It never fails to leave me with a sense of wonder, of pure joy, of a return to innocence and a simpler time. As grown ups, we’ve lost this childlike sense of life. And that’s actually a sad thing. It’s not just about happiness and innocence either — being more childlike also helps us to be more creative, more imaginative, more innovative and open to worlds of possibilities. Consider: as children, we are naturally imaginative, curious, able to play without a worry in our minds. Some qualities of young children that happen naturally are living in the present, freedom from concerns about money, productivity, or being cool, no limits to their imagination, except what they’ve been exposed to, they play and lose themselves in play, they create with abandon and endless curiosity.
We could learn a lot from children. Sure, they have qualities we might not want, but in my eyes, they are already perfect. We don’t need to mold them into people, we need to be more like them. We lose this childlike nature, the nature we’re born with, because of society — it has certain institutions and systems in place that beat childishness out of us, so we can be more productive citizens and consumers. I think it’s unfortunate. We shouldn’t abandon all responsibilities, but we can learn a lot from children and be more like them in some ways.
HOW TO BE CHILDLIKE
We must first acknowledge that no change is instantaneous, that any change worth keeping takes time. But you can start today. Start by deciding to abandon caution and to give this a try. Identify the qualities of children you’d like to emulate: curiosity, play, living in the moment, abandoning worries, imagination, creativity, pure joy.
*OBSERVE CHILDREN* Watch how they play, how they live, how they create, how they ask questions. Sure, sometimes they throw tantrums, but even in that you can see their pure abandonment of everything but what is happening to them right now. Watch and learn.
*PLAY WITH CHILDREN* If you have some of your own, great. If not, play with children of friends and family. Lose yourself in the play. Be a dinosaur, or a gorilla, or a villain. Have a joyous time. Make them squeal in delight, and feel free to do the same yourself.
*TALK WITH CHILDREN* Ask them questions. Answer theirs. Don’t talk down to them with baby talk, but don’t be too grownup either.
*PLAY BY YOURSELF* Go outside and run around, jump, slide, kick a ball around, pretend. Forget about who might be watching.
*CREATE LIKE A CHILD* Don’t be constrained with what people expect, what you’re used to. Be wild and have fun. Imagine that things can be different, that there are no limitations, and see what happens. Most of your childlike drawings will be tossed in the trash, but some might be put up on the fridge.
*BE CURIOUS LIKE A CHILD* Look
at things with a child’s eye, and ask questions you’ve never asked before, explore with a beginner’s mind. Don’t be afraid to ask why, and what if, and why not?
*LIVE IN THE MOMENT* Forget about all you have to do. Forget about what happened yesterday, or that conversation you had. Forget about that meeting that’s coming up, or those deadlines. Just do, and be.
*SEE THE WORLD WITH NEW EYES* It is a wondrous place, a miracle happening every second, a source of immense fascination that can knock you on your ass if you let it. You are a miracle, and every moment you have is a gift. What will you do with that gift?
*AND LAST LET YOUR CHILDREN BE CHILDLIKE* Stop trying to make them grow up. Stop trying to shape them, criticize them, make them your own piece of clay, as Marvin Gaye said. Let them be, and enjoy the beautiful way they already are.
Infusing Play into Mundane Tasks
When I write about loving every moment and loving what you do, people often ask, ‘What about when you have to do something you don’t like?’ You can’t always enjoy what you’re doing, right? Actually, you can. You just have to remember what it’s like to be a child. Sure, there are things we have to do every day that we might think are boring: household chores, errands, routine tasks at work, being in a meeting that makes you want to pound your head on the table. But those are only boring because we’ve chosen to make them boring. Let’s take my six-year-old daughter Noelle as an example. She had to go to the dentist, which is a pretty routine thing for most people. We took the train and then walked a few blocks. In the train, she sang, found things fun to see out the window, played games with me. Everything she does becomes a game, an opportunity for wonder and exploration, or at the very least an opportunity to sing a song. She’s never bored. Why is that? Because she doesn’t see anything as boring. Everything is new, and there’s always a game you can play. We can do that too. Every chore can be turned into play. Every walk to the store can be infused with beginner’s mind, so that we see our surroundings afresh, ripe for exploration. Every boring work task can be turned into a challenge, a game. My 8-year-old son Seth runs everywhere, jumps everywhere. We’re walking along the street and he’s a werewolf, a wizard, a superhero. A living room becomes a place to make a fort, styrofoam becomes a toy, and if there’s nothing to play with, he’s pacing around making up stories in his head. How can you ever be bored when you see life like this?
Though I don’t want to tell you how to play, here are a few examples:
• Sing as you do chores
• Use washing the dishes as a form of mindfulness practice
• Make a game of computer tasks - see how fast you can get your inbox to empty (set a timer)
• Give yourself points for checking off your tasks, and see how many points you can get each day
• Skip instead of walk
• Imagine you are in a movie when you walk into a meeting
• Give yourself challenges
• Make bets with friends when it comes to doing things you don’t normally like doing
• Play music, dance around
• Do a victory dance after you do anything good
• Annoy your co-workers by calling them Jeeves
• Only text people in Spanish
• Play games to learn things
• When you send an email, make fax noises
• Imagine that your co-workers are robots, or vampires
• Talk to your computer, and give it a name
• Pretend you’ve never been anywhere before, and that everywhere is new
• Try to rhyme your emails or tweets
OK, those weren’t all great, but I’m sure you could think of better ones once you get into the right mindset. We’ve had the play pounded out of us, from years of schooling and work. Bring the play back, by watching a child and seeing how amazing life is for them.
*DISCOVER* more of Leo’s writing on fatherhood, simplicity and living a good life at “zenhabits.net”:http://www.zenhabits.net