Exploring the Power of Play with Guest Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie

Most of us know that children need play to grow and learn, but did you know that adults benefit from play as well? This week the Mental Health Mamas are joined by Kate Raynes-Goldie who is a multi-award winning play-based strategist. Tune in to hear Kate talk about the research behind play for adults, how it supports our mental health and how we can all incorporate more play into our lives.

Notes and Mentions

Visit Kate?s website: https://www.kateraynesgoldie.com/ Join her mailing list: https://kateraynesgoldie.com/superconnectnews

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Tina: Hey everyone, I'm Tina

Serena: And I'm Serena, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Serena: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Tina: We come to you not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website noneedtoexplainpodcast.com.

Tina: Today, we've invited a guest to join us to talk about a word that we do not often associate with adults, and that word is play. It's a word that I totally think about kids when I think of play right Serena?

Serena: Yeah, I would totally agree with that. So my kids are much younger than yours, and I would say we still have a lot of play happening in our house. My eight-year-old will often ask us to play a game with her, and that could be like a traditional board game or like, you know, really like like 20 questions or whatever's on her mind. An imaginary game, but I guess I don't think about play a lot as an activity separate from her.

Tina: Dr. Kate Rains-Goldie is joining us today to talk about this very thing. Kate is a multi-award winning play-based strategist, she?s a keynote speaker and creator of Super Connect, a proven play-based path to connection, clarity, and creativity. It's built on LEGO's Serious Play. She is a world-renowned researcher and thought leader in innovation, play, and the future. Kate, welcome to the podcast.

Kate: Thanks for having me. I'm so happy to be here.

Serena: We're excited to have our conversation with you. So I'm going to start with a quote from your website. You write, ?In this age of uncertainty, disconnection, and constant change, curiosity and play become your new superpowers.? Tell us about this.

Kate: So I think curiosity is kind of like, you know, because as you mentioned, we still think play is for kids. And so sometimes it's a bad word, but grown-ups need it just as much as kids. And I find if you're kind of feeling like that, which sometimes we are, but I think after COVID, whatever times you're in post COVID, whatever time we're in, this new time, play is stopping, it's starting to not become a bad word, but we still need to have an entry point, especially if we're thinking about it in for serious uses. So I like to think of plays like radical curiosity. And so curiosity is a way for us to do all of these magical things and get into the play space without it seeming like it's a waste of time. And it's really a way to ask better questions connect with each other and to really kind of do the things that we need to do when there's some massive uncertainty. It helps us to be more resilient.

Tina: I love this idea and kind of gives you some freedom and awesome, but I imagine there's some research that backs all this play up for adults, right? Share some of that research and what it indicates.

Kate: Yeah, so there's a lot of research. It's again largely with kids, but there is a growing body of research looking at grownups as well. Looking at from a neuroscience perspective, there's actually a really great Huberman Lab podcast. If we have last years about a year ago, it's basically looking at the science and the power of play from in terms of what happens in the brain and explaining why it does all of these great things for us, especially around engaging neuroplasticity and helping us to be open to more potentials and more possibilities. And that just really, really kind of explains if you play why you have that ability to almost be more brave and more bold and do things that you might feel nervous doing otherwise.

So thinking about an actual example of how that actually works is when I do my keynote, so I have a video, a little video that I show of a workshop that I ran a few years ago at Deakin University in Melbourne, here in Australia. And it's a bunch of academics holding hands and spinning around and laughing and pretending to be a helicopter in the courtyard in front of all of the students and their colleagues. And the reason I love this video and the reason I show it is that if I had said to them, you need to go outside and hold hands and pretend to be a helicopter, they wouldn't have done it. But it's because it was part of a game that they were willing to do that.

And so it's part of what I call the magic circle, which is that you enter into the magic circle. And you're able to do things and you're wanting to do things that maybe are difficult or maybe scary or maybe awkward. They open up that new potential and allow us to do things, especially in difficult times, to do things that are challenging. So there's a lot of research around that as well in terms of looking at the importance of play when you're growing up, there's a lot of research looking at play deficit and kids who grew up not having enough play. There's a correlation, strong correlation between becoming a violent criminal. Like it's not going to 100% happen for sure, but there's a strong correlation. And then looking at, I grow up, there's another really great researcher, Gordon Neuffeld in Canada. These work done a lot of work with Gabor Mate, wrote a book with him, but basically looking at how play is like a way for us to process and feel our emotions. It's the only form of activated rest that we have. And so he talks about how we need to, it's almost like you need, if you think meditation and exercise are something, you need to have regularly and you wake up, so things about play like that. And so I spoke to him during COVID and the way that him and his wife stayed connected and stayed, you know, as healthy as you could be in lockdown was to make sure that they were playing together. And in adults that looks like things like painting or making music or things that I like to do are free playing with Lego or bouldering and rock climbing, which I can talk more about. But it's just making sure that that play is part of everyday life. And I think that correlation between what happened if you don't have as a kid is really speaks to how important it is for everybody to have, because it's just such an important part of being human.

