Radical Fun

So this month I was curled into my usual fetal position wondering how to make good things happen without moving at all, when I came upon a thought. The thought was this: Since the energy of every effort creates a result in the same general zone of energy, my usual habit of working throughout most of every day was generating a great deal of what we might call “energetic fertilizer” (in other words, poop). I was trained for years to work myself to the point of feeling pooped, and I am very good at it. But who, I thought, wants to buy pooped energy? It seems we all generate plenty of that on our own. What I wanted was more energy of fun. I presume this is also what many of my customers and clients want. I decided to run an experiment. I decided that for two weeks—the final two weeks of April–I would dedicate myself not only to feeling passively well, but to having fun. Radical fun.

Author and journalist Joshua Foer, who trained as a competitive memorizer (of all things), writes about something called the OK Plateau. That’s the place where things are going well enough that we can stumble along fairly well without needing to improve anything. I have spent years on the OK Plateau when it comes to having fun. I have found that many clients report the same tendencies. When life gets to OK they stop thinking about things like fun. The challenge of radical fun is to take those OK experiences and make them delightful. We tend to assume that this is the result of laziness and selfishness, and that we would all do it automatically if we weren’t so disciplined and virtuous.

What I’ve discovered during radical fun month is that fun is a skill. Most of us are terrible at it. We immediately turn to tired stereotypes, clichés like sleeping on the beach, drinking, eating too much, and spending a lot of money. I have nothing against these activities, but they’re pathetic attempts at creating genuine exuberant joyful feelings. When I ask clients to reward themselves for difficult achievements they find that coming up with the reward is harder for them than the achievement itself. So right now, I’d like you to turn your attention to finding or creating a fun experience for yourself. Do this in the knowledge that the energy of fun will fuel your productivity in every area of your life–and also that any activity in your life is only worth doing if it facilitates the experience of joy.

First question, Are you tired? When you are tired no significant effort is fun. The clichés I’ve just mentioned (the beach, the drinking, etc.) exist largely because most of us are significantly sleep deprived. If your answer to this question is yes, you must–I said must–aggressively create opportunities to rest and act on them.

When you are no longer tired you can ask the second question: What did you do for fun as a child? Our fun preferences appear very early in our lives and tend to remain extremely stable over time. What was fun for you at age 2 will probably be the most fun you can have at 92. For me, one obvious answer to this question was reading. I learned to read very young and stopped only under extreme duress. However, my literacy was turned into work, first by my education and then by choosing a career as a writer. I realized that I frequently slip into the bad habit of reading only for work and not for pleasure. So just reading wasn’t enough fun for me. I needed to read something pointless, non-work-related, and highly entertaining. Thank you Hunger Games. By jumping into young adult fantasy fiction, I yanked myself right off the OK Plateau and into some radical fun. For you, reading may not be fun at all. DO NOT JUDGE YOURSELF. Just look back on your childhood and find what you did when no one was forcing you. Did you climb trees? Did you play computer games? Did you build forts? Did you dress in a ninja outfit and hide in the closet of your best friends bedroom? Don’t do that—it isn’t legal. But find an alternative based on the original fun experience.

The fabulous thing about returning to childhood pleasures is that you now have things like computers, cars, and the ability to purchase or barter for experiences to which you had no access as a child. If you liked playing hide-and-seek as a kid you can now go with your friends to a paintball maze and have a radically fun experience. If you liked to pretend you were a famous singer you can get voice lessons, then have your spouse film you using nothing but a phone and reach your fans online. This is the age when magical technologies make more and more radically fun ideas plausible, even easy. You’re only limited by your creativity and the OK Plateau.

Since I started my radical fun experiment, ridiculously positive things have been happening. I’ll tell you about them next month if they all pan out (some of them are still in process). But right now I’m telling you, according to this experimental sample of one, radical fun leads to radical positive results which seem to have nothing to do with the new fun games you are playing. Fun creates more fun. This month, insist on it.

26 replies
  1. Mike Asbury
    Mike Asbury says:

    What delightful and positive post (and a much needed reminder). I am so glad I found your site. Thanks for the positive reminder! Great stuff on here! -Mike

    • Mary
      Mary says:

      Taking a Hula Hoop Class. Back to childhood and small town fun. Moreover hoop 3 or 4x a day feels good go to 100 plus and as I hoop away will whittle the middle!!!! Win Fun Win Fun…..Happy

  2. Chicago Mary
    Chicago Mary says:

    As my father-in-law always said, “Have fun, Mar, it’s the name of the game.” Time for me to heed his and your good advice, Martha.”

  3. ileana Grams-Moog
    ileana Grams-Moog says:

    What amazing timing! I was just realizing that the last few months haven’t been much fun for me because I love to read for fun, but am getting pickier and pickier about what I like. Thinking of other things to do is hard–I’ve tried solitaire, several kinds, and it’s OK but not riveting; I can’t knit too much (a passion of mine) because of arm troubles, and my chronic fatigue is a bit worse right now, which interferes with more active pursuits. Your post encourages me to keep trying and to get a bit more imaginative. Thanks!

