ChangeAbility: Let Yourself Be Led by Play and Pleasure

It’s summertime. The weather is warm and the days are long. The fruit at my farmers market is bursting with sweet, juicy, deliciousness—peaches, berries, cherries and plums. Whoever of us can will go on a vacation: to the beach, to the river, or to a lake where you can soak up the sun, splash in the water, and play. Often the vacation takes you back to a favorite spot with family and friends, or the vacation becomes an adventure, exploring someplace new—perhaps exotic—that’s been calling to you for some time now.

Summer brings the type of change we like: a change of scene for a good reason. On vacation, you experience new sights, sounds, flavors, customs, and people. Even when the experiences are familiar, they are a welcomed change of pace to your ordinary, everyday life.

What if you could approach the changes in your life, especially the ones you’ve been avoiding, as you would the pleasant anticipation of going on vacation? What if you could research finding a new apartment or home like you would finding a great B&B in Tuscany? You want the great view, you want proximity, and you want authentic architecture and amenities that are particular to the place—all at a good price. Or, what if you could approach a needed health change in diet as if you were exploring a new cuisine in a foreign country? Or, what if you could give yourself the necessary patience or moxie to master a new skill at work like you would to learn to parasail or paddleboard?

When you let delight and pleasure lead your choices rather than being dragged by dread or obligation, you lighten your load and expand your possibilities. Being led by pleasure and play is a radical idea that can reframe your thinking and invite in some great ChangeAbility. It’s the perfect summer approach to change in a season when we are all feeling more playful, restful, inventive, and game.

A vacation often takes us to places we’ve never been; so does change. Whereas a vacation can fill you with refreshment and excitement, it can also bring concerns and anxiety, depending upon how you generally meet the unknown. If negotiating foreign territory, foreign currency, and different languages where you can’t quite read the signs or the signals stresses you out, then a venture into a new land might cause you to tighten and shut down. If you find all those aspects of newness appealing, then you’ll have a blast. Either way, when you go beyond the confines of how you usually know yourself, you experience growth. New aspects of your awareness can develop and come forward.

Travel is good for the soul. Being an adept traveler is much like being a good navigator of change and ChangeAbility. All the ChangeAbility principles—the seven principles necessary in all change scenarios—come into play. To name a few: you must Listen Deeply to assess your environment; Find Community for companionship and support; Proceed Incrementally for mapping your way; Align with Nature for the best possible flow; and Spark Fire for fun and frolic, pleasure and passion. The ability to plan ahead and then to roll with what comes is paramount to enjoying yourself on the journey of travel, as well as on the journey of change. How do you achieve that? By following pleasure and by initiating play.

When the spirit of playfulness enters, everything seems a little less serious. Expansive, feel-good energies come with the summer heat: picnics, barbeques, and dining al fresco; spontaneous gatherings with friends; blockbuster movies and broad comedies; trashy novels and guilty pleasures for beach reading. We wear bright colors, and show more skin; take long nap and don’t apologize. It’s the time when you can have a “staycation,” finding new pleasure in what might seem ordinary, becoming more playful in exploring the places in your own hometown you might pass by everyday. Whatever is shifting, changing, or perhaps not running according to schedule has more room for error within the spirit of play.

Did you know that when you smile, it changes your entire physiology? That when you act on behalf of someone you love, it also alters your body chemistry? When you are in the sensation of pleasure—when something feels good—your body softens and you relax. When you relax, when you let yourself eat what you’d like or drink what you’d like—that is, when you indulge in the flavors, rhythms, and pass times that give you pleasure—your entire body, brain and being relaxes. In that relaxed state you are open to inspiration, new discoveries, and creative play.

There’s little that’s more pleasurable, freeing, or creative than play. The feel of inventive exploration often elicits laughter and delight from the players. Play is a form of inquiry, asking of your play partners, “What’s next?  What’s after that?” The discovery and the response will be up to you.

Children learn through play. So do animals. In nature, animals try out hunting, mating, and group social behaviors through play that will prepare them for the real thing, as adults. Their play is relaxed, as they follow the cues of their biology or of the game, responding directly to what is offered, and adapting as the play goes along. Domesticated dogs also learn through play as you train through repetition and rewards. When my dogs get excited, they automatically bring me a toy to throw and play as a way to engage with me in their enthusiasm. When I dance around my living room, they squeak their toys along with my swaying hips.

Some play has very strict form and rules, like sports, where the fun of the game is to play well within the form. Some folks work hard at their play. They’re very serious about winning, and like to bring competition into the sense of play so that a tennis game can become a heated contest or a game of Scrabble can become an legendary family tournament. For some folks, self-competition or competition with others is the way they like to play. For other people, the opportunity to play brings a flexible and innovative ease, a respite from how they’re required to perform at work.

Being playful with how you meet the changes in your life also means to go easy with yourself over your mistakes. Anytime you’re trying something new, checking something out, or playing around with how it’s usually done, you’re going to make mistakes. It will take a number of spills before you can stand up on the paddleboard. A new recipe might flop the first time, or need some amending. Or, if you set the fish on fire while trying a new grilling technique, like I did, you and your guests will definitely need a good sense of humor. So what? Who cares, really? Making mistakes is how we learn. Being playful about our mistakes allows us to be light, and not allow embarrassment or shame to block the valuable lessons gained in the course of learning.

Back to being led in your changes by the sensations of pleasure—ask yourself, how can meeting unpleasant change taste more like your favorite ice cream? How can meeting difficult change feel more like floating on warm water in a gentle current? How can what lies ahead of you, even if unknown or yet unseen, appear as the most beautiful mountain vista or beach sunset? What are the qualities that you want more of? Can you be playful in your curiosity as you come up with some new and fresh ideas and strategies? Next time you face a change you dread, or are simply unhappy about, see what happens when you approach it like you would going to your favorite vacation spot on earth. Or, notice the difference, and work on that.

Let loose a little. Have a summer fling with what attracts you. Maybe it’s the magnetic pull of another, or it could be a fling with a new book by a favorite author, a new hobby, a new idea, or a visit to a new place. Create a carefree dalliance with something new. There’s nothing to say that this fling couldn’t turn into a life-long relationship with that pleasure, but is starts out as a flirtation that could turn into a passionate affair, as your play becomes practice. Have a summer fling with play and pleasure. You might just find yourself walking around with a smile on your face all of the time.

Sharon Weil headshotSharon Weil is the author of ChangeAbility, How Artists, Activists and Awakeners Navigate Change (Archer/Rare Bird Books 2016) a book designed to help readers navigate all the changes of their lives, drawing upon the collective wisdom of twenty-five change-innovators across many fields. ChangeAbility Playbook, How to Navigate Your Own Change (Archer/Rare Bird Books May 2017) is a journal workbook for navigating your own personal change. Bundled with The ChangeAbility Deck: 48 Reflection Cards to Change Your Life, they make a perfect change-support gift. Sharon’s novel, Donny and Ursula Save the World, is called “the funniest book about love, sex, and GMO seeds you’ll ever read.” (Passing 4 Normal Press 2013)  She is also the host of Passing 4 Normal Podcast, conversations about change.



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