The following excerpt is from Kelly Clements’ book The Power of Play, Praise and Purpose.
Time away from work is good, but it’s the power of play that truly rejuvenates and builds sustainability in marriage and business for entrepreneurial couples.
Yes! It’s time to talk about the fun stuff: PLAY! I’m super-passionate about play; in fact, I even have my degree in it! That’s right, I have a bachelor of science in recreation. My passion for play is evident in all areas of my life, especially in my coaching. I use the “power of play” to reconnect spouses to how and why they fell in love in the first place. When I’m coaching a group workshop or working with a new client, one of the first questions I ask is, “How did you meet and when did you know your partner was the one?” The answers are almost always rooted in play, and that gives me crucial insight into how to get the couple back to basics when challenges arise.
My favorite couple that illustrates this is Katie and Larry, whose marriage began to suffer when they stopped engaging in the passion and fun that had brought them together.
By trade, Katie is a designer and Larry is a builder. In lifestyle, these two couldn’t be more different from each other: think “heiress debutant” meets “rocker bad boy.” In a hundred years, I would never have paired up these two— until I first heard them talk about their dating days. Katie lit up when she remembered how much bigger her world became with Larry, who has a passion for racing cars. She was exposed to a new, tight-knit community in the racing world. She brought appetizers to share with the other wives and girlfriends at the racing events, and seeing Larry in his element made him even more attractive to her. Katie loved watching him in his race car, conquering his dreams.
The slow fade
The slow fade began a couple of years after the wedding. Katie stopped going out to Larry’s races and became reacquainted with her old hobbies of yoga and antiquing. In her mind, she was being supportive, because she was always encouraging Larry and never complained about his absence when he returned from a race weekend. Larry, on the other hand, was gutted. Races just weren’t the same without his girl cheering him on from the stands.
What was even more detrimental was that Katie stopped seeing Larry in that badass light she adored so much. Without watching her guy in his element, she only saw the “builder” version of Larry, who could seem angry, burnt-out, and tiresome. Katie had made a good move by pursuing her own passions, but where she and Larry both fell short was in the area of sharing in each other’s enjoyment; they had stopped playing together. When Katie sees Larry fully engaged and alive in his passion for racing cars, she remembers why she chose him as a partner. It is via play that our greatest strengths are revealed. Play diffuses unnecessary tension and reflects our highest connection in relationships. It helps to heal the damaged inner child that tends to cause so many problems in a love relationship.
Sometimes we stop playing altogether.
As entrepreneurs, we can become so enthralled with work that we stop playing altogether. We use excuses like, “my work is my hobby” or “I love work so much, it doesn’t feel like work!” When this mantra is adopted, entrepreneurial tendencies seep into the home—hence the lack of balance. You’ll know this has happened when you see these signs:
1) The spouse starts to feel like an employee. Spouses often share with me that they can feel more like an employee than a spouse. “He’s so good at delegating at the office, that he won’t do ANYTHING at home unless he wants to do it.” This comes across as disengagement at home AND it compounds the workload of the spouse—both of which prevent opportunities to play together.
2) The business gets the best of him while his spouse gets the rest of him. Coming home after a long day, severely depleted, on a constant basis robs the spouse of the emotional connection she craves to create and sustain a powerful love relationship.
3) All of the family’s travel plans revolve around business trips and conferences. This can lead the spouse to stop dreaming for herself, because she gets the sense it’s just her job to keep up with the inertia of the business.
For all of these tendencies, we look to an “f-word” for relief: “flow.”
Flow and Play are Equal Opportunity Restorers
If you live with an entrepreneur, you’ve probably heard the term “flow” or “flow state” before. These terms refer to the zone that entrepreneurs get into when they are working in the sweet spot of their business. It’s in “the zone” where time stands still and everything else seems to fade away. During flow states, superior breakthroughs “flow” through the business owner with very little effort and yield extraordinary results. Concepts of time and space disappear and a euphoric mental state is achieved.
In his book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance, author, journalist, and entrepreneur Steven Kotler has written about the neurochemical changes during flow states that strengthen motivation, creativity, and learning. “The brain produces a giant cascade of neurochemistry. You get norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin, and endorphins. All five of these are performance-enhancing neurochemicals,” said Kotler in the publication “Big Think.” Each of these amplifies intellectual and cognitive performance.
