Category Archives: Play

What’s even better than direct experience?

Direct experience is how we learn. If we don’t do it, we don’t learn it. Even better? Repeated direct experience, including pauses. When we pause, we learn from our direct experience how to do what we do better by seeing our failures clearly (with kindness). Then we try it again and again and again. Play and persistence together help each other out to help us grow.

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Two words that help you grow

In a world of distraction, where focus is an endangered species, two words help: direct experience. We can also support that by thinking about the concept of what we want to focus on, of feeling excited about it, anticipating it. That helps. But the only way to actually get better at something is to do it. We can watch YouTube videos on how to cook the perfect omelette, but until we actually break some eggs we don’t get to eat. Direct experience is how we learn.

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Go outside and play? “It’s too real!”

“Go outside and play,” Mom told us all summer long when we were young. Mom meant it literally, and Mom is always right of course. It’s also great advice metaphorically. But get outside what exactly? We have a comfort zone where life is easy and enjoyable. And we have a panic zone where life is too hard, too scary, too overwhelming, too…much. There’s a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where he complains about being outside his TV-watching comfort zone, explaining, “It’s too real.” We call this ‘too real’ zone the challenge zone. The challenge zone is built between the comfort and panic zones. It’s where we learn. It’s where we grow. Too much reality and we’re panicked. Too little and we’re stuck trying to stay comfortable, what Walt Whitman railed against as “indoor complaints”. The literal outside is not always comfortable. It’s often too hot, too bright, too humid, too buggy, just as Calvin so astutely noted. And the metaphorical outside is the same – it’s really real outside the comfort zone. Yet if comfort is our highest priority, we can give up the hope of learning and growing. Every team development session we lead has lots of new concepts, research and ideas to help teams and individuals grow into the challenge zone. And I pair every training with team building activities to try those concepts out, an immediate leap into the challenge zone. That’s where the growth happens. High hopes accompany new ideas. That’s great! And then there’s the reality when trying to put them into play. It’s not easy to see enthusiasm get a dose of direct experience. But that’s the beginning of learning, of “going where I have to go” as the poet Theodore Roethe said. Happy summer! Now get outside and play.

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Tight boundaries are time boundaries too

Playing with tight boundaries helps with overwhelm. “I’m just going to do this one thing, that’s it.” This works with time boundaries too. “I’m just going to give this 6 minutes/30 minutes/3 seconds/fill in your own blank of my time, that’s it, no more.” And you can gather excitement by shortening the time boundary. If a team looks like they’ll be easily successful in a team building activity, I’ll tell them I’m reducing their time. There’s a jolt of energy. People tune into the end of televised games. That’s when it matters most – it’s either most exciting then or the outcome is clearly decided. Play with ‘bringing in the cones’ with time so the playing field is smaller and more full of energy.

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Tighten Up

Overhwelmed? No motivation? As Archie Bell and the Drells sang, “it’s time to tighten up.” When you tighten up a boundary, the playing field gets smaller and there’s a jolt of energy. Today, try tightening up the time frame you work in. What can be done in 30 minutes? What can be done in 3 minutes? What can be done in 30 seconds? And what if you play the game in that tight time frame as if your life depended on it? What if this game was the last game you were going to play ever? And at the end of the game, you put it down, take a break, walk away.

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Deadline vs Game Over vs Finish Line

What’s your energy right now? Enthusiasm? Excitement? Or is panic? Be careful with slinging the word ‘deadlines’ around if it’s panic. Using the word ‘dead’ rarely helps relax and liven things up. Try the more playful term, “Game over.” Or if that’s too stressful? Try, “finish line.”

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A New Way to Assemble Mr. Potato Head

“The arm goes on the second hole up on the left side! No, one hole lower. Turn the arm around!” And so it goes in the ‘Assemble Mr. Potato Head’ team building activity. One person is blindfolded, the other team members look at a picture and tell the blindfolded person what piece to pick up and where to put it to replicate what’s on the picture. It’s a fun activity, and great for honing team communication. The attempts and results in many team building activities are often fairly predictable for me. But part of what I love about this work is the innovation that shows up unexpectedly. I worked with Kaiser Permanente recently and they did it differently. In all the years I’ve seen groups assemble the venerable plastic spud, they always verbally tell the blindfolded person where a certain piece is and then where it goes. This time, they let the blindfolded person pick any piece at random, then told them where it went. Every piece was ‘the right one to pick up’. The person without sight is given a 100 on the test. The most vulnerable person is in charge, is ‘right’. This is a simple tweak of genius. If we want to influence someone to do what you want them to do, if we want to change the world, we start where the other person is, not where they should be. We visit them in their “home”, their most comfortable way of doing things. We tolerate discomfort in the service of change. Brain science tells us this is true for the brain as well. If we want to help an emotionally hijacked person out of it, the first step is to meet them, without fear, in the hell they have entered. Then we can show them the way out.

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Where to grow

There’s only one place for you to grow. It’s at the intersection of the avenue of ‘the strengths you were born with’ and the street called ‘where you are, right now today’. “Grow where you are planted.” ?St. Francis de Sales

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How to overcome overwhelm with play

Overwhelm is ready to take over any time we try to accomplish something big we (or someone who signs the checks) care about. The solution? Make it as small and meaningless as you can. Small: Tight boundaries make the best playgrounds. Limit yourself to one thing, one minute, one task, one day, anything. The words ‘limitless’ and ‘overwhelm’ are practically married. Meaningless: We play best when it doesn’t matter. If you break something big down into small enough chunks, each separate little chunk feels like ‘no big deal’. For example if that giant chocolate chip cookie is overwhelming, try breaking it down into 2,000 chunks of 1 calorie each. See? No big deal. Play your way through overwhelm – keep it small, keep it meaningless.

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Shake It Up

You need to establish routines to persist, to make something you desire unconscious. But what about when the things you do are unconsciously bad? You do things automatically but they don’t work. They don’t help. They may even make things worse. Then you shake it up. You change it up. You break the routine. For example, if sitting at your computer is not working for you, stand up. Go outside. Try doing what you do in the morning in the afternoon, and vice versa. Rip up your To Do list. Try walking sideways to get the coffee. Try anything, anything that will shake it up. Any kind of change. What happens when you change something? You come at it with a fresh perspective. Everything is new again in that moment. You are innocent again. And you are more able to play your way into doing what you are passionate about. Learn more:  Change Up! – Teams master change with a mix of team building and training.

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