Where’s The Fun?


Two weeks ago I wrote this piece about practicing, specifically about deliberate practice.  A couple of reader’s comments got me thinking more about the role of fun in practice.

“The only point I might disagree with is that practice should be “hard” in the sense of being unenjoyable. Lately I’ve been thinking about how when you really love something and get a lot of joy out of it, that is when your mind really fully turns on. I still think practicing should be “hard” in the sense of “challenging”, but I think it is important to enjoy that challenge.” (Matt Roberts)

“I think you’re absolutely right that practice has to be deliberate, or mindful, or whichever word best describes that optimal mix of intention, concentration and persistence. But all these big words do miss one important thing that I think Matt’s comment got at, which is that some portion of it should be just fun.” (James)


Cal Newport of Study Hacks wrote a follow-up piece to his original post about deliberate practice (the blog post that inspired my blog post) introducing a simplified version of dp that he calls freestyle deliberate practice.  The gist of it…

  1. Build an obsession with a clear goal.
  2. Work backwards from the goal to plan your attack.
  3. Expend hard focus toward this goal every day.
  4. Ruthlessly evaluate and modify your approach to remove what doesn’t work and improve what does.

And so I took the opportunity to share with him this discussion about fun in practice.

I wrote:

“I really enjoyed reading your Grandmaster article. Last week, I wrote a blog post about it and it generated some interesting readers comments. A couple of readers commented that the one thing missing from these 6 traits is fun.

Where’s the fun?

I like that the freestyle approach addresses this issue. The “fun” is not the quick dose of instant gratification, but rather the deeper enjoyment that comes from mastering a craft.”

Cal replied:

“I appreciate the thoughtful post you wrote. I agree with your response to your readers comments. As far as I can tell, there’s not much “fun” in deliberate practice, but there is an ever-deepening sense of real satisfaction. You can get fun from other sources in your life, but that satisfaction of mastery is hard to find anywhere else.”

So maybe “where’s the fun in deliberate practice” isn’t the right question.

Maybe the right question to ask is this:

What activity/skill is so important to you that you’ll invest the time it takes to become exceptional at it, even when it’s (sometimes) not so fun?

And why do you want to do that?

2 Responses to Where’s The Fun?

  1. Tara says:

    This is so interesting. I’m not a musician, but there is a neat cross over to mental health work. For example, when we work with people who are depressed, we get them to work at adding back activities that give them a sense of ‘pleasure’ or ‘mastery’. Sometimes the less fun things do give a sense of mastery or accomplishment that is very satisfying and important in its own right.

  2. I think that real happiness comes from getting better at something…anything. And so things that are fun in the moment are often just that – a moment of pleasure, followed by an empty feeling that you’re not any better off than before.
    Of course, fun for fun’s sake is sometimes exactly what we need. But it’s probably better if that’s the exception rather than the rule.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *