Now Is A Good Time To Relearn How To ‘Play’


The world is suddenly uncertain and a lot of us are just sitting at home watching the Coronavirus pandemic play out on our screens. For most of us, there’s nothing we can do to slow the spread of the virus so there is going to be a lot of downtime in our future. If you’re an American or a product of America’s culture (like me!) you’re probably noticing pressure to use this time to be “productive”. Maybe you even have a list of things you’d like to finish while you’re homebound. This is a post about how you should not do that.

A few months ago I took up watercolor painting. I had dabbled in oil painting a few years ago but I really hadn’t even drawn or doodled since my high school art class days. Painting went about how you’d expect for a beginner: at first I was mediocre, and then I improved. Most days if I spend time painting, I notice how good it feels to slow down and enjoy how it feels to have a hobby you just do for leisure. There is no race to run, no one to grade my skills, no deadline for becoming a painting master. I just paint what I feel like painting, for the purpose of the pleasure I feel when I do it.

I didn’t expect that taking up a new hobby would accomplish anything. I was just looking for a way to fill my time. I started painting a lot of self-portraits and I’ve noticed it’s helped my body image get a lot healthier. When I’m trying to paint a realistic looking portrait, I have to look at lines and colors and shapes. I realize how differently shaped people’s faces, bodies, and features are. I’m not looking to judge what I see, I am curious about how to observe and transport it onto a sheet of paper.

My brain figured out a way to make my time productive without me having to do anything. I didn’t know I needed to work on my body image, or that painting self-portraits would help me do just that. When we do anything that challenges us and gives us time for reflection, we move forward. Unstructured ‘play’ time helps my mind relax and have time to think through stressors and problems I’m having in a way that more visually active activities like watching TV or scrolling through the internet do not allow. Things bubble up to the surface. I learn about my values and goals. I learn what I’m like under pressure and what causes me to give up on a challenge versus push through.

A few years ago I quit the gym. I was never a workout fanatic but I liked to go and take classes. I loved planning for the gym even more. The problem was that I had such an all or nothing approach to working out that it really wasn’t fun for me. Everything related to working out was about counting and burning calories and pushing myself to show up every day and meet all the goals I was tracking. I never just went and then did what I felt like doing. As I focused on recovery from an eating disorder, I realized I had to take a break from working out altogether as I was no longer capable of doing it without focusing on numbers or weight loss. I would have never thought that someone could go to the gym for pleasure. But humans thrive when we are challenged, even our bodies love that temporary stress of a challenging workout. Now that my brain is functioning a little better (thanks therapy!) I’ve been able to dip my toes into working out in a healthy way. I do what is pleasurable for me.

Most days what feels good for me is just walking my dog around the park near my house. Other times it’s doing a Yoga With Adrienne video on YouTube or walking up and down my stairs. I am always paying attention to how it makes me feel. By following what feels good to me I am learning to listen to my intuition. I have the space to listen to what my body is hungry for rather than having a need to do a prescribed workout every day because it happens to be part of a 30 day challenge or because it will burn the amount of calories I ate for dinner.

The more I slow down enough to do things like this — because I am curious about them or because it pleases me — the more I feel I am remembering a very human part of me that has become numbed by constant stimulation. I feel more confident because I’m trusting myself. I know now that I am an authority about what is good for me. I don’t need to follow someone else’s plan or have a goal. I don’t have to steer the river. Wherever my find myself, if I listen enough to take the next right step, I will get to where I want to go.

The global pandemic we are in right now is a challenge, to say the least, which means that it is also an opportunity. For most of us, we are being asked to slow down and stay home. I wonder if you can use this time to engage your curiosity and try to remember what it was like to be a kid and do things just because they felt good. What would it feel like to just idly play?

You only need a pen and paper to let your mind wander. Maybe you just need to journal or doodle. Maybe you used to knit and it’s time to explore that again. Try to be willing to trust yourself, that you don’t have to have a plan or an intention, it’s enough just to do something for leisure and pleasure. Maybe this is the right time to binge read all of John Douglas’ books and become an expert on the criminal mind. Whatever the most authentic part of you has been craving, I hope you indulge while you’re social distancing. You deserve to do things just because they feel good (you know, things that don’t harm yourself or others), and you’ll get a lot of useful information about your wants and needs in the process.