We can learn a lot from a child. Plenty of adults engage in childish behavior, but not enough adults allow themselves to truly become childlike and exhibit an approach and display behaviors that exemplify the very best of what being a child is all about. Obviously, the point is not that we should become literally like children in every way – a group of 4-year olds is not going to build the next space shuttle or find a cure for an infectious disease this year. But as an exercise in personal growth, looking at the innocent nature of a small child offers illuminating and practical suggestions for changing our approach to life and work as “serious adults,” including the work of presenting, facilitating, and teaching. You could probably come up with 100 things children do that you’d like to be able to still do today – here are just 13.
(1) Be completely present in the moment. In the words of David M. Bader: “Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?” We adults are often living in the past (or have our heads in the future). Many adults carry around preconceptions, prejudices, and even anger about something that happened years ago – even hundreds of years ago before anyone they even know was born. And yet, very young children do not worry and fret about the past or the future. What matters most is this moment. “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence,” says Thich Nhat Hanh.
(2) Allow for spontaneity. We are often overly rigid and worry too much about what others may think or say, so we edit ourselves before we even try. I am not talking about anarchy, I am talking about bringing back some of that childlike behavior where you acted more on intuition and allowed your whims and momentary impulses to take you on all sorts of accidental discoveries. Our fear and our tendency to keep our minds fixed on the past and the future keeps us from being spontaneous in the moment.
Move your body! To move is to live and to grow. When we were kids, no one had to tell us to get out of the house and exercise. We’d play football in the front yard until it got so dark we couldn’t see the ball. Movement and exercise are how kids learn, and physical exercise improves cognition and memory for adults in both the short term and over the long term. Homo sapiens have evolved to move far more than your average person moves today. Moving is the most natural thing of all, certainly more natural than sitting on one’s arse all day staring into a box or enduring lecture after lecture while remaining motionless on uncomfortable chairs. Move, and encourage others to do the same. “Our brains were built for walking – 12 miles a day!” says Dr. John Medina.
(4) Play and be playful. To play is to explore and discover. Play helps us learn and discover new insights. You can be a “serious person” and play. NASA astronauts are serious, wickedly smart, and physically fit men and women of science. Yet, they’re doing jobs they dreamed of as kids, and they are not above playfulness as Apollo 14 Commander Alan Shepard demonstrated by using his makeshift 6-iron to hit golf balls on the moon. Playfulness is a creative attitude that brings out the best in you and in others. Confucius said, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
(5 ) Make mistakes. Children make lots of “mistakes” – that’s how they learn. Even though we are professionals, we can learn from mistakes as well, if we’re willing to risk making them. Even experts make mistakes. An old Japanese proverb says “Even monkeys fall from trees.