Child’s Play

I recently spent some time laughing hysterically while playing board games with my kids. There’s nothing better than watching a kid unleash an enormous laugh, is there? It got me thinking about the many things we can learn from child’s play that apply directly to our lives today as hard-driving, world-conquering, eat-nails-for-breakfast adults:

1. You Need a Challenge. With nearly every game ending in a tie, the primitive and simple game of tic-tac-toe gets old in about three minutes. That’s because human growth and fulfillment come in the midst of challenge. “A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner”, the English proverb states. We are meant to take on complex challenges, gaining confidence through achievement. If you are feeling stretched, this is a good sign and indicates you are becoming stronger and more powerful. Conversely, if you find yourself punching the clock and mastering your surroundings, it’s time to push yourself to a more challenging game.

2. Listen to Your Instincts. Remember the game “You’re Getting Warmer” where one kid is blindfolded and has to find another. With each step, the other kids chant “you’re getting warmer” or “you’re getting colder.” Try playing this game by yourself. It turns out we have an incredible ability to tap into our own intuition if we simply listen. When you make various choices in life, your instincts tell you if you’re getting warmer or colder. Deep inside, you know if your moves are driving you closer to your life’s vision or if your choices are destructive and luring you away from reaching your potential. Kids listen to their intuition, but we adults often fail to hear.

3. Playing the Game is the Fun Part. Imagine you’re “it” in a game of hide-and-seek, but when you open your eyes everyone is in plain sight. Sure, you “won” the game but it certainly wasn’t enjoyable. As adults, we are often so focused on future outcomes that we fail to savor the moment. In the midst of the game with the rush of uncertainty, we find joy and delight. When the game is over, kids insightfully say, “let’s play again!” It’s time to start enjoying the journey instead of postponing our happiness.

4. It’s Best When It’s Your Turn. Every kid wants to go first because they get to be the active driver of their experience. Knowing this, why do so many of us relinquish our power and allow life to happen “to” us? Studies show that happiness at work is often linked to jobs where individuals have more autonomy. Of course, this same principle goes far beyond our careers. We’re wired to be the architects of our own existence, not the subjects of others. In an era with nearly limitless possibility, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be calling your own shots.

In today’s turbulent times, many of us are in a state of imbalance, stress, or even panic. Yet sometimes the most potent insights are right in front of us. As my 14-year-old son likes to tell me, “get your head in the game, Dad.”

Go ahead. It’s your turn to spin the wheel.