Given we are at a dark time in history, it does help to balance it out with some lightness. Not only for you, but for those around you. It can enhance your creative capacities to solve challenges. In this episode, we will look at the top 4 habits of people with a very playful spirit. Do you have these habits? If not, here’s some practical tips to improve your ‘laugh life’ and bring some enjoyment back into your life.
3:50 – How your brain looks when you’re enjoying yourself
11:20 – Habit #1 of people who have a playful spirit
12: 16 – A test to see how well you can ‘take yourself lightly’
18:45 – Habit #2 of people who have a playful spirit
22:15 – Habit #3 of people who have a playful spirit
26:30 – Habit #4 of people who have a playful spirit
The Power of Laughter Book – PDF download
The Power of Laughter Book – Amazon.com Kindle or Hard Copy
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This is EP 78 – The Power of a Playful Spirit. Given we are at a dark time in history, it does help to balance it out with some lightness. Not only for you, but for those around you. Not to make fun of people or situations, but to enhance our creative capacities to solve situations we find ourselves in. In this episode, will look at a few ways to improve your laugh life. Hi, I’m Carla Rieger, and this is the MindStory Speaker Podcast.
So why do humans laugh unlike many other species on this planet? Maybe it’s because laughter is like the universal solvent against the abrasive aspects of life. If you analyze most humor, it’s based on things we don’t like, that are hard, that test us…such as this quick anecdote by the comedian Steven Wright. I went skiing once and I started talking to a guy I was on the chairlift with. He told me that it was the first time he’d been skiing in 10 years. I asked why was that. He said he had just been released from prison. I asked “for what?” He said for pushing a total stranger off a ferris wheel. Or this oneliner, My wife and I were incredibly happy for 20 years – and then we met. Another type of humor is silly humor as in “How can you tell when an elephant is getting ready to charge? He takes out his Visa card.” It goes into the absurd and twists logic, which causes our brains to jump out of well grooved patterns of thinking which energizes us.
Or, misdirection, as in…Our furniture goes back to Louis the Fourteenth – unless of course we pay him before then. Most things that make us laugh cause us to do a bit of work in our brains. If the joke is too easy to figure out, it’s less funny. The cognitive jump makes us laugh, and causes the brain to open up.
I speak on this topic, I often ask my audience, what situations in human life cause the most laughter? Most people have the right answer, it’s social interactions. Next time you are in a group of people, especially a relaxed social situation, you will hear a lot of laughter, whether it’s over dinner, networking at an event, etc. Especially if the people have known each other for a while. It bonds and soothes tensions. Laughter between strangers can bond and sooth typical tensions that can come up when you meet someone you don’t know, and you don’t know if you can trust them. That’s why anyone who is good at influencing like a networker, a salesperson, or diplomat learns early on to incorporate humor or playful spirit into their initial interactions with someone. Same with anyone who works in a people profession, especially one that can be high stress, like ambulance drivers, emergency personnel, police, social workers, air-traffic controllers, funeral home workers, teachers, healthcare providers, often learn to have a playful spirit to help ease tensions.
That’s because if you look at a brain scan of someone who is in a state of anxiety, you’d mostly only see the energy on in the amygdala or reptilian brain. Which is that interior part of the brain that can do basically those two things…fight or flight. That’s like a very low level operating system with very few functions. So you literally shut down higher functioning capacities in your brain. You aren’t as resourceful, you don’t have great ideas, you don’t have good energy, to get exhausted, you let little things rattle you, your relationships with people are not as good, your health goes down. But the opposite is all true when you laugh or at least smile from time to time. You come up with great ideas, you have better energy, little things don’t rattle you, your relationships with people are better, your health improves.
