It’s early yet, but it may well turn out to be the best possible training session for my upcoming triathlon. It wasn’t a series of laps and drills in the pool, as important as those are. It wasn’t a run or a bike ride or even a brick workout (biking followed immediately by running), as necessary as all of those are.
My pivotal workout was this: I played. In the pool. With a six year old.
We raced. We jumped in the pool about a thousand times, mostly jumping together to create the biggest splash. I hurled his sixty-pound self in the air and into the water. I spent a lot of time treading water while waiting for him to jump or to swim to me or for my turn up the ladder. We had splash fights.
I didn’t count laps or do warm-ups or concentrate on form. I played. In the water. With a six year old.
Later that day when I went to the lap pool for an official practice, something was different. Something big. A week ago I felt awkward but now I moved through the water as if I belonged there. I felt more confident.
I’d reconnected with my inner fish. I’d reconnected with the girl who used to spend hours in the pool. Not racing. Playing. My body remembered what it was like to swim for the sake of swimming, swimming to get from the Marco Polo game to the slide, swimming just because I could.
As adults, we spend lots of time working. We work at our jobs. We work on our golf games or running times or tennis strokes. We work on the house or the yard. We work on ourselves. I’ve done all those things and even enjoyed most of the doing of them.
But sometimes when we are so strongly focused on work we forget the magic of play. I will sometimes give a client an assignment to try something new. Maybe it’s a new way of thinking or of reacting or a new tool for channeling emotions or dealing with stress. “I don’t want you to work on it,” I tell them, sometimes to their surprise. “Play around with it.”
When we play, we’re more relaxed. We’re focused on the moment of the thing, not some goal we have to accomplish. We play at this thing until we’re ready to play at something else. In the pool with my six year old buddy, I didn’t have a quota of jumps that had to be made before I could call it a day. We just jumped until we grew tired of it then moved on to something else. It didn’t mean that we had failed or done the jumps wrong or not lived up to our potential.
Allow yourself some time this weekend to play. If you run, for once leave the watch at home and just enjoy being outside and seeing the things you see. If you’re trying to make changes in your life, play around with what it feels like to go a day or an afternoon as the person you want to be. You don’t have to make a lifetime commitment. Just play with it.
There are time for goals and to-do lists. But there is also a time for play.
Who knows? That time may wind up being the time that makes all the difference.