss. Good. It was absolutely, absolutely perfect. And then I,

[00:30:29] Anya: Oh gosh. Oh, well, I, next, next. Okay. So if, if, if, if that resonates with you, you are, you are also if with

[00:30:38] Mark detention, um,

[00:30:40] Mark Steadman: Better to be a joker than a toker or a midnight smoker.

[00:30:44] Anya: indeed. And so if that doesn't fledge your boat, how about this one? And so I need to move my body physically. Pushing my body and experiencing movement rings me bliss. And so if that rings true for you, you might be as keener feet. These are people who play through movement, you know, being physically pushing their bodies.

[00:31:06] And it's, it might include athletes with a comp, with, uh, when the competition aspect is not the main focus. It's more about the join, engaging in the activity. And it might take the form of running, dancing, sports, yoga, swimming, hiking, or walking. And I think, I think we know a, a few people in our midst who that, that probably suits.

[00:31:31] Mark Steadman: I think we do.

[00:31:32] Anya: I think we do. And so, and if that doesn't work, how about this one? I'm curious and like to investigate or engage with the world around me physically, emotionally, or mentally binging. I'm gonna steal that. And that's the explorer. You know, and this is the idea that we, all of us started by exploring the world around us.

[00:31:57] You think of a small baby crawling on the floor, putting blocks in its mouth, taste things. And some people never lose their enthusiasm for it. And it becomes, you know, exploring, it becomes their preferred path into play. And I think when I first saw this, I didn't think it suited me, but then I looked into it a little bit further 'cause it says, you know, it can be physical going to new places, which is how I always thought of as exploring,

[00:32:24] Mark Steadman: mm-Hmm.

[00:32:25] Anya: you know, like physically being out there.

[00:32:27] And with my health and mobility issues. It's like, yeah, that's, that's, that's not an option for me. But it's also can be, you know, emotional searching for a new feeling or a deepening of the familiar through music movement or even flirtation. Or it can be mental through researching a new subject or reading a book.

[00:32:48] I think this is why I think you, I went ding because I had quite the happy little rabbit hole this morning, you know, re researching this topic and re earthing the things that I had discovered previously when I taught this topic. And then adding to it through, you know, exploring the na, the National Institute for Play, and just going, oh, all the goodies, lots of research papers. And so then the next one is I love specific goals and rules, so I know when I win, I keep score, track progress, and I want to be number one. This is the competitor. And they, they engage in play through competitive gains with, with specific rules. I think it's interesting you talk about improv saying that there are no rules.

[00:33:40] You basically make them up. I think the competitor is like, okay, what are the rules? So I know when I win,

[00:33:45] Mark Steadman: Yes.

[00:33:46] Anya: the rules are very important because there's a line as I must cross and I must be the

[00:33:50] one who crosses it first.

[00:33:52] Mark Steadman: Is there an aspect of, um, self competition here? Does that, does that come into this? People who are competitive with them themselves, do you think? Is there, is there a, yeah. Is play, does that fit into any of these archetypes?

[00:34:05] Anya: Well, yeah, I mean certainly, you know, for the competitor, you know, the games can be solitary, you know, you can be there trying to beat your top score in a video game. It's not just about, you know, being social and competing in a team sport. And it could, and it doesn't even require being an active participant.

[00:34:24] You know, we can also be a competitor just through observing and being a fan of our particular competitive sports. And so, you know, wanting to back when I was a kid, 'cause I, 'cause I grew, I was born in Liverpool and I, and not far from Anfield. And so as a kid, one of my ways of, of connecting with that side of my family was watching football and supporting Liverpool.

[00:34:47] And just while I'm not competitive in the slightest, it wa there was, if there was any competitive in competitiveness in me whatsoever, it was like, okay, so how, where is Liverpool in, in the league at that time? You know, did, did they beat Everton or Man United or whoever it was then, you know, and so we can channel it, channel it in that way.

[00:35:12] And it's like, what is it?

[00:35:13] Fantasy football now, you know, you can be really, that's a big thing that's really competitive, you know, and, and yes, it's also, you know, tying in with some of the things like the the context I mentioned earlier, you know, that is part of imaginative play really,

[00:35:32] Mark Steadman: hmm.

[00:35:33] Anya: you know, and so it has, it has all these different facets.

[00:35:36] Mark Steadman: certainly does.

[00:35:37] Anya: It does, but you know, we're gonna need someone who might organize these team events. Yeah. And so does, how does this one land with folks? I love to bring people together. Sometimes planning and organizing an event is as

[00:35:53] fun as the event itself.

