As each week passes, each month turns into the next and each new season creeps from one to the other, it can be easy to get wrapped up in everyday normality, and settle for what’s comfortable in life. As the focus often lies on work and the responsibilities we have as individuals, I’m beginning to wonder how many of us really spend time developing ourselves and allowing the freedom and kindness, to do the things that we really love and which bring personal enjoyment in life. How much time do we allow for creativity and learning, without too much pressure or expectation and what impact could this have on our minds if we did more of it?
How to find the time
Explore your passion, move your body, learn a new skill – practice playing an instrument, build something with your hands, write or paint. Whatever it looks like, I believe it’s important we all find something that allows the space and freedom to let go and play. Here’s how you could start:
- Replace time spent on your phone or watching TV/Netflix with time spent creating, learning and/or challenging your mind.
- Start with 10 minutes a day and work your way up if and when you can. No biggie, you can still watch Netflix or fit in some time to scroll through Instagram but just start making a conscious effort to explore new things too!
- If you have children, engage with them as part of your learning. Draw together, bake together, learn a new language together. Keep doing it until you get good at it. Make sure it’s something that you get enjoyment out of too.
- If you care for a parent, challenge both of your minds. Do a puzzle together, a memory game together, read together, grow and harvest plants and food together.
‘I began to realise how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.’
– Roald Dahl
Just to explain what all this does to your brain (apparently i’ve become interested in neuroscience recently but please feel free to skip this part if i’m boring you); through learning and keeping our mind active, we can essentially strengthen and protect important connections in our brain, which helps to delay or avoid cognitive decline. All good stuff if we want to maintain a healthy mind and mental state long term.
To expand, our brain contains approximately 100 billion neurons. These neurons communicate with one another by synapsing. Research has established that, among its many functions, the synapse plays an important role in our learning and memory. Since many of the brain changes that accompany ageing and mental disorders are associated with deterioration or loss of synapses, it makes sense to spend time stimulating your brain and enjoying new sensory experiences. Create, challenge your mind and make an effort to learn new information. The good news is, the more you practice something, the more likely you are to retain any new connections made in the brain. Practice makes permanent!
Fear of Failure
One of the things that has held me back in the past, in both life in general and in my creative practice, is the fear of failure. It creeps through, even when I think i’m at my strongest and can subtly try and persuade me to avoid a task or activity when the process is challenging and the end result unclear. The artwork in this blog post quite literally sums up how I am pro-actively challenging this mindset. Through abstract painting, I’m letting go of control and allowing the marks and patterns to path their own way. There’s no ‘perfect’ end result and often the materials dictate the outcome.
‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word’
– Margaret Atwood – Author.
If you don’t involve yourself in creativity, activity and avoid learning new things because you’re frightened you won’t be good at it, then why not start by doing something for yourself that you don’t share with others. No ones opinion has to matter then and you can keep the whole thing to yourself. With practice and determination you may find you change your mind 🙂
Although work and our personal responsibilities have a purpose and are important in our lives, I thinks its worth stepping back sometimes and considering the balance you have going on. Are you all work and no play? Do you challenge yourself to try new things or are you living in a set routine with no personal enjoyment or freedom for expression?
Disclaimer: Before I go any further with this, if you’re like ‘yeah Sarah, I neck a bottle of wine back on the weekend for fun, that’s my play right?’ That’s not quite where I’m heading with this. I’m talking about intellectual stimulation through creative practice, learning something new or engaging the brain in some form of challenge, which brings about enjoyment…Just thought I’d clear that one up guys and also don’t worry, I’m not going to go into what that bottle of wine does to the synaptic connections between your neurons.
So, as I was saying, we can get our heads around competitive play in terms of things like sport but when it comes to play without real meaningful purpose, this can often appear a luxury, which time simply doesn’t allow. We, as adults, can also get very set on who we are and the types of activities that we do and do not like, however, I think it’s super important to continually challenge this and look to grow as a person, rather than getting stuck in our own ways.
Stuart Brown, MD, has been studying play for decades and in his book, Play, he outlines the five play archetypes that he has observed during his years of research. If you want to find out more about how important this is to us as humans, check it out here in his Ted Talk.
Time passes quickly and there’s no better moment than the present to start incorporating new activities into your life, which you can grow from and which you enjoy. Giving yourself the space to explore through play is an action of self-care, which can directly impact your mental wellbeing so, try not to dismiss this as a ‘luxury’. Create, learn, explore, challenge and follow your intuition. Be the best version of yourself that you can be.