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(Just) For Fun


I was recently working with an athlete and we were reflecting on an exercise I've done with many teams and athletes. The exercise involves brainstorming a list of reasons why you participate in your sport or performance arena. I ask athletes to think about why they started playing, why they kept playing, and why they continue to play. Why this activity and not another? The goal is to come up with a list that can be boiled down to your most important motivators.

What got you started and keeps you going?

I've done this same exercise with many different groups now and, time and time again, we've ended up with a very similar list. Things like stress relief, personal growth and challenge, mental and physical health, feelings of accomplishment, and social connections are often high on the list, but the one most common reason, no matter the age, gender, or competitive level, is fun. When it comes down to it, enjoyment, or a love of the activity, is the single most important motivator for most people.

Enjoyment is the most important motivator for most people

Now I haven't asked this of any professional athletes, but I would wager that any athlete who makes it to that level would consider themselves lucky to be paid to do something that they want to do anyway because they love it. In fact, I would wager that most highly successful people are successful because they are doing something that they love. Take Wayne Gretzky for example who, in his recent film, says, of his early backyard practice, “I’d be out there all day long because I loved it.” And this makes sense too because when we look at types of motivation we know that the strongest, most adaptive, and longest lasting type is intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation basically means that we are motivated by the inherent joy in the activity itself - in other words: fun. (Want to know more about motivation? Check out my post on Understanding Motivation).

Being an elite performer or a professional in your field means getting to do the thing you love more often, and maybe even getting paid to do it!

Stay with me here because this is where we struggle. The athlete I was working with, who was training for a major international competition, was getting hung up on the fact that it's hard work. It was fun at first, but now it's really hard work. Some of you might be thinking something similar. "This is a competitive league, we have to take it seriously." "We're a varsity team, it's not just for fun anymore." "The stakes are too high for us to just have fun." But the fact of the matter is that we perform our best when we are fully engaged in a task we enjoy. Performing well, working hard at something you care about, striving for improvement, working towards a common goal with friends, mastering a new skill, competing at the highest level...these things are fun. You might not have a smile on your face the whole time, you might be in a lot of physical and mental pain at times, you might be doing a lot of hard work even outside of training and competing, but that doesn't mean it can't also be fun.

Effort does not limit fun

When we say "just for fun" we imply that fun can't also be competitive and serious; that fun can't lead to success (or perhaps that enjoyment itself is not success enough); and that something challenging can't be fun. The research, however, tells a different story. To help explain let me use the competence motivation theory (CMT). CMT posits a cyclical relationship in which perceptions of competence and control lead to intrinsic pleasure and effectance motivation, which leads to mastery attempts, competence at optimal challenges, and feedback and reinforcement from socializers. These then lead back to pleasure and perceptions of competence and control. In other words, believing you are good at something and can improve at it feels good and is motivating, and that joy and motivation helps you to work harder and take on bigger challenges. You also receive more positive support and encouragement from others and end up feeling even better and strengthening your belief that you are good and can improve, and, thus, the cycle continues. All of that to say that having fun makes you better and working hard to get better is fun.

Having fun helps you improve

If you're still feeling a bit skeptical, part of the problem may be your definition of fun. Researchers, like Dr. Amanda Visek, have dissected the word fun to try to determine all of the different factors that are encompassed within it. In her ground-breaking study of players, parents, and coaches of boys' and girls', recreational and competitive youth soccer teams, Dr. Visek found 81 separate determinants of fun, which, through mapping, she was able to group into 11 fun dimensions and four overarching fun-damental tenets. If you are involved with youth sports I strongly encourage you to take a closer look at her work yourself (she has also done work looking at what factors make sport not fun and *spoiler alert* a lot of them are things that we as adults do or control), but the point I'd like to take out of this, for now, is that fun encompasses a large and diverse collection of factors.

