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The surprising secret to being ‘Fabulous’

In her book, "Funky to Fabulous," author and life coach Eli Davidson says that having fun is key to being productive and changing your life. An excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

Within 18 months, Eli Davidson lost her business, marriage and health, leaving her with $88,000 of debt. Four years later she started a thriving business and has been coaching others on strategies for success. In her book “Funky to Fabulous,” Davidson says that having fun is key to being productive and changing your life. An excerpt.

Chapter 6
An underused four-letter word:
The hidden power of _ _ _ _
I often start my coaching sessions with three simple questions: What issue is keeping you up at night? How does that affect the rest of your life? What do you really want instead?

Do the first two questions make you feel a bit queasy? Usually an uncomfortable silence fills the room. Fantastic! Taking a few minutes to identify what is gumming up your gears is a powerful act. That’s the part of your life that needs some attention. Even a little progress in that area creates huge change across your life.

Believe it or not, there’s a certain four-letter word that will help you. In fact, the area of your life that is the hardest for you to turn around is probably the one where you use this curious little word the least — and need it the most.

Hmmm ... no, it’s probably not the four-letter word you are thinking of. This word doesn’t get much air time. Folks love bragging about how little of it they have in their life. (See, it’s not that one.) They call it silly. Executives tout going without it like a badge of honor.

The P-word
This poor little misunderstood word and all it implies! If I had mentioned it in the title you probably would have skipped this chapter. You most likely think you are too mature to consider putting a bit more _ _ _ _ in your life. It’s crazy that this little four-cylinder word has gotten such a bad rap because in fact it’s a power tool for creativity and change.

So are you ready to guess? The word is: P-l-a-y.

See, I knew it. As soon as you read the word you think I am just some California crackpot. Nope. Scientists like Paul MacLean are saying that play is a basic building block of learning. That means play is how we push past what we think are our limits. The moment I read about this research I wanted to run down the street and ring everybody’s doorbell. “Hey, did you know that play can help you solve your problems? This little piece of science could make your life easier in a flash!”

This is big, big, big!
Here’s the scoop: There are only three key functions that separate mammals’ behavior from that of reptiles. Three. That’s it. One: the female mammal nurtures her infants for a very long time. Duh. This you knew. Two: mammals cry out when they are separated from the herd (some scientists think this is how speech began). We mammals are pack animals, and being lonely sucks. This too you knew.

Image: Eli Davidson

Number three is what makes me want to knock on your front door, so don’t miss it — and I know you won’t because you’re reading this chapter. The third is play. Yes. Play.

A turtle pops out of the egg and knows everything it’s going to know. But a kitten needs to train its brain through play. And the more highly evolved the mammal, the more highly evolved is the play. Compared with the smartest dog on the planet, a human being has hundreds more ways to frolic. As the most evolved mammals (I am typing this quietly so my egotistical cat doesn’t notice), we humans have taken play to its highest form — learning.

In your first five years on the planet you mastered your motor skills and accomplished a large portion of your lifetime’s learning. The only way you were able to handle such a steep learning curve was by having fun.Playfulness is pleasurable. It was by fooling around that you discovered how things worked. You clowned with your food. You cavorted with the roll of toilet paper. Falling on your butt was almost as entertaining as tottering forward. Play is the most natural way to learn. It’s your built-in system for expanding past the apparent confines of a problem into something new. Fun is a sassy success booster!

“Play is the nicest thing nature ever did for us,” says Dr. Paul MacLean. Besides helping us solve problems, it helps us get close with one another. How? Goofing around promotes emotional warmth and harmony. In “The Triune Brain in Evolution,” MacLean suggests that play evolved from the need for mom and pop mammals to bond with and educate their young. “A family that plays together stays together” isn’t just a cheeseball quote from the fifties. It’s a documented fact. Horsing around helped your ancestors form cohesive families. It can help you now. What is a simple way you could add some Fun Factor to a close relationship today? Try it and see.

