Develop playfulness through facing your fears

When we want to focus on play, it’s easy to focus on the strategies to strengthen that muscle: do things that you enjoy, set up moments for play at work and with your friends, remember what you liked to do as a child, etc.

That is a great strategy, but it is only one side of the equation. The other side is to actually dive into the things that are blocking that playfulness, notably our fears.

This is summarized in the force field analysis by Kurt Lewin, that states that our present or desired state is created by a mixture of driving forces (positive forces for change) and restraining forces (obstacles to change). In short, if we want to change, we need to apply positive forces for change but also work through the obstacles to change.

It goes without saying that when we are wanting to create a change of the current state, the driving forces must then be stronger than the restraining forces.

When it comes to play, these restraining forces are often represented by fears:

  • Fear of being judged as silly.
  • Fear of being othered or seen as different.
  • Fear that whatever you are doing is not good enough.

These fears are so valid. It can feel so comforting to be seen as a ‘normal’ person that corresponds to your particular culture’s vision of success. The problem is that this normalcy can be stifling, and prevent us from fully expressing our inner reality and desires.

When interacting with such fears, it is helpful to imagine the worst case scenarios. For instance, imagine you were dressed up in a ridiculous dinosaur costume, dancing awkwardly in public while singing out of tune. Then imagine that people walking around you were pointing and laughing at you. Imagine that you saw some friends you wanted to impress staring at you in shock. Imagine that your family then came to the same scene, and began to reprimand you for being so outrageous.

What would that experience be like for you ?

For many, this sounds like some sort of nightmare. And yet, beyond all the judgement of the different people, you would be embodying something incredible: expressing your creativity without fear of judgement.

There is a deep belief that makes this moment possible. It also makes possible every single creative act that is shared in public: singing, dancing, moving, drawing, speaking with people, doing a performance. Here is the belief:

I believe in my worth and the worth of my creativity regardless of what other people think of me.

This is a place of deep freedom. Because you can share lightly and deeply, knowing that at the end of the day, no matter what the reactions of people are, you have your own back.

In my own path, I spent many years trying to fit in, to not be seen as different. But, in my quest of playful living, I realized that I needed to let this protection go. I realized that I was subtly seeking the approval of everyone in public space, hoping they thought that I was normal, that I was likeable.

I realized to actively disrupt the pattern I had to disrupt the behaviour: by dancing by myself, by being strange in public, by saying hi to random people. Each time I broke the norm, I felt a little lighter, a little bit more free. I learned to actively calm my body and soothe the feeling that by being socially ostracized I was in a situation of social danger. And, at the end of the day, I realized that for the most part, people simply did not care what I was doing.

So, when I am working with an individual or a group to strengthen their capacity for playfulness:

  • Yes, we look at integrating a deep ‘yes, and’ posture.
  • Yes we explore methods for co-creation.
  • Yes we strengthen our capacities for creative expression.
  • AND, in parallel, I work with them to identify their specific fears around creativity and playfulness and strengthen their ability to show up for themselves fully, regardless of how people are perceiving them.

The moments when we are being judged the most are also the moments when we need the strongest conviction of our inner beauty.

This is not an easy path. It specifically fights against our trained ways of being. However, on the other end of this journey is a feeling of liberty, a new state of being if you will, where you can move, interact, express yourself and celebrate your existence. And if other people happen to be looking, well let them look.

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Ez Bridgman

Ez Bridgman

Creative experience designer, facilitator and coach based in Montreal. #joy #play #learning / www.ezbridgman.com