This is the second of a three part series on how to cultivate a “play practice” in order to develop your play skills. The first entry was about how to gamify everything.

By the time we hit adulthood, “pretending” might seem like a lost art. We no longer imagine the couch to be a storm-weary pirate ship, confide in imaginary playmates, or create made-up scenarios to act out with our best friend.

While we might not be interested in these particular activities anymore (though some of us might be!), there are still distinct advantages to tapping into your natural ability to pretend. Consider these three ways to re-engage your dormant imagination muscles and how they might change your life for the better:

  • Tell stories: Stories are how we make meaning out of our lives. Children are great at making up stories, and they can invent some pretty excellent plot twists. What a fantastic skill! You may not be interested in writing a prize-winning novel, but have you considered trying to write a short story? Or, if you’re not the writing type, try oral storytelling as a game. Get some friends together and ask everyone to bring a few random objects. Take turns telling stories inspired by the props. Encourage each other’s creativity by doling out awards such as “Best Character Development” or “Most Surprising Ending.”
  • Find new uses for old things: Kids can imagine a cardboard box is a fantastic mansion (or the beginnings of an arcade), they can turn an old blanket into a superhero cape, and they can easily make robot headgear out of a colander. What can you find a new purpose for? It may not necessarily be an object; it could be a tool, a process, or a way of thinking that can simply be applied in a new context. You’ll find that this kind of lateral thinking sparks your best ideas. Maybe you’ll invent something incredibly useful, solve a pressing problem, or even be inspired to launch a new business.
  • Fake it till you make it: When we’re young, we sometimes pretend to be veterinarians, police officers and chefs. Is it just me, or are we all still kind of pretending, even in our grown-up jobs? The next time you’re given the opportunity to take on a task or challenge that you feel you’re not quite up to, remember how easily you were able to slip into a new role as a child. What’s the difference between then and now? Maybe just confidence, or perhaps the easy fearlessness of childhood. Remember that the best way to grow is to say yes to opportunities that are just beyond our abilities. And how do we succeed in those situations? We fake it! We act as if we can do the job, until, magically, we actually can.

How do you like to play pretend?

Watch out for Part 3 of the play practice series: Developing Playful Seriousness.

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