Dr John and Marian Bateman have one of the most joyous relationships I have ever witnessed. Marian is a leading time management consultant. John flies all over the world sharing his revolutionary Gift Work. From their heady job descriptions you might not think of them as high up on the belly laugh graph. Guess again. Just being near them makes you want to break out in a hearty giggle. It is so obvious that they are having a ball. And this is after 21 years of marriage. What’s the key to their glee? Play. They relate to each other like kids. They intentionally frolic in just about every aspect of their relationship.

One weekend I was their house guest and saw it for myself. Marian was having trouble cramming everything into her suitcase, so her husband suggested she make it fun. Thus was born the Spatial Utilization Game. She was tickled at the idea of playing a game to see how effectively she could use every inch of her suitcase. Packing went from chore to creative entertainment. Later I saw them have a playful competition over who washed the dishes and who put together the vitamins for the week. They were having such a good time, I begged to join in.

Do you have a few tedious chores that you could turn into a game? Go for it! And let me know what you come up with. I love sharing the fun.

Meeting a master
What luck! I met a master of play the other day, a two-year-old who had volumes to teach about the power of frolicking. We played on the beach as he explored every aspect of sand. He had no preconceived notions about what was good or bad. He had just as much fun throwing sand in his own face as he did flinging it into the ocean. The play guru put the sand up to his ear expecting a symphony. At one point he got so excited, he looked at me with an “Okay, now!” and dove into the sand and swam. He did his best dog paddle. Who cared if it was in the sand? It was a blast! He was covered — sand in his undies, in his hair, all over his face, in his mouth — oh, what fun! To him, sand in his pants wasn’t a problem, it was a new sensation.

What lessons did the enjoyment wizard’s master class in play demonstrate? He delighted in each experience with full-out joy. He took risks. He was continually doing something new. He savored every moment with spellbound curiosity. Each sensation was a delight. He saw everything afresh and with wonder.

What part of play could help you get out of your own way? If you made even one of his masterful insights your own, it could transform your day.

If you really want to amp up your problem-solving abilities, why not go observe the experts? Go down to a playground and watch kids at play. And to really get fabtized, ask a mom if you can join in the play of her two-year-old.

Problem-solving turbocharged Ha! you may still be thinking. What impact is a bit of frolicking going to have on my industrial-strength problems? Play is for toddlers and folks on vacation. My problems are serious. My boss is querulous. My schedule makes me delirious. Why are you wasting my time with something juvenile like this?

I’ll say again: don’t underestimate the power of play as a surefire success strategy. It is a powerful tool for dealing with the complexities of your adult life. Brain researchers like Neil Greenberg are suggesting that creativity — which is how we solve problems — involves rich neurological connections between various areas of the brain. While we are born with a lot of these connections already in place, they are further developed through our experience, especially in the early years of life. And that’s when we’re the busiest at play.

I like to imagine that the state of play as a phase when the various parts of your brain, like the parts in the engine of your car, are humming along smoothly together. If the environment becomes threatening, however, the reptilian brain slams on the brakes and shifts you down to basic survival thinking. As you become fearful or worried or take a victim stance the easy access between the various parts of your brain gets short-circuited, and you start driving around your day in first gear.

I figure that to keep up with the complications of today’s world, we need all systems on go —that is, we need to be in creative mode. Heck, I need my brain on full throttle just to figure out my new cell phone ring tones. Since play is the innate way we explore, it jumpstarts the brain. It gets your whole brain thumping again.

Researchers are discovering that playfulness actually makes your brain more pliable and more receptive to new information. It promotes openness, spontaneity, and unpredictability, which are ingredients for maintaining a healthy brain through the years.

So, fun fosters creativity, problem solving, bonding with others, and staying young. It’s a savvy strategy. Chalk one up for our team!

