I can beg and plead with my six year old twins to go upstairs and get something out of their room. I’m speaking. I hear myself. And they are like five feet away from me, but It’s like I’m not even there. They just keep doing what they’re doing as if I have no authority in their lives as their Dad.
My wife? She’ll say, “Can you go get your book before I count to 10?” Off they go.
I tested her method recently at dinner when one of my boys was balking at the idea of eating a piece of green pepper (after repeated requests over 5 minutes to eat the thing).
Me: “Eat the whole piece before I count to 15. 1…2…3…4…”
Him: “All of it?”
Him: (Thinking, looking at the pepper)
Him: (Starts going to town on the pepper. Chewing, chewing, face contorting, looking around in panic, apparently disgusted by the pepper, and Mom handing him a napkin to spit it out.)
I count that as a victory for gamification. The power of a challenge.
What is Gamification?
Gamification isn’t a brand new concept (in our computer-day version of new, the term coined in 2002 with blog posts on the idea popping up with regularity around 2011).
Whether you’ve noticed the term or not, you most likely have been motivated by the idea. Look no further than punch cards at your favorite pizza dive – buy 10 pizzas and get 1 free. Part of the fun is watching your card accrue little hole punches. Little Caesar’s was playing into our appreciation of a challenge whether they knew it or not.
Mostly, though, we run into gamification through iPhone apps. Apps require check-ins of all kinds, enticing you to earn badges and points and all kinds of other materially meaningless app-cred. Who doesn’t want to unlock the Mayor of WorkoutVille Badge or whatever? We get our badge, beam with pride, then look around and make sure that nobody realizes how much we care.
Or we share it on Facebook or Twitter.
The summary, though, is that gamification is a method to help us stay consistent at a task that requires consistency (or in the case of some apps, to keep you coming back so you’ll click on ads or make some other consumer-based choice).
For me, gamification works. I typically need some kind of accountability to keep my keystone habits, even if it is only the accountability that keeping a streak alive or earning a badge or unlocking a level provides. It’s the whole reason I created the Couch to Cave Challenge, a Challenge in which I’m the only participant (at the time I’m writing this piece).
You might fall into the “It’s easy for me to keep habits” category or the “Habits? Who needs those?” category, but if you’re one of the many of us who realize the value of consistency, yet struggle at times, perhaps some form of gamifying of your life would be a good idea.
Reasons why Gamification Works
There are psychological studies and more scientific posts out there to discuss the real reasons why gamifying our lives works. But let me, as a regular guy who experiments with these things, give you a few reasons why I think gamification works to build habits.
- It breaks big things down into little things: Have you ever played Wii Fit? This video game breaks down major areas of fitness (strength, aerobics, flexibility, and balance training) into 1-4 minute exercises. Every time you do an exercise, they drop ‘coins’ in your little fitness bank. Each small act provides a reward and you end up stringing together a big workout together. It might not be CrossFit, but it’s better than a bag of Cheetos and a remote control.
- It challenges our inner competitor: This idea worked for my son. There was no good reason for him to eat the pepper which he knew (rightly) that he wouldn’t like. The only reason? He’s competitive. He had to win the ‘eat the pepper in 15 second’ game.
- It gives us goals: Often, we have habits without goals. We need intermediate stopping points, especially with habits that we intend to keep until we pass from this blue orb. Gamifying apps and practices give us little bite-sized goals we can chase after. It’s like the boy who follows the frog as it jumps from stone to stone. All the sudden, the boy has wandered 1/2 mile into the woods by bouncing one tiny step at a time.
- It clarifies objectives: This is similar to having little goals, but sitting down and engaging some sort of program that uses gamification almost requires us to clarify what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. When I create a new habit in Coach (a great little app for helping create any new habit), I consider the purpose of the habit – sometimes even forsaking it because it’s not a priority (clarifying what actually is important to me at the time).
- It provides bookends: Some habits don’t require ‘forever.’ Gamifying parts of our lives gives us a start point and an end point if we need to do a reset or need to be particularly intense in an area for a time. Whole30 and and other 30 day challenges offer bookends.
- It gives positive feedback: Again, this feedback is often in the form of meaningless badges and political offices (Governor of Bill’s Donut Shop), but who doesn’t love a regular injection of encouragement? If you do a 30 day challenge, there is often a related Facebook group where co-sojourners build each other up and encourage each other. This can be helpful. Very helpful.
Do you gamify? I’d love to hear what works for you. Leave a note in the comments.
Where to Start
If you wanted to give this kind of thing a shot, I’d pick one habit and pick an app or a challenge to go with that habit or practice.
Here are a few suggestions and resources for a variety of areas:
Health and Fitness
Sparkpeople: This mobile app provides calorie counting, workout information, and community.
Strava: This mobile app gives you a way to log and track your bike rides, runs, walks, hikes, and so forth. It suggests challenges and popular cycling or running routes in your area where you can compare yourself with other riders or runners in your hometown. It can definitely bring out the competitive fire.
I refer you back to the two resources mentioned above: Jeff Goins’ Facebook group “My 500 Words” and 750words.com.
750words.com offers 30 days for free before charging a small $5.00 monthly fee. The goal is to string together as many days in a row as possible, writing 750 words. The site actually analyzes your writing and gives you a report. The site is based on Julia Cameron’s ‘Morning Pages’ habit.
Youversion: Coming from a Christian background, sometimes it helps to even gamify reading devotional literature and Scripture.
Youversion has a ton of reading plans along with community and sharing capabilities to help bring the accountability and encouragement.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that it helps to make a game out of areas of our lives that are of utmost importance? I don’t completely understand why we naturally struggle eating healthy, pouring into important relationships, building our mental capacity, and practicing habits that lead to career, financial, or personal success, but we do. If gamification works, then I’m all in.
How about you? When you have to face a challenge that you know is important but isn’t always easy, which apps, programs, or 30 day challenges have worked for you?