Basically, we’re talking about a euphoric cocktail of fulfillment and productivity. This is precisely the reason entrepreneurs have such a hard time disconnecting from their work. Work is where they get their fix. Achieving flow can be addictive for all the right reasons. However, that hit of flow often results in addiction, just like any other drug. We call this addiction “workaholism.”
Entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones who experience flow.
Entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones who experience flow. Artists and athletes achieve flow states as well. Do you see a common thread here? Dancers, musicians, artists, basketball players, football players, etc.—they are out playing for a living, and they are the ones who most often experience flow. To help balance the work-life scales, your best strategy is to incorporate the same sense of euphoria into your personal life. This is best achieved through play. When you consider play, the goal is to achieve “carefree timelessness”— a state in which you lose track of time and the distracting roles and responsibilities of your day-to-day life. In play, you reconnect with your partner and engage in pleasurable activities that you both enjoy. This puts you into a shared zone of euphoria together and fosters a healthy environment to build sustainable and growing love.
For spouses, this can seem like a pipe dream. The good news is, you’re about to learn the delegation strategies successful entrepreneurs use to grow their business, and use them to grow in your life. You’ll need to shed the activities that drain you to make room for ones that will help you achieve flow. In order to make room for the life you’ll love, you’ll need to let go of the things that no longer serve you.
Start focusing on doing more of the activities you enjoy and fewer of the activities that exhaust and deplete you.
Start focusing on doing more of the activities you enjoy and fewer of the activities that exhaust and deplete you. Make a list all the things you are responsible for on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. What are the activities on your list that you absolutely dread? How about the things that you simply tolerate because no one else will do them? As those activities come to mind, I want you to figure out how to get rid of them. This can mean assigning them to someone else or deleting them entirely from your calendar.
As you consider these activities, be careful of the tendency to “should” on yourself. Often, when it comes time for spouses to delegate, a degree of guilt takes over. “My partner works so hard in the business, I really should be available to do more of this tedious stuff.” Maybe, but my experience as a business consultant and coach tells me that entrepreneurs are better served by a happy, fulfilled spouse than one who is burnt out and trying to give from the proverbial “empty cup.” More important, the spouse has the opportunity to discover the line between support and self-care. Clearing some draining activities from your agenda creates space for you to pursue more engaging, fulfilling activities. This is precisely where you will create time and energy for more play with your partner.
I encourage you to think of your play life as a threelegged race. You and your partner should have one or two personal hobbies that you enjoy separately, but the majority of your recreational time should be spent together. Maybe that involves taking turns participating in each other’s hobbies, or perhaps it means finding a shared interest you both enjoy. For men, in particular, it’s incredibly important to spend recreational time together. In fact, many men would rank recreation second only to sex when they define their ideal relationship.
Prep, Play, Produce: The Rhythm of Work and Play
As entrepreneurs, we are uniquely positioned to maximize play by enjoying the freedom our entrepreneurial path provides. Remember, we work extra hard, so we have to play extra hard to replenish energy spent on the business. It’s time to get back to the reason you chose this crazy path and start cashing in on personal enjoyment. Your free leisure time is a depreciating asset. The longer you wait to cash in, the less enjoyable it is. Use it now, while your kids are young; they’ll cherish the memories long after you’re gone. Use it now, while your spouse still craves time with you; she’ll appreciate you even more. Use it now, while your mind and body are healthy and able; it’ll keep both active and vigorous.
Just like we need systems, processes, and procedures in our business, we require them for our play as well. I suggest implementing a preparation strategy to ensure you keep play as a priority. Preparing for play will maximize your play and ensure you are enjoying high-quality free time with your spouse.
Taking care of logistics
During this time, you’ll ensure all the necessary logistics are taken care of. When preparing for play days, think of everything you will need: Childcare? Carpool assistance? Reservations? Equipment rental? Special clothing? Spend prep days getting everything ready to pull off play so you won’t get bogged down in the mechanics on the play day. On the actual play day, you should aim to wake up in a state of carefree timelessness, confident that all the details have been addressed so you can take life at your own pace. This day is exclusively devoted to enjoyment. Perhaps it’s a leisurely morning before an afternoon hike. Or maybe it’s an early spin class before an afternoon of antiquing. The activity is irrelevant; the goal is shared enjoyment.