[00:35:56] Mark Steadman: I am taken back to, I was thinking about this, uh, a couple of days ago, about back in the day, when you had a group of friends and you wanted to go, let's say bowling. It was always bowling. And you'd basically block out the afternoon or, or possibly the whole Saturday to be on the phone to ring round everybody to figure this out.

[00:36:19] Well, they can't do it Saturday from next, but they can do it this Saturday after that. That's fine. But it has to be from 12 to two. And is Lorin gonna come? Yeah. So that's cool. 'cause if Lorin comes, then Natalie will come. Uh, and then, all right, cool. And you know, and then, then you've got the whole thing of, you know, if people don't show up, it's just like, oh, okay.

[00:36:37] They're not coming, you know, because we have no way of knowing, because we don't have mobile phones. And so, you know, we'll, we'll hang outside for 15 minutes and then if they don't appear, then I guess they're not coming. But yes, uh, being, yeah, being that, that wrangler, I think there is definitely a, uh, a satisfaction in that doesn't feel as playful, but I guess maybe it stimulates some, some aspect of that for people.

[00:37:02] Anya: yeah, yeah. You know, and, and if this rings true for you, you're probably a director, you know, and I think I, you know, how much benefit a social group can, uh, experience if there is someone who loves organizing and planning things. To, to, to, to be that wrangler, to be that cat hurdler, you know, and someone who enjoys the planning and executing of events and, you know, instigating group trips or gatherings and, you know, with their focus on people and organizational skills, you know, that I imagine there's a lot of them are like admins of Facebook groups

[00:37:42] or organizing meetups and stuff.

[00:37:44] 'cause then it ties in with, you know, the things that they, they love to do, which is bringing people together. But if that, if you're kind of the opposite of that, this might ring, ring true for you. I love to track down and hold onto the best, most interesting objects or experiences, new treasures. And if so, you are a collector and Yeah.

[00:38:09] Yeah. And bit of a dinging for me, I think.

[00:38:13] Mark Steadman: Oh, okay. Nice.

[00:38:15] Anya: Yeah. It's not so necessarily holding onto the most or best, uh, particularly with, uh, experiences. But for me, I love collecting, one of my main hobbies is sewing, and I have enough haberdashery, uh, enough fabric, certainly enough sewing patterns to stage. Well, it depends, depends really. I I an intervention or, or a small store. And, you know, there is, there is something lovely about, you know, and I'm, I'm, and I'm gonna say this because I'm, I'm a bit of a collector. There is something lovely about finding something beautiful and then going, Ooh, I can put this with the other beautiful thing next, but, and they'll, they'll look lovely next door to each other, you know?

[00:39:02] And I suppose like the archetypical idea of this is someone who's maybe like a stamp collector or a coin collector, uh, yeah, record collector's a really great one. And. It's this idea of organizing or showing off their collection. And I think, you know, when I think of people who collect records, you know, the way they've got them,

[00:39:25] uh, categorized, filed,

[00:39:28] Mark Steadman: Oh yes.

[00:39:29] Anya: bringing them out, you know, the, the ritual of it and the thing, you know what, in one of the contexts I mentioned earlier about this idea, I, I forgot to mention the idea of, of celebratory or ritual play.

[00:39:40] You know, the ritual of of getting a new record, taking it out the sleeve, just putting it on just gently is there's, there's like, there's a, yeah, I know I can see your face, but there is, but you don't get that,

[00:39:53] Mark Steadman: hits me where it's pure.

[00:39:55] Anya: but you don't get that kind of ritual when with like just listening to something on Spotify, you know, there is, there is something about the tactility of it

[00:40:04] Mark Steadman: 100%.

[00:40:06] Anya: and I think there's also something.

[00:40:08] While listening to a record like that on your own is beautiful. You know, it's, it's a cliche in coming of age movies of a certain era for a reason. The idea of sharing that,

[00:40:22] that, that, that, that side of an album, and you, and you have to listen to all the tracks and none of this skipping nonsense, you're just going for the, for the, for the, for your favorites, absolutely.

[00:40:31] But then, but you get to know it in a different way and then sharing that with another person, you know, knowing you've got like 15 or 20 minutes together in that experience.

[00:40:40] Mark Steadman: I'm dinging on the next one.

[00:40:42] Anya: As, as, as when I added it to the list, I, I thought of you, I almost like put, just put a photo of your name there. So I'm happiest doing something with my hands, whether it's making something new or fixing or restoring things.

