The Importance of Play and Laughter for Leaders & Changemakers: How to Connect with Your Inner Child

The Importance of Play and Laughter for Leaders & Changemakers: How to Connect with Your Inner Child

Due to the uncertain and stressful times we are currently living in, and also because of research I’ve recently read on the importance of a “playful frame of mind” as we evolve as authentic leaders[1], I decided to resurrect and share an article I wrote three years ago[2]. …

Many of us learn that after a certain age, it is not appropriate to play. We get messages that we need to become serious and act like an adult. More and more research has shown how important play and laughter are for health and wellness throughout our lives.

You may have heard that laughter is the best medicine. When we laugh, we release endorphins and encourage energy to move throughout our body. In the words of Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist who has spent much of her scientific life studying the mind-body link:

Play and laughter are vital to feeling good. Recreation isn’t merely a frivolous addition to life or a hard-earned reward for work…I believe that in a society driven by a strong work ethic, with so many individuals burdened with workaholism, people aren’t getting enough endorphinergic surges through the bodymind on a regular basis. For you to not be laughing and playing during some part of every day is unnatural and goes against your fundamental biochemistry.

Everything You Need to Feel Go(o)d), 2006

Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has conducted research that shows play is not only energizing and fun, but also important for human physical, emotional and cognitive development, and intelligence. Addictions, depression, stress-related illnesses and interpersonal violence have been linked to the prolonged deprivation of play –http://www.nifplay.org . Brown’s TED talk outlines different types of play and provides evidence of the importance of play throughout our lives –http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital.html

Based on research by Brown, Pert and others, it is recommended for the health of our minds and bodies that we engage in play and laughter every day.

Types of Play

Research on animals and humans has identified a number of different types of play including:

  • Body Play – when we move our bodies in different ways; for example, jumping, running, skipping or moving our bodies to real or imagined music.
  • Object Play – when we make an object (e.g. a snowball) and play with it, or play with an object such as a soccer ball.
  • Imaginative Play – creating an imaginary friend you interact with (you may have had an imaginary friend when you were a child); creating and sharing a fantasy story with a child; playing “dress up”.
  • Social Play  – playing tag or playing house with others
  • Transformative Play – through digital and other types of “structured” play we learn creative problem-solving.

 Strategies for Incorporating more play and laughter

  1. Travel back in time and identify and write down types of play activities you enjoyed and engaged in as a child.
  2. Reflect on how many of these activities you currently engage in as an adult and how often you engage in them.
  3. Rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how energized each of the above activities makes you feel – 1 being “not at all” and 10 being “full of energy”.
  4. Identify several play activities you would like to begin integrating into your life. Experiment and notice how they make you feel.
  5. Commit to engaging in some form of play and/or laughter on a daily basis. Ask friends and family for support (perhaps make it a family project to laugh and play at least once a day), and encourage play and laughter in their lives as well.

Your Inner Child

Another way to incorporate more play and laughter into your life is to connect with your inner child. According to Wikipedia “our inner child is our childlike aspect. It includes all that we learned and experienced as children, before puberty.” Others say that your inner child is your “true self” … the small child within you that never grew up. Your inner child is naturally fun, playful, and creative. It is also fragile and vulnerable.

Many of us have buried or rejected our inner child, and it takes some time to reconnect with and nurture it. The process may be challenging and scary for some, especially if you’ve experienced trauma. Connecting with our inner child helps us love, accept and nurture ourselves.

Strategies for Connecting with Your Inner Child[3] [4]

  1. Write a letter to your inner child saying that you want to reconnect. It can be a letter of apology or one expressing that you want to strengthen the relationship with her.
  1. Notice and acknowledge the feelings that come up when you connect with your inner child. Rather than “pushing them down” or rejecting them, allow any fears, sadness or insecurities to surface. Notice what you notice.
  1. Express those feelings by writing them down in a personal journal or through painting, finger painting or drawing.
  1. Picture yourself as a 3, 4 or 5 year old and reassure your younger self that they are safe, secure and loved.
  1. Reorganize your living space. Make it more fun. Bring out joyful childhood pictures, stuffed animals and trinkets and put them on your mantle. Paint one or several of your rooms with guidance from your inner child.
  1. Buy a coloring book and color several times a week.
  1. Spend time with children playing children’s games. These could be “hide and seek”, or imaginary games, and creating and telling your own stories.
  1. On awakening everyday ask your inner child what fun activity they would like to engage in today.

Parting Thoughts

Research shows that bringing our inner child out to play and incorporating laughter and play into our days is essential to be healthy and happy throughout our lives. I encourage you to try some of the strategies and to notice what you notice.

