Put Your Mind to It — Play, That Is

Last week I was invited to a “stamping up” party. I wasn’t sure what that might be, but went because I like Lisa, the hostess, and wanted to see her new house.

The affair proved to be one of those crafting parties women have been having for years. We made greeting cards using a variety of stamps and other art supplies, and much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

This experience reminded me of something I had long forgotten: the value of focusing completely on something that is sufficiently interesting to do, but not so important that it must be done right.

During the three hours I spent making cards, I thought of nothing else. Not about work, not about whether the other women were more creative and not about personal problems. I was a greeting card maker, pure and simple. I was “living in the moment.”

One such opportunity available to all of us comes disguised as play.

Take golf: the few times I’ve journeyed the links, I could see why many Type A personalities enjoy the sport. For the few hours it takes to play 18 holes, you focus solely on knocking a little white ball down the fairway. Whether you’re a CEO with a multi-million dollar merger decision awaiting you back at your desk or a wage-earner with dinner waiting for you on the table, focusing on that ball banishes all your other concerns.

What if you lack a hobby like golf? How can you apply the principle of living in the moment so that you reap its benefits? And as a practical matter, how can you play at work, so to speak?

All it takes is concentrated focus. What you are doing is not important; what matters is that you do it with all your attention.

When you focus intently on a task and perform as well as you possibly can, everything else fades away. Sweeping a floor with concentrated focus can be as absorbing and as relaxing as driving a golf ball straight down the middle.

Whatever your tasks, there is a way to give them concentrated focus and thus experience relaxation. I don’t say there will be no physical effort involved; there may be. But physical effort doesn’t fatigue us nearly as much as mental gymnastics. When we do something while thinking intensely about other things, it’s as if we are doing many tasks at once, and we grow weary very quickly.

There is much data to support the theory that distractions not only tire us, but “erode” us as well, imposing emotional wear and tear. By cultivating your ability to focus with intensity, you will reduce the “drag” that distractions can have on you and on your spirit.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of the U.S. Chief Justice of the same name, once said: “We do not quit playing because we grow old; we grow old because we quit playing.”

Play is living in the moment, focusing intently on the task at hand and losing yourself in the activity for a while. When you can turn even your work into play, you will immediately start to grow younger in all the ways that matter.

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