[00:40:56] And if that rings true for you, you are an artist or, or creator,

[00:41:01] ding.

[00:41:01] Mark Steadman: dinging, ding, dinging.

[00:41:04] Anya: And so, you know, there's loads of different ways that this can manifest, but I, I love the fact that it's making something with, with your hands. You know, I mentioned in the collector aspect, the thing that I'm collecting tend to be on the more practical side. Well, I mean, I'll have to live to, and I'm, I'm 150 to use it all, but technically speaking, I'm collecting things, which I can then use that to make other things.

[00:41:27] But it can in involve things like drawing, building, or sculpting, you know, painting or singing, knitting, which reminds me, I've got a, so a knitting project, which I've been doing for the past eight years. Gardening, woodworking, or any kind of those kind of hands-on endeavors. But it also might mean that you take joy in fixing or making something work, you know, like taking apart a broken item.

[00:41:51] Cleaning and replacing parts and putting it back together again. And I know that one of the, the, the, the Joys, televisual Joys that we share, uh, the repair shop.

[00:42:02] Mark Steadman: Oh,

[00:42:05] Anya: I was just, as I was reading that list, I just went Oh, and like images of, we were just coming into my mind.

[00:42:14] he is a dream.

[00:42:15] Mark Steadman: Isn't he just, um, but yes, I mean it's, it's, it's, it's competence porn. It is, yeah. It's all, it's all the, it's all the good wholesome things. Yes. and then, um, finally we have, we have another dinging for me.

[00:42:31] Anya: Yes. Yes. And, and I think, again, this came as no surprise. I, I did think of you when when I typed typed it up as well, so I adore stories either telling them or losing myself in a film or novel and using my imagination. And

[00:42:48] if that's true for you, you're probably a storyteller. And so, you know, I love this because it is, it's, I I think there's a little bit of a ding for me as well, like, like just Yeah. A, a little bit certainly with the idea of, you know, using one's imagination. And, you know, if I, I, it's become a bit of a thing, isn't it? In, in group, in the WhatsApp groups that we share, that I put in stage directions for some of my stuff,

[00:43:16] Mark Steadman: course.

[00:43:18] Anya: you know, to add a little extra color.

[00:43:20] Mark Steadman: Yeah.

[00:43:20] Anya: But it's this idea of creating an imaginative, imaginative world through dance acting magic tricks or lectures and being immersed in a story. I think this is where, why it really rings true for me. 'cause like, the idea of experiencing the thoughts and emotions of characters and, you know, you might enjoy reading novels, watching, uh, films or the theater even writing our own things.

[00:43:44] And certainly for me, you know, one of, if I, if I'm not, if I haven't got the energy for sewing, one of the ways that I spend time is like watching k dramas, like on Netflix. And, you know, getting lost in the thoughts and emotions. It's like, and also noticing the tropes. Kind of like by episode 14 of a 16 or 18 episode.

[00:44:05] One, you know that usually 16, you know that the couple are going to split up, something's gonna happen and that everything's gonna fall apart. And it's going like episode 15, you're gonna be going, oh, but they're never gonna get together. And then the end, the last episode, sorry to spoil,

[00:44:18] about 90% of Korean romances.

[00:44:21] Mark Steadman: All, all romances, having, having read a lot of them professionally, uh, they all follow the same, the Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's, it's two people. There's, uh, they, they, they get on, they're a little bit inhibited. Uh, they're about to do the deeded and then, or maybe they do a little bit of the deeded, and then there's a horrible misunderstanding.

[00:44:38] One person thought the other person said a thing and they didn't say the thing, or they meant something different. And then there's the big split up for a chapter, and then there's the last chapter when they all get back together again. And bone.

[00:44:46] Anya: Well, in Korean drama, they don't burn, but they, what they do, it tend to have like, like a year later or three years later, or like a thing. So that you know that rather than, like in the Western stories where they end at the wedding, they kind of like, they have that little bit and then they like spend like 20 minutes at the end, like reassuring people that don't worry.

[00:45:07] Yes. We know that they

[00:45:08] are. People go beyond that point and just to show that shit has actually genuinely worked out. So

[00:45:16] Mark Steadman: Nice little coder.

[00:45:17] Anya: Little coder. Little coder.

[00:45:19] Mark Steadman: So, uh, this is, this is all very, this is all very useful. Uh, this is all very, uh, intellectual.

[00:45:26] Anya: How, how, how do we as the artists and creators might want to do it, you know, actually get our hands on

[00:45:31] this and, and and do, do

[00:45:33] some, yes. Let's,

[00:45:34] let's do some

[00:45:35] stuff.