So I just want to ask you a personal question. Do You think you have a pretty good sense of humor. Now, I don’t mean you’re like a standup comic. In other words, you don’t necessarily have to be the one giving the laughter, but you can receive it, you find things funny at times, you have a playful side. Most people do. Only a very small part of the population lacks that capacity. In fact babies laugh as early as a few months old, and they learn to laugh by mimicking the facial expressions of an adult holding them. But, I was doing this presentation a few years ago for an audience that consisted almost entirely of tax accountants. I asked the same question, guess how many people put their hand up? Surprisingly, almost everyone. Now there were 2 administrative assistants sitting up front. One woman turned to the other and goes, “Look over there, Frank put his hand up, he can’t be funny, he works in fraud detection.” So I had to ask this guy Frank on the break, “So I noticed you put your hand up when I asked do you have a sense of humor. Curious… do you think that your colleagues see you that way?” And he goes, “Probably not.” And I said, “What about your clients?” And he said, “Definitely not. I got this schtick going where I’m Frank the Audit Guy, I gotta be a bit scary. But actually, I am in a comedy troupe on the weekends.” I said, “Really?” He says, “Yeah, ” And I said, “Well, that’s a huge part of your personality that you’re leaving for the weekends, that you’re not bringing into you’re regular everyday life. And he says, “I can’t make fun of other people getting audited. That’s not very nice.” I said, “You don’t have to make fun OF people, you could have fun WITH people.” And that’s a lot of what I’m going to talk about today. Because a lot of humor disappeared in groups and workplaces after the whole political correctness thing came in, because people thought that the only way to have fun at work was to do put-down humor. But put-down humor is one of a hundred ways to create laughter, and you’re only making some people laugh and you’re turning off a whole bunch of other people. So basically, it’s about having fun with people. So I gave him some ideas and he says, “Okay, I’ll give it a try,” and I said, “please email me back if you do something.” So, three weeks later I get an email. He says, “okay, I gave it a try.” He says, “I’m in the back room, I’m going through the receipts. Everybody is icing me, giving me the cold shoulder, like they always do, I’m used to that.” And he said, “At one point I go up to the water cooler, and people are standing around drinking water, and I hear people talking about American politics, so I start to do my Trump impression. And they all look over at me, and go, “that’s very good, who else can you do?” So he started doing his Arnold Schwarzeneggar, and his Christopher Walken impression, and sure enough, everybody starts coming out of their offices, and they’re watching and clapping and laughing, and then, they all go back to work! And he said, “Half an hour later, the receptionist brought me tea and cookies. That’s never happened before. The next day they invited me to lunch and three of them came to my show on the weekend. After the whole audit was over, people were giving me hugs, and I was auditing them. I had to give them a fine!
I love that example, because it illustrates that sometimes we’re doing jobs that people don’t like. But we’re all people doing the jobs, and …Fun connects us to our humanity, to the relationships underneath the jobs, and builds what I call an invisible web of good will amongst people, so that the job can be done with a lot more ease. And I know a lot of you buy into that philosophy already, but it’s very easy to get stuck into the urgency addiction of getting everything done, or that sense of unease at the uncertainties of life these days. Now I know some people seem born with a sense of humor and some don’t, but the truth is statistically, only a very small amount of people in the human population don’t have a sense of humor. It comes bundled with your bio-computer.
Some people just use it more than others. It’s just choosing to focus on it a little bit more, just even the small things that make you smile. So here’s my goal for you, is choose 1 action to take out of this episode, that you might see perhaps applying to your life in the next 10 days. Something that stretches you a little bit, that you feel would be appropriate for your work environment, so customize everything I’m saying, or reinstate something you used to do, and just make a commitment to dial up on light-heartedness in whatever way feels right. It’s really a lot easier than we think sometimes, and it has such a huge underlying, positive ripple effect. And ideally look for a regular thing. So it’s not just, “oh we did one thing that we loved and then, we all went back to the serious thing again.” So see if there is something you could do as a habit. So, let’s dive into the habits of people with a playful spirit. I wrote a book called The Power of Laughter and did a lot of research on this topic. My research showed that one big habit of people with a playful spirit – THEY KEPT THEIR SENSE OF HUMOR, even during intense change and challenge. So, think about that for yourself. It’s where you might catch yourself doing something that’s a bit unbalanced or silly or off base, calling yourself on it, laughing, course correcting. It’s where you can see the irony of situations. What non-resilient people tended to do was take THEMSELVES FAR TOO SERIOUSLY during intense change. Catastrophizing. Not finding anything funny at all. That kind of thing.
