Book Review: Play by Stuart Brown M. D.


Over the past few months I’ve been working harder than ever. With digital work, events around town and a full time day job to take care of, it’s a lot. The main reason I’m able to handle this workload is because I balance the scales with regular doses of pure recreation, or what Stuart Brown M.D. refers to as “play”.

Health and food are two of my major passions in life and spending more energy creating and sharing my perspective on these has been wonderful, but about 2 months ago I started to hit a wall. If I wasn’t at my day job or sleeping, I felt that I needed to be making progress on my creative endeavors. I wasn’t letting myself relax. It felt like spending a day off at the park doing “nothing” was the exact opposite of productivity. I ended up dispelling this notion for myself by spending more time relaxing and coincidentally followed it with reading “Play”. Now, I’m a firm believer that recreation is fuel for productivity. Of course there’s a tipping point to this, and we’re all different, but grinding out more work while feeling uninspired just to keep the wheels turning doesn’t strike me as productive.

One of the major takeaways for me in “Play” was the sheer definition of the word. Brown used golf as an example and that’s what really clicked for me. To some, golf is pure joy and getting out onto the course instills peace. That same person however, could be playing golf as part of a work function, maybe to butter up a client in the hopes of closing a deal. Then golf is no longer play. It’s no longer of pure intent. When we’re truly playing, we diminish our conscious self. We aren’t concerned with how we look, or what others may be thinking, we’re simply going towards whatever is intriguing us in that moment. For a lot of us, this is easiest to attain when we’re in nature.

“All evidence indicates that the greatest rewards of play come when it arises naturally from within”

When I was hitting that wall 2 months ago, I knew technology was a factor. I was spending so much time focused on digital content, that I was missing out on the simple joys of Spring. I went out to Robinson Park to get immersed in nature as a reaction to my technological excesses and it was deeply therapeutic. Now after reading “Play” I understand how regenerative times like that can truly be for the mind.

“Play isn’t the enemy of learning, it’s learning’s partner. Play is like fertilizer for brain growth. It’s crazy not to use it”

It’s strange but sometimes true play can be tough to achieve. Separating completely from thoughts of productivity and the future is one aspect of “Play”, the other is a general mindset. I don’t feel that taking some time to play negates my goals. The other day I was getting some computer work done at Zion and felt like spending some time outside. Rather than debate this, I simply went to what was going to bring me joy rather than deny it for the sake of perceived productivity. After some fun in the sun I got right back into my productive groove feeling better than before. In general, I find that some time spent playing reduces stress in a substantial way and when this is overlooked, stress just builds up and inhibits learning.

Sometimes books like “Play” can feel so familiar that reading them seems unnecessary. Inherently I think we all understand the concept. We know that in most situations, working 5 days and taking 2 off is often more beneficial in the long run than working 7. What Brown does with “Play” is come at the topic from some angles that aren’t as readily understood.

I hadn’t thought about it being implemented on the corporate level but Brown regularly give talks at big businesses to drive home the message that the higher ups don’t have the language to convey. It can seem like mixed messages, having your boss, observer of your productivity, encouraging you to have some fun, but the two go hand and hand.

At a mere 200 pages “Play” is an easy read and a worthwhile one at that. Though the concept is certainly native to most of us, I do still think it’s an important read, if only to serve as a reminder to not take productivity so seriously. Loosening up a bit can often times help move things along and “Play” is packed with examples of this method working, from personal accounts to the story of how some relaxed thinking saved Intel. Sometimes the recommendations in books related to health can seem difficult to put into practice, but with “Play” the suggestions were music to my ears.

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