    • karen acord
      karen acord says:

      When i was a child I loved to pretend I was in a movie, or a tv show – I would act out movies and shows I saw – Play all sorts of parts…..
      I still love doing that today – and doing comedy, i rely on those experiences to fuel my work on stage…..
      it was always fun and exciting to me to play this make believe
      I never thought about liking the same thing today – thank you for this article Martha

  4. Cindy D.
    Cindy D. says:

    I just bought myself a boxed set of 48 colored pencils that I’ve lusted after forever but I keep telling myself that “now” isn’t the right time to play with them. If not now? When? Thanks for the reminder not to put off fun.

  5. Susan Gallacher-Turner
    Susan Gallacher-Turner says:

    Wonderful! I totally understand your dilemma with fun, as an artist, I work in clay and paint which I loved to do as a child. But now, it is work. My challenge is to find a way to make it play again. I’ll work on that…oops…I mean ‘play’ on that. And remember your other advice, rest when tired. I often forget to do that.

    Love your site and blog. But where is your column in June Oprah Magazine? I read it every month and always look forward to your advice in the May We Help You section. Is this a permanent change?

    It did force me to find you here on the internet. Your site is now bookmarked!

  6. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Challenge accepted! Thank you! I haven’t had “radical” fun in ages. Major brainstorming going on…

  7. Charles McCool
    Charles McCool says:


    Through the start of this post (around OK Plateau) I was sensing a need (opportunity) for Radical Fun Coach.

    But, No, you eloquently and powerfully simplified the search for fun as return to childhood. Excellent lesson.

  8. rebecca @ altared spaces
    rebecca @ altared spaces says:

    Actually I’m pretty good at fun. I’m a little shy to admit this, however, because it makes me sound well-rested and that is a cardinal sin these days. Believe me I just can’t sleep. I’m one of those lucky people who needs very little sleep (yikes! another reason for people to hate me!)

    I’m totally striking out here in the friend department.

    Oh! It’s that approval thing! That’s probably why I got so good at having fun! So I’d have friends!

    Or maybe I’m just a dork.

    I like making goofy things like painted rocks and mud fights and I’m not afraid to invite people over for either or both. We just celebrated Decadent Day here where all the food for the potluck is either super sweet, chip-oriented or bacon. Wanna come?? We have a big water fight that, last year, blissfully turned into painted eachother with mud.

    We also had a May Pole that was so short everyone had to duck to weave the strands of ribbon together. OK so I fail.

    Every year, before I host this party, I get terribly nervous. No one will come. No one will like it. No one will play. This is because having fun is rather a vulnerable thing to do. So I get scared. Every time. That’s the deal.

  9. Ann
    Ann says:

    I like to be in the ocean…..swim, stand up board, paddle Hawaiian 6 person outrigger canoe. Yesterday I was asked to be on a crew of a Chinese Dragon boat and race this weekend. I am SO excited……

  10. Michael Jordan Rush
    Michael Jordan Rush says:

    I love this! Thank you, Martha! May I suggest a great classic book that talks about fun / relaxation and how it’s necessary for good health? “Getting Well Again” by the late pioneering oncologist O. Carl Simonton. Like Martha’s writings, it can change and inspire you.

    My radical joy? I’m not a weirdo but I want to give Martha a great big hug and kiss of gratitude! : )

  11. Shadi
    Shadi says:

    Bedlinen wrapped around our tiny bodies (while our pyjamas worn underneath fould be seen by otherbplaymate) parading our fashion creationstwith a lot of pizazz. Catwalk was on the edges of a thick Persian rug (on the cheaper side) civering our living room. Carefully keeping our balance so as not to cross its borderlines was the ultimate joy of this particular pretence. I even could hear the imaginary pop music playing in the background. This memory goes back 40+ years ago. Now way too thitck in the middle to even wrap that big rug around us! Heeeheee

  12. Shadi
    Shadi says:

    Bedlinen wrapped around our tiny bodies (while our pyjamas worn underneath could be seen by other playmates) parading our fashion creations with a lot of pizazz. Catwalk was on the edges of a thick Persian rug (on the cheaper side) covering our living room . Carefully keeping our balance so as not to cross its borderlines was the ultimate joy of this particular pretence. I even could hear the imaginary pop music playing in the background.This memory goes back 40+ years ago. Now too thick in the middle to even wrap that big rug around us! Heeeeheee

  13. Liz B.
    Liz B. says:

    Making mud pies in the backyard at 6 years old has turned into digging in my wonderful vegetable garden at 65 years old! Still fun to play in the dirt!

  14. Candace
    Candace says:

    I find these posts extremely interesting at this stage of my life. I am in search of play like nobody's business after beginning to go through the biggest failure in my life. The issue I'm having, however, is that not all children had great childhoods where they got to "PLAY". Some children, like me, had horrible childhoods where survival was the only objective and the brain always kicked in to protection mode. I've asked my mother what I did as a child to "play" and she couldn't think of much other than that I was always outside. She didn't know what I was doing out there but I was always outside. I of course don't remember either but I'm sure I was outside so I could get away from the constant chaos and fighting inside the house. How do you go about finding "play" when you don't really have a healthy frame of reference to look back on?


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] the week, AC made me smile with her transparent enthusiasm. She reminded me a great deal of myself as a young girl, and in her company, I found myself longing […]

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  3. […] Interestingly, this week I read a lovely blog by Martha Beck on Radical Fun, which articulates similar ideas and invites us into a commitment to fun. Enjoy this: http://marthabeck2017.wpengine.com/2012/05/radical-fun/ […]

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