Is it just me, or has fun managed to sneak out of the house in 2022?
All during the pandemic, I’d been paying increasing attention to my self-care. The rationale was that I was dead in the water—at home, building a business in the midst of global uncertainty—if I didn’t start taking better care of myself. Times were stressful enough. So I embarked on a crusade to routine-ize those things I knew were good for me and gave me the energy to get through my day.
And for a long time, that was a good thing. It was enough to start to recognise what those things were, and then re-engineer my day to make them happen first thing. Before the day got busy and I lost track of time. Taking care of myself was enough. So my life looked like this:
More recently, however, as I have alluded to in recent newsletters, self-care wasn’t enough. I felt, like this model above suggests, that I was on a treadmill, going from “do-gooding” to myself to working and back again. What was needed to get through Covid and re-invent myself as a small business owner wasn’t enough anymore. It was kind of a slog, actually. It was a shock to realise that I had forgotten how to have fun. Or to even know what “fun” meant for me.
I live in a small house, and do lots of work in a small office, with a crappy desk chair and a desk that is decidedly not stand-up. So when it first occurred to me that there might be some wisdom in just breaking up my day in some fashion, I would resolutely stand up from my crappy desk chair, do some stretching, and, well, wander the house. And in no time flat, I’d find myself at the dining room table where the family laptop sits, and start doom-scrolling the US political landscape. Now there’s some fun for you [insert eye roll here].
So what IS fun, anyway?
Looking this up in the dictionary, as I am prone to do, fun = what you do that brings enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure. Play = engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. Of course, there’s also the point that when we take part in sport, we “play” it. Setting aside the perhaps sad reality that I had to actually go and look up what “fun” and “play” meant - that’s how far I have been from their simple truths, I resonate with their definitions and their point. Adding these terms up? Doing play = having fun.
Sociologist Martha Beck makes a wonderful distinction between faux fun and real fun. Essentially, faux fun is the stuff you do to forget your problems for awhile, a kind of avoidance behavior. Activities like "tying one on" after a hard week, or that thing we do when we don't want to do the work (going down internet rabbit holes, anyone?) - these activities may feel pleasurable at the moment, but we so often pay a price afterward and find reality a hard landing. Beck says, "if you are having real fun, you never regret it."
So, I’m doing a decidedly slow, Queen-Mary-esque turn into doing less harm and finding more real fun. I’m getting better at avoiding that other computer screen during work breaks. It’s late spring here in Australia, so I have been going outside and messing with the garden more regularly. I’ve hired someone to tune our piano so I can actually play it again. I’m looking into art classes. I recently also discovered the slam-dunk fun time that is karaoke. Hamming it up, laughing hysterically, play-acting a singer I have no business trying to be…all a complete and utter blast, may I say.
Behavioral scientist Ed O'Brien debunks a work-to-fun myth many of us carry - that fun should come after work. That is, we think that we should get our work done first, then have fun...that is, if we really want to enjoy the fun. Turns out not to be true in many cases. People were asked to participate in fun activities before or after engaging in a strenuous battery of cognitive test. While most people thought they enjoy the "pre tough-task" fun less than if they were to get the work out of the way first, the level of fun experience was the same for both groups. While some forms of leisure can undermine our ability to work after (downing a couple of beers before finishing that report, maybe), O'Brien says: If you find yourself thinking, “It’ll ruin my fun, and the payoff will be better if I wait,” you might be wrong. This is not to suggest that delayed gratification doesn’t pay off. After all, even in our own studies leisure after work was just as great as people thought it would be. But the point here is that leisure-before-work may be just as rewarding.
There's also an essential truth to the idea that good work IS fun. I love my work. Well, most of it. And I see all these activities feeding each other. When I get to work with people in the areas I care most about, I have a lot of fun, and I feed my mojo. When I self-care, I feel better, making work easier. I’m hoping that by re-balancing these with more play, the virtuous cycle will only get better. Or so I hope and will report back on this experiment I’m calling Play Time.
So, dear readers, tell me. What lights you up? What do you do for fun? How do you play?
Inquiring minds want to know.
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