Working hard and trying your best are two important fun factors

While, in this study, they were able to identify the three most important dimensions as 'being a good sport,' 'trying hard,' and 'positive coaching,' this broad spectrum should remind us that different factors are going to be more or less important for different individuals and within different contexts. Fun evolves over time as athletes and performers become older and more experienced and as the context changes, but, the emotion, I would argue, doesn't change. Fun or joy is something we should all be striving for regardless of age, gender, or experience level - and it's not unreasonable for us to expect to achieve it.

Positive coaching experiences help make sport fun

Take some time to think about what makes sport (or your activity of choice) fun for you, your participants, and your children. Ask yourself, and them, that question, and really listen to what the answers are. Even if you're starting (or hoping to start) something new, ask yourself, "What would make this fun for me?" or "What have I enjoyed about other activities that could apply here as well?" Use those answers to help you make decisions about what activity to choose or how to modify what your involvement might look like. Remember, activities don't have to be just for fun, but they should at least be also fun. Let's change the way we think about fun and start having more of it!

Let me know how it goes, or reach out to me if you have questions or would like to chat.

And if you're still feeling skeptical...check out this article from 1992 (with research going back to the 70s!). We've known for a long time that fun is an important factor keeping kids in sport and the opposite is driving them away. I think it's about time we did something about it.



Petlichkoff, L. M. (1992). Youth Sport Participation and Withdrawal:
Is It Simply a Matter of FUN? Pediatric Exercise Science, 4, 105-110

Visek, A. J., Achrati, S. M., Mannix, H., McDonnell, K., Harris, B. S., & DiPietro, L. (2014). The fun integration theory: toward sustaining children and adolescents sport participation. Journal of physical activity & health12(3), 424-33.

7 closed white doors in a wall

You don’t get to choose your choices


A few years ago my classmates and I got into a debate about the idea of choice. The question was, "Is it fair to say that if you want something you just have to choose to go and get it?" After a long and fairly intense discussion of the different perspectives involved we still couldn't quite say yes or no but we had definitely established that this was not simply a yes or no question. There were far too many factors to consider, and I was left feeling, as I often do in situations like this one, both frustrated with the lack of answer and with the demand for an answer in the first place. You see I grew up loving math and logic and the challenge of figuring something out and knowing that you had found the right answer. I still love the hard, objective, black and white, clear, direct, straightforward, and simple. However, I am continually drawn to the soft, subjective, gray, murky, indirect, complex, and puzzling. Frustrated as I may be, I am intrigued, and I am learning more and more that most matters fall into the second category, whether they indeed start there or are dragged there by context and circumstances.

To come back to our question, the answer seems like it should be an easy, simple, straightforward "yes": if you want something just make the choice and go and get it. You may have heard some motivational quotes, sayings, and videos like this one that seem to support this, including by Will Smith's character in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness. And, to an extent, this is true, and can be a helpful motivator for some people. We all have the same number of hours in the day and days in the year; we all get to make choices everyday that affect our future; we are all capable of far more than we may ever know and if we continue to make the right choices and prioritize those choices we can achieve great things.

Seems pretty straightforward right? But when you start to talk to people - when you start to look a little deeper at the context surrounding those choices, and the circumstances of people's lives - you realize that we all have different demands and commitments within those same hours and days; we all have different requirements for things like sleep and down time in order to continue to function in a healthy way; we all have different priorities in life; and we all have different circumstances and obstacles to overcome. It is these differences that make the answer to our question more likely a subjective, complex,  murky "yes…but".

padlocked chain against green wood panels
Life is also full of obstacles and barriers

In the days after our discussion, I happened upon a quote that seemed to help support and explain this "yes…but" answer. The quote says, "You don't get to choose your choices - you just get to make the ones you're given." In other words, if you want something AND YOU HAVE THE CHOICE, just make the choice and go get it. Now that's not to say that you can't make choices that will open up other choices and so on and so forth, but it's just not as simple as we sometimes make it out to be. There are always uncontrollables in life and sometimes those uncontrollables hijack our choices and derail our plans. Remember that the one choice you always have is how you will respond to a situation. You may not be able to make the choice you wanted to, but you can always make a choice to move forward in a positive direction from where you are. To be clear I am not advocating for making excuses or giving up on your dreams because things get hard. I am, however, advocating for self-care, compassion, understanding, and a healthy, realistic outlook.

