Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, among many other books, novels, and screenplays, shares a simple but effective exercise that has helped me in the past when I come up empty on ideas for play. It's a simple activity that only requires a piece of paper, something to write with, and a watch or timer to keep track of time.
1. Set a timer for 90 seconds and brainstorm as many activities that you love to do as you can. Make a list of these on your piece of paper and don't overthink it. These activities could be connected with your current art form or totally unrelated. They can be things that remind you of being a kid, such as playing with Play Dough or making macaroni necklaces. No creative censoring allowed.
2. When the time is up, put down your pen or pencil and review the list. Go though each item at a time and jot down the date that you last did that activity. It could be as specific as "last Tuesday" or "Fall 2016". It might also be vague, such as "I don't remember when" or "a LONG time ago". No right or wrong answers here.
3. Once you have dated the list of activities, take some time to reflect. What activities have you continued to do on a regular basis that bring you joy? How does that make you feel? What activities have you not done in many weeks, months, or even years? How do you feel about these items? It is natural to feel a sense of sadness or even anger not having engaged with an activity that you love in a long time, and while it's vital to allow yourself to feel whatever emotions that this unearths for you, it is also important not to berate yourself for having gotten out of the habit of let's say, reading or rock climbing. The key to habit shifting is not shaming or punishing yourself, but accepting less than ideal circumstances or choices in the past, and lovingly and joyfully recommitting to giving yourself the chance to enjoy these things in the present.
4. Choose one activity and make a point to schedule in some time to do this today, even if it's 15 minutes. Write it on your calendar. This strategy helps me to take play time as seriously as I would any other errand or appointment that I schedule into my day. After you give yourself the time to play, you might even want to journal a bit about the experience of giving yourself the permission and space to do this.
5. Hang this list on your fridge, above your desk, or on your bathroom mirror so that you can have a visual reminder of things that bring you joy for moments when you know you want to play but don't know what you might do. This list can be a wonderful resource for you when you need an idea, and you need it fast.
If we can include one item from the list into our schedules this week, I believe that the joy we will feel from it will help make it just a bit easier to schedule it in again next week, and the week after that. Getting started is the hardest part.
Go ahead, give it a try! And leave me a comment to let me know what activity you are going to try this week, I would love to hear how you will be giving yourself permission to play.