[00:45:35] Absolutely. Well, I, there's, for a lot of us, you know, there's a wonderful Austin Cleon video, which you shared recently, which I must put in the show notes for this which talks about how So Bomb brought a, a lovely handknit scarf.

[00:45:53] To, to, uh, you know, to birthday party. And everyone was cooing over it going, oh, you know, you could, you could sell these on Etsy. Or, you know, if you make cupcakes, people go, oh, have you ever started sort of, you know, starting up your own, like sideline in like making cupcakes and everything? You know, he talks about everything like, oh, hobbies are being turned into side hustles. And so, you know, there is something to be said for this is, I get this a lot actually with my sewing stuff. Like when I show, so either show someone something that I've made or I give them something,

[00:46:28] Mark Steadman: mm-Hmm.

[00:46:29] Anya: they will go, oh my God, have you ever thought of selling these? I, I remember I was giving out, I was making on, on the spot and giving out origami hearts at a, I think it was a Hay House event a couple of years ago, like the workshops, whatever.

[00:46:48] And you know, a lady looked at it and was like, oh my goodness, this is so lovely. You could sell these. And the whole point was just like making this little thing, this little gift to give someone on the spot and, and, you know, putting a little note of, you know, you are amazing or you are loved or you are enough, or whatever inside.

[00:47:07] That was, that was where the pleasure came for me in the artist creator aspect of playing and making something that didn't exist beforehand, you know? And so I think I, I'm gonna suggest now that whatever you have or want to do, and it could be just even just trying something new, is that. You keep it as a hobby rather than necessarily needing to monetize it, you know?

[00:47:37] Which I do get it. You know, there's so much, so many people have these kitchen table businesses, so many people could do with the extra cash. And there is something lovely about, you know, going back to one of the properties that Dr. Stewart Brown said, you know, play is inherently purposeless and allowing us to have that, that that purposeless time.

[00:48:00] And I think that's easier if you discover what's playful for you. Because until I did the research, I thought play was kinda like, you know, that the, the exercises you do like that team building exercises or having to run around or, but actually there's so many different kinds of play that are available to us, which might work with our particular personality.

[00:48:25] You know, if you are a storyteller. And you want to be in a social context, you know, having a storytelling night, you know, with a group of friends while drinks, if you are more introverted, using those storytelling skills to create a world, you know, with using ai, you know, either, you know, coming up with, images from your descriptions or writing stories, you know, or interacting with like an AI companion.

[00:48:51] There's lots of different ways to access our playful nature and just, you know, if you need to go, go, go, go back and listen. And I might try and put a little document. There's, there's certainly a link at the bottom of this, which gives you a way to look at how what your personality, your play personality might be. And then ultimately, and I'm, I'm almost hesitant to say this. I'll, I'll, I'll, I'll preface it like this. There are lots of different kinds of rest that we need in our lives, and I am guilty, as guilty as anyone for assuming that rest means I'm lying down doing nothing, which to be fair, in my case, it's necessarily just rest. It's actually recovery. And apparently there's a difference between the two. Who knew? But play as a form of rest, as a form of self-care as something which by was gonna hesitate to put it in to some, something to schedule, you know, to give ourselves the permission.

[00:49:56] You know, I, I did it last night. I knew that there was some work that I could just about do. I had just enough energy for it. But allowing myself to indulge in the play of storytelling. Meant that I went actually, you know, I would like to just switch off and be captivated by a story for a little while. You know, that's, that's the thing which I, I would most feed my soul right now is not defining my self worth through my productivity, but actually being, rather than doing, which again, I think ties in nicely to, to one of your podcasts with with Brendan

[00:50:38] Mark Steadman: Hmm. Yeah. Also that makes me, what, what you said, uh, a moment ago makes me think about, 'cause I, I tried the scheduling thing. It kind of, uh, one of the, the, the many weird little things I tried this year,

[00:50:55] and there was something about scheduling play, which just made, sort of made me go a bit cold, a little bit like the, sort of the, the sketch, uh, I was, I was drawing at the beginning of the, you know, this, uh, straw person, um, uh, from, from perhaps a nineties idea of what management consultants are. But that, that sort of, that boxing off and saying, you know, this is official time for play. I think what I much prefer is stealing time.

[00:51:22] I, I respond much, much better to, to sort of seeing, okay, you know, I've got a whole Tuesday ahead of me. There's nothing that actually needs to be done today. I wanna steal a little bit of time and go and do something.

