Summer solstice is fast approaching, it is a time to play and enjoy the longer days. What are you going to do to play more? The value of play is hugely underrated in our society, but according to the science you need to get back in the game!

Humans are the only species that retains their ability and want to learn new things throughout their life. Most animals have a set amount of time in which their brain seeks out novelty and accepts new information. That is where the phrase “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” came from because their brains have a set period in which they easily learn new things.  

Human brains retain their plasticity for our entire life. How cool is that?  Note all the grandparents that upped their technology games for keeping in touch when covid locked everything down.

The state of play is a special balance in the brain where the stakes are low but curiosity is high. 

When you are engaged in play just for the enjoyment of it, then your brain is in perfect balance to learn and explore all the possibilities it can imagine. Literally when you are in this state of play your prefrontal cortex expands its view and starts to see what contingencies it can try within the bounds of the game. And believe it or not, this ability to really think creatively carries over into other areas of life. By exploring many contingencies your brain is reawakening neuro pathways that you can use later in different situations.

Putting chocolate on caramel? Can you even remember when that wasn’t a thing? Someone was just having fun, seeing what things would taste like and experimenting or tinkering with a recipe or idea.

The idea of tinkering is the best descriptor for the Play State of mind. You are just trying new things, seeing what will happen and no matter the outcome you are ok with it.  

Improv can get you into Play State. The only rule? Yes and…. You are constantly adding to what the previous person threw out there. No contradictions just go along and add to it. “The dogs are taking over the city!” “Yes and… the cats are pissed!” Whatever it is you just keep going. 

Novel forms of movement, dancing, or games where you jump, bob & weave, duck, move in all directions are all great for getting you into Play State.

And, it turns out that the game of chess is fantastic for getting into the Play State. Because the pieces each have different rules for how they can move your brain looks at it like role playing. “OK I can only move diagonally, what are my choices?” is one “character” and “I can only move straight forward unless someone is in the square diagonal to mine then I can take them off the board.” is another “character”.  If you are already a master at chess you will derive less benefit from playing the game as far as getting into the Play State but that’s ok, you can put salt on chocolate or dance or join an improv group 😉

So what are you going to do to incorporate more play into your routine? May I suggest a “date” with play. Literally put it on your calendar and play at the appointed time. It may sound silly to schedule play but that’s the whole point right? Let’s have some fun this summer and really play like we used to!

In depth info on play: Huberman Lab podcast #58 February 7, 2022 “Using play to rewire and improve your brain”

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