Serena: Well, it's really interesting too coming out of COVID. I mean, you know, again, like you said, whatever our new normal is right now. The idea that kids didn't have those interactions. And again, I'm thinking of my youngest, my eight-year-old, who, you know, we went into lockdown when she was halfway through kindergarten. And, you know, she missed so much with classmates. And I, I understand they're seeing it in the schools right now in terms of behavioral issues. And that's a whole other topic. But it's just interesting to think about that. Yeah. And so, you know, Tina and I also really embrace the idea of curiosity. And we found that when we stay in that curious place, you know, we stay out of judgment of others. And so I'm curious about the connection between play and mental health. So why, why is play critical to our mental health as adults?

Kate: Yeah. And I think that that research is like a really nice kind of gateway to talk about that, because it kind of tells you why and how it works. And it's really about helping us to do the things that I think are important for resilience and being, being happy. And it's around helping us to be connected with each other. It's around helping us to be connected to ourselves. It's around being more resilient. And so there's all of these uses of play that help with those things. And so I think about when I work and what I'm able to do using Lego bricks is help people to feel connected to each other and get insight into what's going on for them. Because what you're doing is you're not building cars and buildings. You're building a metaphor and story. So, you know, if you think of Lego, we kind of have ideas about it. But this is actually a surprisingly powerful tool for doing all these things that I think are really important to being a happy, healthy human and doing in a way that, you know, if we're struggling with mental health can be almost like a way of bringing lightness to it. So I think about my own experience again. And just, you know, backed up by research now. But I kind of didn't, you know, I was doing it and then going, well, why is this happening? And then finding that the research was supporting it. But things like I used to actually get panic attacks when I would do public speaking. And now that's like part of my, my, my, my career, my work. And so I would challenge myself to go, okay, well, what do I need to do to, to not do that? And to not, you know, to be confident. And I asked one of my friends who was really good at public speaking. And what he had done was he, he'd gone to a high school where it was, there was a lot of improv and performing arts and theater. And he said that improv is a really great way to help you to feel confident. And improv is really playing. And so I took an improv class. And because you're almost in this, this, the magic circle, right, you're up on stage, you're playing in front of other people and you're failing in the most epic way possible. And it's okay because you're playing, playing the game of improv. But what I found is that it was like this container for me to have the worst situation in front of other people. And go, well, it's actually okay. So it helped me to get over that fear and it helped me to really be a lot more confident, because I know I could do it when I was actually doing it, not in a play space. And so people just using play is the way to, to challenge ourselves to do things that are difficult and to maybe take the edge off something that really is really emotionally charged. It's another way that I think is really important for supporting mental health.

Serena: And so you've already answered this a little bit, but you know, I think we all tend to gravitate towards things in our lives that are meaningful to us. And that often includes the work that we do, whether that's paid work or not. But clearly this is this is your path now. So, you know, so was it your your mental health that sort of led you towards play as your work?

Kate: Yeah. And it's sort of as indirect. I think it was a journey. I think my whole I look back and think back of my life being right. I think everybody's a life as a journey, but it wasn't like I woke up and it was like, I'm going to become a play based facilitator or a strategist or a game designer. It was sort of me finding ways to support my own mental health. And without even realizing I was doing that as well. But when I was when I was doing my PhD on Facebook, and this was when Facebook was actually cool. So that was a long time ago, Facebook was cool. It's funny now, but this is like 2007, 2008. And I was looking at privacy issues. And it was really seeing a lot of what actually did come to bear and being very concerned about it. And no one else really seemed to be concerned about it even with like within academia. But outside of academia people are just like, oh, I don't really care about my privacy. It's not a big deal. So I was just seeing this heavy stuff and being an academic is very serious. And I started to become very serious. And an outlet for me was actually getting involved in what were called alternate reality games or pervasive games. There still kind of a thing. They never really became a massive thing, but their games that are played in the physical world. So not video games, but Pokemon goes kind of an example where you're overlaying a game world or a digital world onto the physical world.