One of the most popular ways to “Practice Taking Yourself Lightly” is the PET PEEVE game. It’s both a mind game you play with yourself or others, and also a test to see how good you are at this switching to a higher brain capacity. Think of your favorite pet peeve, the thing you like to complain about. Mine is being stuck on hold. Maybe yours is people who drive too slow when you’re in a hurry. People who eat loudly. That kind of thing. Feel free to write down one pet peeve right now, or if you’re driving, think of one thing that bothered you recently. Like the other day I was stuck on hold for 43 minutes listening over and over again to a muzak version of the Gilligan’s Island theme. So the test is, you ask yourself – what’s good about YOUR pet peeve, whatever it is. So for me, being stuck on hold right—what’s good about it? So, if you can’t think of anything, you don’t tend to have good habits of mind when it comes to moving from amygdala to whole brain thinking. But, if you CAN think of something, even if it’s silly, inappropriate or mundane, it’s better than not being able to do it. It is about being able to switch quickly. So in my case I said, it’s helping me remember the lyrics and I can annoy my family at dinner with the Gilligan’s Island song. So were you able to think of something good about your favorite pet peeve? People who are late to meetings. That’s a good one, a common one. What’s good about that? It gives you extra time to organize your thoughts. At least they did show up eventually. It’s a game to play with your own mind the next time you’re faced with a pet peeve, something that’s annoying, that you can’t really do anything about in the moment. Because if you can do it with the small issues, you can start to do it with the big issues like…
What’s Good About a Big Stressor you have in your life now? For example, a client of mine was working for months on getting a good contract going with a new supplier of tech equipment and services. They were unhappy with the existing one. All was in place and then the whole thing fell through based on price disagreement. After an initial and expected feeling of disappointment and frustration she asked her team, ok, What’s Good about this? She got everything from, I didn’t like guy’s handlebar moustache anyway, to “maybe we should try re-negotiating price and deliverables with the existing supplier, which would be far less of a hassle.” In the end, that’s exactly what they did and were far happier. So, it’s just a fun mindset game to play with your team, which can sometimes lead to better solutions.
HABIT #2 of people with a playful spirit is that THEY COULD STAY FOCUSED ON THE VISION or end goal of a situation. –What non-playful people tended to do, in my research, was to
SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF – especially during intense change. Getting strangely perfectionistic about anything actually within their control, like tidying up, or how a job was done, which unfortunately lowered their work capacity. So these people with a playful spirit tended to have the philosophy that life is a game and we’re here to do our soul growth lessons, so whatever happens whether you label it good or bad, you can find a gift in the situation. So, any kind of gratitude practice helps with that like what I talked about in Ep 75 – What’s Going Well? It comes from the idea that For Every 1 Thing Not Going Well, Aren’t There 1000 Things that ARE Going Well? So, ask yourself and others regularly, “what’s going well?” In fact write one down right now, even if it’s something as simple as, I have a warm bed to sleep in and a roof over my head. The mind will scan for what’s bad, what’s not going well, but if you ask this question it will open up your brain capacity and will help you be grateful for so many wonderful things that you have right now in your life. So did you write something down? Or at least thought of one thing? Great. Does it feel like your energy is a bit higher than before you answered the question? For most people, if we looked at a brain scan, we would see the energy in your brain expand just from thinking of one thing that’s good, that’s going well.
HABIT #3 – of people with a playful spirit was that they could “act as if” in order to manifest what they wanted. So, think about that for yourself. Non playful people tended to stay stuck in old ways of being.
There’s an old saying by WILLIAM JAMES, if you want a quality act as if… You already had it. So, Just put everything out of your hands for the moment. I’d like you to put both hands in the air as if you’re finishing a marathon or going down the roller coaster. Put your hands in the air and say these words very loudly and proudly “I’m exhausted.” Okay, notice how you feel when you say that. Notice if that felt exhausting or not. I’d like you to sit your chair now actually and cave your chest down, and maybe put your shoulders up near your ears, and maybe scrunch of your face up a bit, and frown, and say these words “I’m excellent.” Okay. You can shake that off. Notice if that helped you feel great. So it’s become common knowledge now that whatever you’re physically doing, can actually change you’re thinking capacity. If you ever caught yourself say in a reflection and you’re working on your computer and you’re hunched over it in this totally contracted state, and you wonder why you can’t remember things, can’t think of any good ideas, you’re tired. All you have to do in many cases is physically change your posture.