I’d love to hear how you connect with your inner child and what you’ve noticed from that experience. Please share your experiences below so we can all learn and grow from each other.


[1] https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-authenticity-paradox

[2] Originally published in the February 2017 issue of Eydis Authentic Living Magazine

[3] http://www.wikihow.com/Embrace-Your-Inner-Child

[4] http://www.creativecounseling101.com/find-your-inner-child.html

What does Belonging and Forgiveness have to do with Anti-Black Racism?

What does Belonging and Forgiveness have to do with Anti-Black Racism?

With all of the recent events, protests and discussion around anti-black racism, it is has made me reflect on some valuable lessons I learned from Dr. Vern Redekop[1] while studying at the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution in the early 1990s. At that time, Vern was working on his PhD and I was honored to be part of a social experiment he was conducting as part of his dissertation. Vern was researching what would make people who had been discriminated against and harmed on many levels forgive their perpetrators and move forward, as well as increase understanding between the “victim” and the “perpetrator”. 

To that end, Vern researched a number of different disciplines and conducted seminars that he invited a mix of people from various backgrounds, cultures, religions and ethnicities to participate in. At the beginning of each seminar he would share the research related to some aspect of the conflict process. Then we were divided into small groups to work on questions Vern provided. Following that we debriefed with the larger group.

There were many participants who shared horrific experiences based on religious, ethnic, and cultural differences. I recall a black man from Rwanda who had seen his family cut up in front of him as part of the genocide that took place in that country. There was an ex-policeman from Northern Ireland who had left the country due to death threats. There was a Sri Lankan woman who had been held hostage by the Khmer Rouge. So many stories and heart-breaking experiences were shared. As well, many of those who shared the horrific acts that had been perpetrated against them, also shared that they had learned to forgive their perpetrators.

There are several things that stand out for me from that experience that I believe can increase our understanding of anti-black racism and other prejudices and horrific acts. One was that in order for “victims” (those who had experienced atrocities and discrimination) to forgive their “perpetrators” (those who had committed the atrocities), the perpetrators had to acknowledge what they had done and issue a formal apology to that person or group. What also was useful in terms of process was for the “victim” or “victims” to sit in a circle with the “perpetrator” or “perpetrators” and for each to share how they were impacted by what had happened. This created increased understanding on both sides and also enabled the “victim(s)” to decide what type of punishment they felt was due to their “perpetrator”. This is how restorative justice is practised (for example among some indigenous communities in Canada) and it is interesting to note that the punishments that are decided upon by the “victim(s)” in a restorative justice process are usually much less harsh than typical sentences arrived at in court.[2]  

The other learning that stands out for me was some research Vern shared that demonstrated that the need to belong outweighs many other human needs, and historical events have borne this out. This is important when we think about racism and other forms of prejudice and acts of violence, because it helps us to better understand why people do what they do. It also helps us recognize that it takes a strong and courageous person to step away from a group he/she belongs to and take a stand that is in opposition to that group as they run the risk of being criticized, punished and ostracized.

These two “lessons” from conflict studies and from research on history, human nature and culture I believe are important, particularly at this time when the light is being shone on anti-black racism and other forms of racism worldwide.

Understanding and awareness are important for change to begin. It is also important to understand that there are many layers of belief and cultural conditioning that we need to “peel away” in order to truly forgive, heal and create a better world.

“(A) world free of war and violence;

One where all cultures, (races) and religions are accepted;

Where all people are respected and treated with respect;

Where people live together in communities that model

The values of contribution, collaboration, caring and connection …

One that believes in the power of groups and synergy,

That the whole is greater than the sum of the parts;

A world where women and men stand together as partners.:”[3]

Based on these learnings what actions can we take to move forward and create a better world? I welcome your thoughts and suggestions below.


[1] Professor Emeritus, Conflict Studies, Saint Paul’s University, Founder of the Social Reconciliation, Just Peace and Development Research Group and author of From Violence to Blessing: How an Understanding of Deep-Rooted Conflict Can Open Paths to Reconciliation

[2] “Restorative justice is commonly defined as an approach to justice that focuses on addressing the harm caused by crime while holding the offender responsible for their actions, by providing an opportunity for the parties directly affected by the crime – victims, offenders and communities – to identify and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime. Restorative justice is based on an understanding that crime is a violation of people and relationships. The principles of restorative justice are based on respect, compassion and inclusivity. Restorative justice encourages meaningful engagement and accountability and provides an opportunity for healing, reparation and reintegration. Restorative justice processes take various forms and may take place at all stages of the criminal justice system.” (Source: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/rj-jr/index.html)

[3] Excerpted and slightly modified from Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women by Pamela Thompson, pp. 153 & 154

The “New Normal”: Creating Workplaces that Embody and Support Work-Life Balance

The “New Normal”: Creating Workplaces that Embody and Support Work-Life Balance

Many people are talking about the “new normal” and what our lives will look like after COVID-19. Rather than returning to old beliefs, systems and ways of working, I view this time as an opportunity to internalize new beliefs, create new systems and ways of working, building on the lessons learned so far and based on the vision of a world that works for everyone.