So I was really interested in that and playing those games and seeing how they're way to connect people and to bring joy and experience joy. And I kind of started doing that as a hobby as a kind of mental health thing. And then I kind of had there's a moment in my career when I had this choice to either stay as a serious academic or go and make these games full time and support other people making games and the rest is kind of history.

Tina: Academic job or play.

Kate: Tough choice, isn?t it?

Tina: Yeah. So let's shift to Super Connect. We've talked to you a little bit about it, but I want you to tell our listeners like I love this. You keep saying magic circle and I just feel all warm and fuzzy when I hear that. So I want to hear some practical like how do you use the method with organizations and individuals? What does it look like like practically?

Kate: Yeah, that's a great question. So yeah, the first thing is that getting people to just understand that we're using a tool that everybody's familiar with, right? Everybody's had some kind of experience with like, oh, either growing up or their kids or their friends? kids. And so it's an easy entry point into doing some very serious work with that. But the first thing to say is that don't think about building cars and buildings and literal things, you're building metaphor and story. And that's really the core of it is asking really good questions, like intentional questions that are crafted and then answering those questions with the Lego. So questions might be like the initiation question when I first go into a workshop. So if you were doing a workshop with me or an experience with me, the first thing I would get you to do would be you have a specially curated set of Lego bricks in front of you that are all about metaphor and story. And there's lots of animals and doors and little people and things that are really conducive to telling a story. And I'd say to you, now I want you to build a tower with you in it that says something about you. And the point of that is that that's just the kind of warm up the initiation into this way of using Lego. But even that question is incredibly powerful. And the point of that is to you're getting people, the other prompts I gave would be, you know, don't think with your brain. If you're sitting there collecting bricks you're going to put together, just start thinking with your hands, thinking with your body and putting the pieces together. And there's a time limit because a lot of the time we're over thinking we're trying to be perfect. And the time limit isn't there to stress you out, but it's to just go, okay, what's the, you know, I'm just going to start putting things together and not overthink. I'm just going to think with my hands. And then whatever you build is exactly the right thing. And then the next thing we do is we go around and share what we've built with each other. And often people will realize and get clarity on what it is that they've built by sharing with other people. So there's this real beautiful kind of people feel connected to each other. And they get insight and they're sharing a bit more vulnerably than the normally would. But they're also getting inside into themselves and realizing, oh, this is maybe what's going on for me. Or this is some insight that I need to have. And just from that one question, I've had so many people have some revelation about something they need to shift in their lives or something that they need to pay attention to that week. And after a session, people will say, they'll be really happy. Even if we're exploring some heavy serious stuff, they'll say things like I feel like I've had therapy. And the way that this all works is that it's a series of questions where you respond with Lego. There's different ways that you can do it. There's the tower one is what's called an individual build. So build a tower with you in it. It says something about you that's you do that individually. There's builds where you might create individual models like that and they put them together with with other people's models. There's there's all sorts of different uses of it. But that's kind of the core of it is is the building building your your answer to a curious question. And the questions that you ask are probably even more important than the Lego that's kind of this serious, the secret of it.

Serena: So for those of us who don't think about play very often or maybe not at all. And I feel a little bit like, um, you know, we we could substitute the word self-care here. It's something that we talk about a lot. And when when we reference self care, we're not talking about, you know, a spas, yeah, it could be that, but often it could be. Yeah, it's something more that you're doing just for yourself. But anyway, we're going to stick with the word play. So how can we do a better job of incorporating it into our lives?

Kate: Yeah. And I think that I love that idea of this is self care because I think that also like really jumps up like what Gordon Eufeld was saying about you need to have play in your life. It is a way to to feel connected to yourself and and keep stay happy. So it is definitely a form of self care. Um, and there's a number of things that you can do. Having, um, so when I talk about free play, like go. Is is basically, you know, a lot of times when you get a Lego set, you build the instructions, you build what's there. And that's great. But you can also just take it apart, which is very freeing and use it to just build things that are with no goal with no expectation. You're not trying to finish the instructions. So free play Lego, or could just be building your feelings with it, but not, um, you know, not trying to build the, this perfect spaceship. So that's one thing. Another thing can be, um, making games for yourself around things that you find challenging.