[00:51:34] And there's certain things I can feel legitimate in doing. Like I, I, I don't feel in that time always, unless I'm, you know, really burnt out. I usually don't feel like I can sit in front of the sofa and watch tv. But there are other things that, that I might like to do. Cognizant of the fact that, yeah, there's other things I could be doing and this is play, but if I schedule it, it feels too much forced.

[00:51:58] Whereas if I'm stealing time, I dunno, there's a, there's an aspect there that, um, that, that sort of, yeah, just works, works for me. But you have to do that a little bit responsibly.

[00:52:09] Anya: Yeah, yeah. And I guess, you know, when I think about scheduling time, I'm, you know, well this is one of the things which I'm pretty bad at, is if it's, if I don't consciously, intentionally, 'cause you, have the intention to play there and you are looking for spaces.

[00:52:26] You notice a space and the thought comes into your mind. I think for some of us, you know, we haven't quite got there yet.

[00:52:32] Mark Steadman: Yes.

[00:52:33] Anya: And so in the same way of, you know, putting, you know, blocking, time blocking and going, okay, this is time and I'm just, just gonna sit and read, or I am gonna close my laptop and I'm just gonna watch, you know.

[00:52:47] For me, my K drama or reading my book or whatever, something that feels playful or like scheduling a call with a friend who,

[00:52:53] you know, you are always gonna have a good laugh with,

[00:52:55] Mark Steadman: Yeah. Or as something that I could probably practice actually is scheduling in some not doing time or scheduling in some time to listen and to look, uh, to look around and to observe, uh, and to draw in rather than to do and to create, and to push outwards, actually scheduling, scheduling that time to be inspired or to be, to have your cup filled up.

[00:53:18] I think, um, would also be,

[00:53:21] Anya: Yeah. Yeah. And so that actually just takes me onto the idea of Julia Cameron. 'cause very often, uh, from the artist's way and very often, you know, we talk. There's a lot of talk of morning pages, you know, that's thing in the morning, which is, you know, the, the mental dump clearing things out. And so that you, you are, you have more, uh, capacity for the day ahead of you.

[00:53:43] 'cause you haven't got all this stuff marching around your head. But actually the, the other side of that, as you've just said, is, is the receiving. And she calls those artists' dates.

[00:53:54] Mark Steadman: mm

[00:53:55] Anya: And think, I think I'm just gonna offer that to you, mark, as, as a way, as an idea, you know, of how to of quote unquote schedule time, but actually thinking, just even having this concept of artists' dates, I think it's a really useful one.

[00:54:11] And again, another way of allowing us to, to look at our diaries. Experience the,

[00:54:20] the sense of overwhelm that can come and then, and then actually go, okay. And I'd like to share and yes, and I'd like to include time for me

[00:54:32] as, you know, as an artist's state and

[00:54:35] Mark Steadman: I'm incredibly busy today. I've got shit tons to do. And I'd also like to take an hour out to go for a walk and listen to an audio book.

[00:54:42] Anya: yeah,

[00:54:43] Mark Steadman: Just, just as a, just as a hypothetical, I dunno why I started doing a weird Trump impression that just do, you're very, very hypothetical. Um, Yeah, I, uh, yes you are, you are giving me, you are giving me pause, so thank you.

[00:54:56] Anya: you're, you're welcome.

[00:54:57] Mark Steadman: I give those pause back.

[00:54:58] Anya: that, well, you're, you're very, very great, very grateful, very blah. Very

[00:55:02] Mark Steadman: It's fine. It's fine. It's just, yeah. Well, should we, should we, um, should we, should we, uh, wrap this thing up with some George Bernard Shore?

[00:55:10] Anya: Yeah, absolutely. Because, you know, this is when I originally did this as a presentation a few years ago, the final slide I, I completely forgotten about it actually. And it's this, and it has this quote on it. And next door to it is a photo of my late mom, um, from a few years ago. And she, we are in a high street shop that specializes in selling accessories

[00:55:40] she, and she's in her early eighties. She's got a big grin on her face. Well, not a big grin, but like a bright smile on her face. Her eyes are lit up and she's wearing a, like a child's white, furry polar bear hat with like long pull down bits like to wrap under your chin and stuff. And I thought it encapsulated this quote perfectly because it says we don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.

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Creators and Guests

Anya Pearse
Anya Pearse
Intuitive adviser, facilitator, and positive psychology practitioner.
Mark Steadman
Mark Steadman
Coach helping digital creatives with big feelings


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