Warrior Dash: 5 Reasons Why Play Matters

“Play expands self expression, self knowledge, self actualization, and self efficacy…Play connects us to people in a positive way, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, regulates our emotions, and boosts our ego.” — Garry Landreth

Warrior Dash - Why Play MattersThis weekend I got a chance to run the Warrior Dash in Jackson, MS, and it was a really enjoyable experience.

Overall the obstacles were all pretty mild. There was some simple climbing, swimming, and balancing, but nothing that seemed overly difficult. Perhaps the most fun was running into the giant mud pits on purpose. I mean, when was the last time you ran an obstacle course? It was so much fun getting covered in mud, climbing up rock walls, sliding down poles, crawling around, jumping over things, and just generally running around and acting silly. Warrior dash truly brought out the inner kid in me.

As an adult, we almost always tend to avoid getting unnecessarily dirty. Sure, if we have to do some yard work, we’ll get our hands dirty and work up a sweat, but we still walk around the muddy part of the yard while we’re doing it. Because jumping into that mud won’t help us with any goal we’re working on and it will just mean more work cleaning up later, right?

But one of the things I realized this weekend was that perhaps we adults avoid fun just a little too often. I got to feel like a kid again this weekend, playing in the mud, climbing over things, pretending I was a warrior storming the gates of an enemy. Play is important, and we need to let it seep into our lives a little more whenever we have the chance. Why does play matter?

1. Play fosters creativity and critical thinking

Anytime that we’re playing we’re being creative – thinking outside the box. When I’m pulling myself over a wall with a rope and imagining that I’m storming the gates of an enemy, I’m using my imagination. This type of creativity may seem silly on the surface, but it’s an important skill when we’re trying to solve difficult problems. We have to approach them from a new way, and that takes creativity and critical thinking.

2. Play connects us to our community

The Warrior Dash gave me an experience with both friends and strangers working toward a common goal – finishing the race. Whether it was pulling someone out of the mud or joining together to push down a log in the water so everyone could get over it, there were lots of ways to interact with and connect with others. Often in our daily routine, the fact that everyone around us has a rich an interesting inner life can get lost in our concern for our own. But when we play, these people around us suddenly become more real. And understanding and interacting with people, creating and fostering empathy, is an important part of developing a healthy system of ethics.

Warrior Dash Mud

3. Play is a chance to de-stress.

Stress negatively affects us in every area of our life. If we’re under stress we’re simply not going to perform well. If we can’t find ways to manage our stress, be it through meditation or play, then our chances of achieving the good life are much, lower.

4. The more we can see life as play, the more we can enjoy it. 

When researchers studied preteen children’s attitudes about play, they discovered that some children called almost everything they did “play” while others called almost everything they did “work.” Reconnecting with the children at the end of adolescence, the children who thought of everything as play were more successful and happier in school and were more content socially than the people who saw everything as “work.” – http://www.helpguide.org/life/creative_play_fun_games.htm

This idea goes back to the old saying that we should do what we love, because if we love it, we’ll never work a day in our life. While this is ultimately a great goal, not everyone is in a position to be able to immediately change careers or life paths to do something they love. However, we can still take that lesson and apply it to what we’re doing.

Gamification is a new trend that applies the mechanics of gaming to other areas of life. My most in-depth experience with doing this is with exercise. One of the ways I have learned to enjoy exercising is by making it into a game. This idea is something we can bring to every faucet of our lives. If we don’t enjoy the job we’re doing, is there some way that we can add elements of a game, or even of play to it?

5. Play lets us live in the momentWarrior Dash Play

Although we can learn from the past and apply those lessons to our plans for the future, and important part of living the good life is being able to be fully present in the now. Although this is true for anything and everything that we do, play is by far the activity that can most easily and quickly get us focused on the now around us. Living in the moment is a tough skill, but when we’re playing it comes much more naturally. Our guard is down and we’re not as worried. Our mind is preoccupied with creativity and can’t wander to the bills that are due or the upsetting conversation we had the previous night.

Ultimately, our goal should be to let play teach us how to live more in the moment throughout the entire day. Focus fully on what’s going on around you as it’s happening. When you’re eating dinner, really focus on the food: the flavor, the texture the temperature. It’s hard to do this if we’re eating while we’re sitting in front of the TV. Yet this kind of focus really helps us appreciate what’s around us and leads us closer to the good life.

For these reasons, I celebrate the Warrior Dash and what it stands for. Adults and children alike are coming together and taking themselves a little less seriously for a while. Mud. Sweat. Beer. What could be better?

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