So a game that I kind of perpetually have is I call it the game, the Game of Living Dangerously, even though I'm not living dangerously, but it's, it feels like it, but it's any time that I have something that scares me. That's not going to hurt me. You know, I'm not going to die or inure myself. It's just more like psychologically scary. Um, I see that as an invitation to do it. And so I'm an introvert and talking to people usually, you know, talking to strangers is one of the things that still scares me a bit. Um, but something like that, where I had a, I had sort of uh, someone gave me a challenge knowing that I played this game, um, where I had to go to the kind of local coffee strip and where all the shops are and talk to five strangers have five meaningful, you know, I can't go buy a cup of coffee and talk to the barista. I have to have like five whole conversations. And, um, and then, you know, deal with the awkwardity of it, but I was able to do it because I said, okay, this is a game. And no matter what happens with those people, if they think I'm my total weirdo, but it's totally awkward, you know, whatever happens, it doesn't matter because I'm going to win my game. And what happened was everybody except one person was down to talk to me. Actually, he was down to talk to me, but his girlfriend was there and I didn't realize she thought it was hitting on. But everybody else was like really happy to talk to me. And really just looking for that connection. And the last conversation I had was when I never would have done normally, but there was this guy who was wearing this leotard, like onesie, um, body suit, hot pink covered in like, you know, glitter. And he was dancing around and he was like a street artist doing performance art. And I waited for him to finish his dance. And I had this amazing beautiful conversation with him and he turned out to be this viral video star called the disco bunny who travels around the world, bringing joy to people. And, um, I had a podcast at the time and he ended up being my first guest and we're still friends, but that never would have happened if I hadn't played that game. He was the last person I talked to. So I won because I talked to five people and I had this amazing conversation too so it was like an extra bonus.

So, so that and then, um, the last thing I'd say is things like rock climbing and bouldering, um, which bouldering is rock climbing without ropes. Um, there's a big mat at the bottom that you can fall onto so that you don't hurt yourself too much. I still have to be careful, but, um, there's a lot of research around, around that as a really, it's actually finding the research is finding that, um, rock climbing and bouldering is actually better than anti-anxiety and depression medication, um, because it's not only, um, you know, you don't have the benefits of exercise, but because you have to be so present in your body because otherwise you're going to fall, it stops with the rumination. It stops with a lot of things that cause or, or link to, um, anxiety, for example. Um, and that's something that like, it's really popular because it was in the Olympics Tokyo Olympics. So there's lots of indoor gyms you can go to and do that. And it's basically like puzzles or video games through your body because there's people whose job it is at these gyms to constantly make new problems, new puzzles for your body. So every week there's something new to try. And there's so many different levels. So, you know, if you're just totally out of shape, which is how I was when I started, it's just like climbing a ladder. And then they have different levels like a real game where you can, you can climb and get better and better and better. Even that is just like the seeing that sense of accomplishment of improvement is huge. So that's, those are my, those are the things that I do and, um, recommend to other people.

Tina: Awesome. That's awesome. And Serena, I guess I do play because I talk to strangers all the time. That's part of my thing, right? I do. Mom, see, it really has a purpose. I'm just telling you, I do love to connect with people like that. Yes, anybody I talk to, I asked Serena, I talked to everyone.

Serena: It's true.

Tina: It's so true. So Kate, I can imagine that our listeners, um, may want to connect with you and learn more about the power of play. So tell them where, where you can, where, where can you be found, Kate?

Kate: So you can go to my website, which is kateraynesgoldie.com. And, um, you can sign up to my mailing list because I'm watching a number of interesting juicy things. Um, so I, I'd run a series of events here in part of Western Australia, where people can come and actually play Lego with each other. But I've been getting increasing demand for that. So that may go on tour and I've also just launched, um, training to learn my method because I've also had people wanting to learn my method worldwide. So if you're interested in that, um, it's currently, um, going to be in Perth in Western Australia. But I, I will be offering it online and probably doing some travel as well. So if you get on my mailing list, um, you can be notified of when all those, those things happen.

Serena: Nice. You'll have to tell us when you come to the US.

Kate: Definitely.

Serena: So Kate, I really appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Um, and bringing this, you know, different kind of self-care to the table.

Kate: My pleasure. It was really fun.

Serena: All right. Thanks. And so podcast friends, we are as always grateful for all of you for taking the time to listen and support us. We know you have a lot of choices out there. And we appreciate your time. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcast. Leave us a review while you're there. Subscribe and please share our podcast with others. You'll also find more content on our website, noneedtoexplainpodcast.com. You'll find us on the socials. And we have a voicemail number. You can leave us a voice message. Share a bit of your story. Tell us what you think of the podcast or just call to say hi.

Tina: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Serena: Thanks for listening.

Tina: Bye.