One area that I feel strongly about is Work-Life Balance. Having almost burnt out several times in my life I know what it is like to feel SOoo tired and to push through fatigue to finish that one last “thing”, instead of listening to my body and taking a break. I’ve also witnessed younger and younger women clients losing their passion and burning out. Perhaps you relate.

Did you know that burnout is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide?

In May of 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its classification of burnout from a medical condition to an occupational phenomenon. Their definition:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.” [1]

The importance of this change in the WHO classification is that it acknowledges that organizations and their leaders have a role to play in reducing workplace stress; rather than burnout being perceived as a personal medical issue, a sign of weakness and something to be hidden and ashamed of.

To learn more about how to know if you’re burning out and what to do about it see: https://pamela-thompson.com/how-to-know-if-youre-burning-out-what-to-do-about-it/

Work-Life Balance

When you think about work-life balance what thoughts or feelings come up for you? You may have negative feelings about the term and believe it isn’t possible OR you may dream of living a life where you no longer are feeling there is so much to do and so little time but instead are feeling healthy, happy and fulfilled.

For me, work-life balance is both personal and elusive. Personal, because what work-life balance looks and feels like for me is different from what work-life balance looks and feels like for you.  Elusive because many people speak about work-life balance and yet few are able to achieve or maintain it.

How can you as a leader integrate work-life balance into your own life and model it for others in the workplace? Here are some “tried and true” strategies:

Personally:

  • Count up the number of hours you typically work in a week. Is it more than 50? (Obviously sometimes)
  • Make a commitment to reduce the number of hours you typically work weekly (choose a realistic number to begin with)
  • Experiment with a work week when you reduce your hours. Then notice how you feel. You may wish to journal about it
  • Make a clear differentiation between work and home time. For example, before leaving work say to yourself, I am now leaving work behind, or pick a point on your drive or walk home where you make a conscious choice to release work and step into “your” time
  • Begin incorporating mindfulness practices into your personal life; e.g.
    • on awakening while lying in bed do a body scan from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet noticing any tension, discomfort, heaviness. Breathe into those areas of tension, discomfort or heaviness and set the intention to release and let go of them.
    • Start doing mindfulness walking meditations 3 times/week for 30 minutes each time.[2] Some of my clients do this at lunch hour. Others after work. Notice how you feel before, during and after. Is there a cumulative effect?
  • Schedule blocks of time in your calendar for you (e.g. work out at the gym, yoga class, lunch with a friend, concert with your partner)
  • Unplug at least 90 minutes before retiring and encourage your colleagues to do the same.

Organizationally:

  • At work, encourage people to take breaks
  • Set clear expectations with your direct reports and colleagues related to NOT checking emails and answering texts on evenings and weekends. Share with them the importance of them taking time for themselves and their families
  • Have short meetings (up to 60 minutes max) with clearly defined agendas, and expectations so people know why they’re there, how to prepare and the expected results
  • Encourage people to take lunch breaks
  • Support people to take regular vacations and to NOT check their emails while on vacation (set up a buddy system so staff and managers can feel that the key aspects of their positions are being covered while they are away)
  • Have yoga classes and/or a gym on site and participate in the classes/use the facilities yourself.

What strategies have you found helpful to create more balance in your life on a personal level and if you have a team, on an organizational level? I welcome your comments and suggestions below. Feel free to share this post with others.

*updated from May 2, 2016 blog post


[1] https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/

[2]  A tool from Easter psychology that I have found extremely useful for getting “out of my head” and into my body is Mindfulness Walking Meditation. Mindfulness practices focus on the senses and feeling sensations and emotions in our bodies. When we do a mindfulness walking meditation, we feel the ground beneath our feet, we feel the breeze against our face, we feel the cool air going from our nostrils down into our lungs. We smell the scent of salt or the aroma of lavender in the air and observe the scenery in front of us. We try to stay out of our minds and experience our senses. Rather than spend a walk in nature constantly thinking and processing all the things we have to do, instead we stay present and experience nature and all of its beautiful sights, smells, sounds and sensations.

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