For example, I was going to a very important meeting in downtown Vancouver, I wanted to make a good impression, but I had to park very far away, and it was raining, and I was late. I was walking along and caught a reflection of a person in a building, I was like “Wow, that’s a really old person….oh…that’s me.” I was walking along really hunched over and scrunched up face, I thought “I don’t want to be in that kind of state of mind for my important meeting – I wanted to make a good impression.” So, I thought “how do I act physically when I’m in a good state of mind? Well, my shoulders are dropped, and my chest is lifted, and I smile.” So I continue walking even though I don’t feel that way yet…but I’m getting there. I get to this intersection, and I’m just standing there, it’s raining hard, there’s a big group of people waiting to cross the street, 10 of us, and there’s this big mud puddle in front. A bus comes by. Mud over everyone. I said “Excellent.” Everybody there was going “Yeah, that was really excellent.” We laugh, we cross the street, I get to my appointment, I’m late, I’m covered in mud, but I’m in a good mood by this time. P.S. I got the contract. Because I think state of mind trumps everything else.
So, Pre-Planning the Fun with a group of people in your life can ensure it actually happens. Because if you wait for it to happen spontaneously, you might be waiting a long time. I will say that sometimes it takes a little bit of courage. Because you are going to be met with some pushback, such as, “we don’t have time for that.” Or “That sounds lame.” But it so pays off if you can somehow show people the benefits.
Here’s what tends to work. Just schedule a 15 minutes brainstorm with a group of people. Give Purpose and Benefits, then an anything goes brainstorm, so people can share bad ideas, silly ideas, boring ideas, good ideas, get it all down on a flipcart, then read back the list and have people vote with hand up whether they’d support it, participate in it, pick 3 most popular ideas to roll out. Assign a point person. Here’s some examples to inspire you.
Start dinner or a meeting with What’s Good? What’s Going well?
Some workplaces have a staff room with a cork board and they do contests or challenges. One was pet pictures. One school did this that I worked with, so there was a piece of paper underneath each image where people guess who is the owner of that pet. Correct winners get chocolate at next staff meeting. You weren’t allowed to guess if you’ve seen their pet. So there were the cute dogs, cat, gerible, goldfish. One woman didn’t have a pet, so she brought in a picture of her Boston Fern. It went on for 2 weeks and people loved it.
Apple Computers used to do “Pick Your Nose” Meetings. They were regular staff meetings, but as you entered the room there was a basket of noses, like clown, groucho, pig, and you had to pick your nose and wear it. It made the meetings far more fun, less contentious, and they tended to strangely end on time.
As I talked about earlier you could do a photo caption contest, or share fun anecdotes between meeting agenda items. This was a School District Office. They got a number of nerf guns from a Toy Store and put them in a box in the foyer. If one department was stressed or overwhelmed they made a deal that another department could take the elevator up to their floor and do a nerf gun raid. They’d literally run through the office pinging people with nerf balls and then go back to work. It was like a pattern interrupt on the brain that made people laugh or at least smile, which changed their brain chemistry enough to better deal with the stress. It would literally take 10 minutes and was a great energizer.
WHAT IS 1 NEXT STEP? So to end with what is 1 and only 1 next step you could take by the end of the month to increase the enjoyment and resilience of your and those you serve? Write one thing down, and if you like, add it to the chat as it might inspire others.
If you’d like to get a copy of my Power of laughter book, you can get the PDF download from my site. It’s full of ideas like I talked about, and some of the science and benefits behind fun at work, full of entertaining stories. A quick read. Normally the digital version is $14.97, but you can get the PDF for only $4.99 US right now, or you can get it on Amazon for a similar price Kindle or $8 for hard copy…that’s US dollars by the way.
Here’s a quote I love to end things with….What you appreciate, appreciates. I started this talk with a story of appreciation and end with this quote because one of the deeper benefits of a playful spirit and fun at work is the emotion of appreciation. Its the invisible web of goodwill that will help us all rise to be our best selves in the coming new era in history.
That’s it for today. Do hit subscribe if you want to hear about other episodes coming up, which you can do on our website MindStoryAcademy.com\podcast. and you’ll see all the ways to subscribe or, if you’re listening on YouTube, just subscribe to our channel. Until next time, I’m Carla Rieger. Thank you for listening.