The second really big caveat I'll add to our initial question is that just because you have the choice does NOT mean it is the right choice for you at the time. Too many people end up feeling guilty because they chose a different path or prioritized another area of life. Just because other people have made that choice, or think you could/should make that choice, does not inherently make it the right choice for you. Your values and priorities in life are your own - don't let anyone make you feel guilty for choosing your own path and pursuing your own goals.


1. You always have a choice - even if it is just your response.

2. You don't get to choose your choices, but you can make choices that will open up more choices in the future.

3. Don't ever feel guilty for making your own choice and prioritizing what is important to you - success looks different for different people.

Have you ever felt guilty for giving up on or not pursuing a goal? How did you move forward and through that guilt? What is the hardest decision you've ever made and what helped you make it? Share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences with us in the comments or send me an email at jocelyn@balancedperformance.ca.

hands making a heart around the sunset

Understanding Motivation


Motivation is a huge topic and one that is common in everyday conversations. How many times have you or a friend said: "I'm just so not motivated to do this!" Or "I need some motivation." The truth is motivation doesn't necessarily work like that and it's not always what we are referring to when we use the word. Motivation is the reasoning behind our actions and comes in all different forms. The confusion or problem occurs when people think of one type as the only real type. For example, a coach who thinks that if they are not yelling at their athletes, they are not motivating them. Or a student who thinks that because they don't inherently love writing essays, they simply are not or cannot be motivated to write one.  Stick with me now cause I'm going to get into the nitty-gritty a little bit and then we'll talk about some tips (if nitty-gritty is really not your thing just go ahead and skip to the tips).

The Theory

If you've studied anything about motivation you've read something by Ryan and Deci. They are the guys when it comes to beginning to understand motivation, and, while there are many theories on motivation and many researchers studying it, I'm going to draw more from Self Determination Theory (SDT) for right now. One of the sub-theories that make up SDT talks about the spectrum of Motivation. Now, it gets a bit complicated, because there are several different ways of categorizing the various levels along the spectrum. It looks something like this:

chart of types of motivation and examples
Spectrum of Motivation

Basically, the further along (or down in this case) the spectrum you are, the better. BUT keep in mind that different types of motivation are going to work for different contexts, and often our motivations fall into more than one of these categories at the same time. External forms of motivation can be strong motivators but as soon as that external source disappears, so does the motivation. Internal motivation comes from within yourself making these types more sustainable. At the end of the spectrum, intrinsic motivation is frequently touted as the 'best'  motivation, and it is typically the most adaptive particularly if the goal is long term behaviour change. This is because intrinsic motivation is the purest form involving actions taken for the sole purpose of the joy inherent in undertaking that action. With that in mind, we will talk more about how we can work towards intrinsic motivation.

There are many behaviours that are healthy, adaptive, and desirable, but that many people do not currently find to be inherently enjoyable. The key is to identify what your motivation is (no matter where you are on the spectrum) and work to activate that motivation at critical moments. You might start by putting in place external motivators until the action becomes enough of a habit that it is incorporated into your identity and you can draw on integrated regulation.

Another important insight from SDT is that humans have three universal, innate needs that, when met, lead to optimal functioning and growth. In other words increasing your perception of these three needs can help to shift your motivation towards a more internalized and autonomous form.

Universal Needs

  • Autonomy - the perception of control over one's own life and decisions; the perception of acting in accordance with one's identity.
  • Competence - the perception that one's actions will affect outcomes; the perception of mastery experienced in a given field.
  • Relatedness - the perception of interaction with, connection to, and caring for and by others.

I realize that's a lot of theory, but I believe knowledge is power and understanding how motivation works can be a powerful tool in harnessing your own. To simplify things a bit though, here are my tips for working towards intrinsic motivation.

On your pursuit of intrinsic motivation...