Don’t forget about pace
One crucial conversation to have as a couple concerning play days is a discussion about pace. Play days can mean many things to many people, but they tend to go off the rails when individuals have different opinions on the pace of the day. Some crave a calm, leisurely pace with no set agenda. Others crave high-octane, sensory-rich experiences. Neither is right or wrong, but the couple should make sure the expectation is set beforehand. If you and your partner have opposing views, take turns experiencing each other’s preference. Avoid the costly mistake of spending too much free time separately. Remember, the key to having a deeper connection and more to talk about is experiencing life with and through one another. Embracing your differences as an asset will deepen your connection and your own personal development.
Play in Action
The frequency of play in our life boils down to the frequency of play in each day. Every day, regardless of the type of day it is, should have some element of play in it. The following snapshot will help set a gauge for how to integrate more play into your life. You can find a Path to Play Planner here.
Each day, when both the entrepreneur and spouse first get home, connecting with each other for fifteen seconds can change the game. Yes, seconds. That’s all it takes. If you want to be really specific, start that interlude with a six-second hug. Research has shown that it only takes six seconds of an embrace to release oxytocin, the love hormone. You’ve both had long, hard days and when these two worlds collide, it can make for some tense moments. As soon as your partner walks in the door, you’ll need a pattern interrupt, a break from the routine with something new. As soon as you or she walks through the door, seek one another. It takes fifteen seconds to stand face-to-face, kiss, assess each other’s emotion, and realign as a united front. A devoted fifteen seconds each day after work will start to change the tone of your relationship. Bonus points if you a glass of wine or take a walk together every day!
Weekly: Date night. Every week. Every. Single. Week.
Even when you don’t like each other, and especially when you don’t feel like it. My personal trainer’s voice haunts me in these moments. Every time I’m tired and don’t feel like doing another rep, she gently reminds me, “This is where we make our changes.” She’s right. The exact moment you lose the desire or the perceived need for date night is the same moment you need to double down on your dates. Those moments are the gateway to either a more powerful relationship, or a further disconnect. The power is in the play.
My colleagues in Massachusetts, Drs. Stephen and Camilla Franson, have an awesome strategy for this. Upon noticing that conversations about kids and logistics were dominating their date-nights, they implemented “Coffee Breaks.” Coffee Breaks are weekly meetings they have with each other, typically on a Sunday, about managing logistics. Each week, they get out their calendars: work, school, appointments, extra-curricular activities, and they consolidate. They spend a power hour aligning their views on the week ahead, and deciding who needs to be where, when. They also use this time to clean up any messes in their own relationship. Dedicating time to being organized clears the way for them to focus on happier pursuits on their weekly date night.
Monthly: Hotel date night.
This will quickly become one of your favorite nights! Let’s face it; hotel sex is the best sex! It’s a chance to focus exclusively on this crucial piece of our marriage. It’s an unbridled opportunity to pay attention to each other without the threat of waking the kids or trying to turn a blind eye to the laundry hanging over that chair in the bedroom. It removes the excuse of needing to do dishes or pay bills that our households so conveniently present.
There’s also something about the effort and foresight that goes into hotel date night. Spending time packing and preparing for a night away offers us a chance to spice things up by including items that may not otherwise appear in our repertoire. Additionally, getting out of the house together at least once a month offers major leverage in avoiding, or escaping, ruts. It’s a pattern interrupt of the status quo. It’s a golden opportunity to be cared for as a couple, order room service, book a spa appointment together, and have someone else make the beds. This ritual will unleash some of your most playful indulgences!
Quarterly: Weekend getaway.
For the same reasons listed above, a weekend getaway four times a year presents a unique opportunity to grow deeper as a couple. Getting out of our community and visiting other places helps us to keep things in perspective. It adds dimension and richness that other pursuits just don’t deliver. Travel, when done right, changes us. What a gift it is to share those unique experiences with each other!
Annual: Full-week getaway.
If you have young kids, this can be challenging. In fact, lack of childcare is the biggest obstacle most couples face in executing on this crucial task—or in spending any time alone together, for that matter. Ensuring your kids are not only cared for, but also entertained, will allow these experiences to be even more enjoyable. Consider asking another family to swap weeks with you so you can take turns getting away. Or find an overnight camp that will ensure the kids don’t even know you’re gone.
Once we get back to that carefree place of enjoying each other, we can see each other’s strengths again. Through play, we get back to where we can see our spouse’s qualities as strengths and recognize the things that we appreciate in him or her. That way, we can have more of those good, healthy feelings and qualities, as opposed to the logistics and obligations that can stifle a relationship. Couples that play together, stay together. Play well, and play often!