You're Such A Neotenous Human Being!
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
(Keep reading to know more about neoteny and how it applies to you.)
We’ve lost something of our humanity. By the acceptance of long work hours, ever higher bills and taxes, etc. we let go of an important part of ourselves.
I recently went on a walk. It was a beautiful summer day, warm with a hint of humidity. The sun was shining with a few puffy clouds in the sky. I walked past the grouping of deciduous trees and in the clearing the smell of fresh cut grass was in the air.
I was pleasantly taken back into the days of my childhood.
Days when I played outside in the warm sun for hours. Days when I laughed and ran, skipped and jumped. When I imagined all sorts of scenarios for fun.
I went with the flow.
The joy of it brought a smile to my face as I walked and I could tell people passing me by were also lifted.
I realized I had been missing that in my life recently.
The value of play as an adult is much higher than we could’ve imagined.
We’ve been taught socially to give up play as adults in the name of more serious pursuits such as careers, relationships, and families - all of which are valid pursuits.
Yet, what if we could tap into play to enhance our life experiences, our professions, our relationships, and our family lives as adults as well?
Play for adults with a stressful life can be a critical outlet.
The Benefits of Play Are Far-Reaching
Play allows you to let go of the seriousness of life and be curious and more creative. Creativity allows more ideas and possibilities to occur to you. Thereby, enhancing your family life, career and other relationships.
In studies, play has been shown to:
Improve brain functionality
Help to keep you young and feeling energetic
Stimulate the growth of the cerebral cortex
Play has even been shown to trigger the secretion of BDNF, a substance essential for the growth of brain cells - previously not thought possible.
Dr. Stuart Brown at the National Institute for Play has been researching the effects of play for adults.
In his study, he’d been looking at different animals. He noted that when animals are playing, they’re in an altered state that allows two creatures to explore what’s possible.
He studied a polar bear confronting two tethered huskies. The polar bear approached with a predatory stare. It looked like the huskies were going to be done for. Until one of them took a playful stance - head down, front paws extended.
The polar bear changed his state and began playing with the dogs. This is something that never could’ve happened without the play signals.
Dr. Stuart Brown at the National Institute for Play - TED Talk
“A sandbox for new ideas about evolution.” - New York Times
Dr. Brown’s studies led him to determine and categorize six different modes of play.
1. Body Play
Body play is a spontaneous desire to get ourselves out of gravity. Jump up and down, skip down the street or down the hall in your house - you’ll feel better no matter what you’re going through.
I recall as a kid, in the fall, when you could smell the leaves that had fallen off the trees, the crisp note of cooler air and my parents inevitably enlisting my friend’s and my help raking the leaves to put into bags.
We took way longer than was necessary. The laughter still rings in my mind. We raked pile after pile because once we raked up one pile we took turns jumping in it, dispersing all the leaves again.
What a joyful time!
So much so that to this day, when I’m outside raking leaves, I naturally jump into the pile.
2. Object Play
Studies have shown, if people haven't played with their hands making things early in life, they can't problem solve very well.
So play has practicality to it.
Things like, making a snowball, snowman, snow fort, tent or fort with blankets and pillows, marbles, catch, etc.
“The human hand in manipulation of objects is the hand in search of a brain; the brain is in search of a hand; and play is the medium by which those two are linked in the best way.” - Dr. Stuart Brown
3. Social Play
If you want to belong, you require social play. Social play is anything within a group playing something together, engaging in curiosity and exploration.
4. Rough and Tumble Play
Rough-and-tumble play is a great learning medium for all of us. Preschool kids, for example, when they’re allowed to dive, whistle, scream, be chaotic, they develop emotional regulation.
They also develop a lot of the other social byproducts -- cognitive, emotional and physical -- that come as a part of rough and tumble play.
5. Spectator Play
Watching sports games is a form of play because we tend to immerse ourselves in the game as though we were playing in it with the players.
Next time you’re at a game, look at some of the other spectators - they’re all having fun, for the most part, especially if they're with the winning team.
6. Imaginative Play
We all have an internal narrative that's our own inner story of who we think we are, what our experiences have been, etc.
As children, we did things like, play acting (house, bank teller, superman, charades) or storytelling.
Rather than let that internal narrative ruminate over past experiences, changing details and making you feel worse, engage your mind in a visionary narrative to create the life you choose.
Our brains excel at connecting the dots of our story from experience to experience. So the story in imaginative play has fundamental benefits in the play scene.
These are some of the specific benefits of imaginative play.
Develops Problem Solving Skills
Three-dimensional play fires up the cerebellum, puts a lot of impulses into the frontal lobe (the executive portion of the brain) helps contextual memory be developed, and then some.
It’s been determined that human trust is established through play signals. And we begin to lose those signals as adults because we’ve become too serious. We’ve taken on responsibility as a heavy hand that keeps the joy down.
Now, what on earth does Neoteny have to do with this article and play?
Definition: Neoteny - retention of immature qualities into adulthood.
We are, by many studies, the most neotenous, the most youthful, the most flexible, the most malleable of all creatures - therefore, the most playful.
This gives us a leg up on adaptability. The ability to accept and flow with change is crucial to survival. Play has a biological place just like sleep and dreams do.
How would you like to experience the most clear, joyful, playful image of yourself then explore how you can build on that emotion and let it flow into your life now?
This is what I encourage in my clients. Be empowered, creative and enriched by prioritizing play and curiosity.
I invite you to leave a comment and if this inspired you to play more consider forwarding it to a friend to spread the fun.