1. Start where you are

person's legs walking down a path
Wherever you are - start there

As I said above, you don't need to have intrinsic motivation to get something done. Recognize what it is that does or will motivate you. Especially if it's a one-off thing, just use what works and get on with it. If it's a long term change you're looking for, still start where you are and you'll work to build up to a more sustainable and internal type of motivation.

2. Keep track of your progress

open planner with pencil and coffee
Write it down so you can look back at your progress over time

Tracking your progress, whether it's in a journal, on your phone, on a calendar or somewhere else helps to build your perception of competence and confidence and change your identity over time. Looking back and seeing the improvements you've made will help you to believe that your current actions will indeed affect change. As you are more consistent with your actions they will begin to feel more a part of your identity which in turn helps to internalize your motivation.

3. Keep the big goals visible (mountain over tree)

mountain in the distance beyond forest and stream
Your perspective changes the way you see things

One of the biggest struggles people have with motivation is keeping their big long-term goals in mind when faced with smaller but more immediate temptations. An analogy I read recently about this described walking down a path and seeing a mountain looming in the distance (your long term goal) and a tree part way along the path (short-term temptations). When both are far away the tree looks much smaller than the mountain but as you get closer and closer to the tree it becomes hard to see anything else even the much larger mountain in the distance. In order to be successful, it is important to find a way to keep the mountain in your vision even when you are standing right under the tree. In other words when you are faced with extra time in bed, procrastinating with Netflix, or ordering unhealthy fast food, you need to keep your big goal (whether it is getting fit and healthy, being accepted to university or college, or something else) in mind so that you can use it to keep doing the hard work (for example studying for an exam, working out, or making healthy home cooked meals). This might mean a picture posted where you will see it at the right time, a notification on your phone, an inspirational quote or list of your goals above your desk, a note on your grocery list…get creative!

4. Allow yourself some choice

There is not just one way to accomplish a goal, and allowing yourself some choice over how you accomplish it will increase your perception of autonomy and help move your motivation towards a more sustainable form. For example, trying to eat more vegetables? Make a point of allowing yourself to choose a new recipe or a new vegetable to try. Are you working towards being more active? You pick the time and place, the people you are active with, and the type of activity you incorporate. Let yourself personalize your soundtrack and outfit when possible. Even small things can make a big difference in helping you own your experience and, ultimately, find more intrinsic enjoyment.

5. Recruit supporters

three women leaning on each other on a bench at the end of a dock
Share goals with close friends so you can feel that you're in it together

A great way to increase your perception of relatedness is to surround yourself with people who either share your goal or are supportive of it. Helping others and having others who are helping you will help you stay motivated in the long term. Join a team or a support group; talk to friends and family members and let them know how they can best support you; pair up with someone trying to achieve the same goals as you; or reach out and ask for mentorship from someone who's already intrinsically motivated (you'd be surprised how excited most people are to share their passion).

6. Use self-talk (control your perceptions)

Self-talk is a very powerful and versatile tool. Not only can you use it to keep your goals and priorities fresh in your mind, but, with some practice, you can alter your perception just through self-talk without making any changes to your environment. You'd be surprised at what you can convince yourself of and how you can influence your own motivation and behaviour through deliberate self-talk. Our brains are very complex but, surprisingly, very easily influenced.

7. Act when it's easiest

white clouds on a blue sky
Make the best of the good times

We all have good days and bad days the trick is to take advantage of those good times to make the hard times easier. If mornings are easier for you - do your meal prep then. If you feel healthier or more focused after a workout, try doing your grocery shopping or studying right after. Feeling especially energized today? Pull out your agenda or calendar and do some planning. Mornings are tough? Pre-pack breakfast and lunch, pack your bag, and lay out your clothes the night before.

There you go. Seven tips to get you started. The more you use them (and the more of them you use) the easier and more effective each will be. How have you had success harnessing your motivation? What has been your biggest motivational challenge? What aspect of motivation still just boggles your mind? Share with us in the comments or send me an email. I'd love to hear from you.