Because play sparks inventiveness, my personal bet is that it figured in some of the greatest advances in understanding our world. Let’s take something simple, like ... say, gravity. My brothers loved to climb up to the top of the barn and drop things off the roof. Maybe Italian guys in the late 1500s were the same. Galileo got together with some of his buddies and said, “Hey, let’s drop some stuff off the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Yeah! Some different-sized iron balls. Won’t it be cool to see which one crashes first?” Thus was born the theory of gravity.

Imagine the problem solving you could awaken if you played a tad more. It would be a lot. Why? Because it’s the natural way your brain learns.

Get fresh
So how do you play with a dilemma of your own? Do you dream of making more cash but think it’s impossible, do you long to be held by the one you love — even if you haven’t met him yet — or do you just want a few minutes to yourself?

Image: Eli Davidson

First: Begin by breaking up the patterned thinking of the reptilian brain. Get up to get up. Physically get up. I know I’m repeating myself ... but have you tried it yet?

Second: Hand the baton to the mammalian brain: Play! Sashay down to the water cooler. Shake what your momma gave you. See how much blue you see on the way. Then spot all the red. Count all the circles. Then all the squares. Imagine which animal each of your coworkers might be in the circus. Hmmm. That was different. Play it your way. Make up your own game.

Third: Connect. Invite others to get involved. Play is one of the ways we bond and de-stress. Ask someone, “Will you play with this problem with me?” Then see what new ideas and opportunities show up.

Play’s hidden power People ask: “What is it about your work that seems to attract opportunity?” “Where is that invisible success magnet hidden?” How could a woman in Colorado start a PR business and be making more than in her corporate job in five months? Why would a client get more job offers in two weeks than she had in her previous four months of job hunting? Why would the producer of the Dr. Phil Show call about giving this book to the studio audience of a pilot she was doing before the book was even finished? I believe the answers have to do with inviting the Great Good’s guidance and harnessing the overlooked power of that underused four-letter word.

Some folks think I am bonkers when I give them their first Fun Factor homeplay for the week. One woman asked, “I came to you to grow my business. Why on earth am I supposed to put on my favorite music and dance for 15 minutes every day?” One week later, she was seeing such an improvement in her problem-solving abilities that she was hooked on giving herself fun breaks.

Play was certainly the operative word when my own career opened up. My assistant, with some coaching help, had gone from answering my phones to singing for Barbra Streisand and Brad Pitt on her opening night. She had beaten out people on Broadway to land a lead in a hit show. The story was so inspiring that a television station wanted to do a story on it. Tomorrow. Unfortunately, the telephone book of a contract she had signed to do the show wouldn’t let her do any publicity. And the lawyers were refusing to budge. I was waiting for the call but it was looking hopeless, so I figured it was time to give p-l-a-y a try.

I was in the funk and needed to find some fab. First thing: I got up. I started walking . . . okay, pacing ... around my house. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Next: I figured it was time to play Change Your Outfit, Change Your Outlook. I put on my Good Idea Boa. I slipped into my Tall Girl Shoes. They always make me feel more confident. I grabbed one of my trusty tiaras. What the heck.

Then: I called a PR pro and asked if she would play with some ideas. Sure I was sweating bullets. But walking in those snazzy shoes wearing a boa helped me be more lighthearted and creative. I called other folks who knew about all the TV mumbo jumbo and invited them to take a few minutes and play. Not a single person turned me down. (Just about everyone can find five minutes to p-l-a-y. People are starved for a bit of fun, and if you are having a blast, everybody wants to be part of it.) Creative ideas surged forth from every person I called!

No, I didn’t get to do that show. But because of all the connections I made that day, the following month I appeared on not one but two TV shows. And that lead to an incredible project with an Emmy-award-winning producer and later an opportunity to do a coaching on national television.

I firmly believe that play is magic.

Excerpt from “Funky to Fabulous.” Copyright (c) 2007 by Eli Davidson. Reprinted with permission from Oak Grove Publishing.