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A weekly kick-off e-message from Katherine Eitel

to breathe life back into your practice, your team, and you!


July 18, 2011

Play vs. Push

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Master trainer, Bob Pike, once said, "Adults are just babies in big bodies."  In my personal experience as a trainer and coach, he's so right.  Tip #3 for improving your teaching and training results is something I call, Play vs. Push.

Just like a lioness and her cubs, by nature, humans are born to play.  Playing is instinctive and fundamental to our existence and, just as with lions, it serves a purpose in all stages of our lives.  Play is often described as a time when we feel most alive, yet we often take it for granted and may completely forget about it after childhood.

Fun Meeting Stuart Brown, author of book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul   (Avery, $24.95), says "Play is not trivial; it's a basic biological drive as critical to our health as sleep or food.  It teaches us how to manage and transform our "negative" emotions and experiences.  It supercharges learning, helps us relieve stress, and connects us to others and the world around us."  Play also seems to help when things are going badly and Brown suggests that it is play that gives workers the emotional distance to rally.  In his book, he recounts a story about a CEO he knows who gathered employees to talk about a recent bad quarter.  The CEO took the blame for the company's performance, then told the employees that under every seat was a toy dart gun with foam darts and that they were all invited to take a shot at him!  The CEO then went on to explain how they were going to turn things around.  The foam darts told everyone the situation was not so dire: It was OK to have some setbacks, admit failures, take the hit, and figure out ways to fix the problems and get back on track.

In teaching, we often think pushing people to learn is the only sure way to make learning happen, for example, with relentless repetition.  But research does not prove this out.  Psychiatrist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has studied play extensively and describes play as a flow state that requires just the right balance of challenge and opportunity.  If the game is too hard or too easy, it loses its sense of pleasure and fun. His studies indicate that virtually all people learn faster and with longer retention of material when they are enjoying the process and, most importantly, are feeling engaged and challenged without feeling overwhelmed.

Remember learning your multiplication tables?  Some of us experienced what can only be described as Multiplication Boot Camp where we were drilled with flash cards and grid sheets for hours on end.  But a few lucky ones among us played flash card games and have memories of baseball math and Math Jeopardy Marathons.  My kids even had Multiplication Rap Songs!  These techniques still used repetition but with a fun, creative, and playful component.

Tip #3 is to find a way whenever you are teaching or training, to incorporate fun and playfulness into the learning.  It's a great way to learn, a great way to teach, and for that matter... a great way to live.  Life play, the black belt of play, comes when we realize that all of life contains an opportunity to play, enjoy, and have fun.  When we know this and become good at it, our work is our play and our play is our work and we have a hard time telling the difference between them.  By giving ourselves permission to play with the joyful abandon of childhood, we reap its benefits throughout our work and life.
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"Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play."
~ Heraclitus


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