Playfulness, The Power of Play, Uncategorized

Playfulness and Performance

Lately I have been thinking a lot about playfulness and performance, which are two different ways we can approach the world. Both are necessary, but they must be kept in balance.


When we are playful, we become joyfully caught up in the moment, focused on what we are doing for its own sake, rather than focusing merely (or primarily) on what we gain from the activity.

The fancy word for this is autotelic. Something which is autotelic is an end in itself.

We are present with ourselves and the activity, enjoying the process. Our attitude is full of curiosity, openness, and joy.

In playful mode, we connect with our intrinsic worth and know that we are valuable for our own sake.

On the other hand, when we are in performance mode, we look ahead to the future. We focus on what we will achieve later through our current action. The activity we engage in is for the sake of some achievement, rather than for its own sake.

Performance mode focuses on the future and on specific outcomes. Some common characteristics of this attitude are calculation, strategy, and striving.


George Antheil, American Composer, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In performance mode, we draw on our inner strength and capacity to help us accomplish something in the world.

When we operate in performance mode with wisdom and kindness, we understand that our accomplishments don’t prove our worth. Rather, they are a reflection or expression of the worth we already have inside of us.

You might like to read more about our intrinsic worth here:
Why You Have Intrinsic Worth Right Now, No Matter What

Neither one of these modes (playfulness or performance) is better than the other. And, in fact, we need them both because whenever we try to live solely in one mode, we encounter problems.

The Problem of Perfectionism (Too much Performance)

For example, when we try live solely in performance mode, we slip into perfectionism.

Perfectionism tells us that we only have worth when we achieve external standards of success—like if we look a certain way; have a certain kind of body; win awards; or make a certain salary. Therefore, perfectionism pushes us constantly to do more and be more so that we can feel that we are worthy. It doesn’t allow us to rest or believe that we are good enough.

Furthermore, perfectionism tells us that any failure indicates we lack worthiness.

Perfectionism is performance mode without playfulness. And when performance mode loses playfulness, it becomes punishing and extreme.

The punishing nature of perfectionism is not a necessary part of performance mode, and there is nothing wrong inherently with performing. It is perfectly fine to strive for external standards of success sometimes. As mentioned above, we can use performance mode to help us express our inner strength and capacity. Performance mode is one way of living that allows us to express our inner potential.

But performance without playfulness drives us to a hyper-focus on results and an intolerance of imperfection.

On the other hand, playful mode can become imbalanced as well when it loses the balance of performance. When playfulness loses performance, it get stuck in the problem of Paralysis of Potential (PPo).

The Problem of Paralysis of Potential–PPo (Too Much Playfulness)

When I use the phrase Paralysis of Potential (PPo), I use it to indicate a condition we sometimes find ourselves in when we are unable to take constructive steps forward to fully realize our potential. As a result, we become arrested, or paralyzed, in possibility—somewhat like a child constructing fanciful potential castles in the air.

Building such castles is a form of daydreaming, and there is nothing wrong at all with daydreaming. However, when we suffer the problem of PPo, it is very difficult for us to connect our daydreams with the material world to actualize them.

Of course, not all daydreams should or need to become a reality. Some daydreams are just meant for our thoughts alone. However, we can certainly understand that if all our daydreams, desires, and wishes stay in our mind alone, we cannot fully express our potential.

This is what performance mode helps us do. It helps us articulate our inner capacities (often reflected in our daydreams) into the material world.

Our goal should be to move easily between playfulness and performance mode because then we have the best of both worlds.

Ending Note

Here is a good reminder for performance and playful mode: Playfulness gives us the joy to perform. Performance helps us achieve the dreams we play.

Question: Do you struggle more with playfulness without performance or performance without playfulness? I would love to hear below.


You might also like this post:
Do You Struggle with Perfectionism?

Here is one of my favorite books on playfulness:
Playful Intelligence: The Power of Living Lightly in a Serious World

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