The Power of Fantasy

If you are a long time reader of mine, you know that I am kind of into games. It is, in fact, my entire profession. And not only am I into games, but I think that games can be used to get people to do things. And you are people. So yes, games can be used to get YOU to do things. That’s right. I’ve descended into life hacks, baby! Gamify your life!

Let’s start with some proof. Why listen to the crazy guy telling you to make your life feel like a video game? Well, basically because people much smarter than me have found it helpful. I think my favorite story is Jane McGonical.

She’s kind of a big deal

Jane was an English student at Fordham University until she graduated in 1999. She almost immediately worked her way into the gaming industry, which was traditionally very unwelcoming to female workers. Jane quickly found a place, releasing game after game and rising through the ranks. But then, in 2009, she suffered an extremely traumatic concussion. The injury stopped her from being able to function, and she found herself in a suicidal state.

Interestingly enough, what got her out of it was games. And not just literal games, but setting herself reward based systems around her everyday tasks. She gamified her life out of necessity, and she went on to build SuperBetter: A multi-million dollar company that helps hundreds of thousands of people do the same thing.

She rocks. And is one of my heroes. So let me tell you how to gamify your life.

Step 1: Choose Your Character

So many choices

Alright. Here we go. Let’s gamify your life. The first question to answer is probably the hardest one. What is your character?

For example, I am an Enchanter. I am a creator of magical experiences. I also understand human motivation, and use that expertise to influence, but with positive intent. And it took me forever to decide this.

Let’s start with this simple question: is your life a fantasy, a sci-fi, a non-fiction, or something else? Maybe you’re a Film Noir. What layer of fantasy are you most excited to apply? Personally, I’m into swords and sorcery. So I fill my life with things that make me feel magical. Like a big dark fur coat.

This coat, to be exact. I am a wizard.

When you face a challenge in life, what does it feel like? Is it a dragon? Is it an unintelligible intelligence? Or is it just a smarmy manager?

Now, given this universe, what role would you fill? What role would you fill if you were the most epic version of yourself imaginable? This is how you get your character. Maybe you’re a warrior because you battle tenaciously, or a detective because you always discover the truth. I had one friend who claimed to be a Jester, because she was always the smartest person in the room: the only person who can insult the king to his face.

Here is the really important part. This character should be representative of someone that you want to be. Even if I can’t shoot fireballs from my hands, my work motivating people feels a heck of a lot like enchanting. And that’s the important part. This character is the ideal version of you. By labeling yourself as a warrior, a detective, a healer, or a mystic, you are taking the first step towards personal motivation.

Now say yours with me. “I’m Willem. I’m a Level 1 Enchanter”

And by the way, start at Level 1. It’s way more motivating that way.

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Step 2: Assign Value

TIL that “Value,” is not a very valuable word

So here is where gamification almost immediately becomes valuable. I want you to decide how many, “Experience Points,” it takes you to reach Level 2. If you don’t like the lingo, feel free to replace it. Maybe just call them, “Points.” For my own example, I decided that it would take 1000 EXP (Experience Points) to reach the next level. It felt like a solid, easy number.

Next, I want you to pick a number of everyday tasks that you want to be better about doing. These can be anything. A really common one is exercising. Maybe add meditating, or reading. Create a list of some things and then decide how many points they are each worth.

These are literally some of mine

To keep yourself optimally motivated, you should be attempting to Level Up every 2-4 months. Any faster than that, and the levels will stop having value. Any slower and it’ll just feel like a drag. So if you did the majority of these things every day, they should get you to 1000 points in 2-4 months. This averages out to about 12 points a day.

Now here is the WAY cooler part. Let’s talk about the tings you really want to do. Get creative. As you no doubt have noticed, I am deciding all of these point values myself. I could, say, give myself way more EXP for something that really scares me. Or for something that I’m really proud of.

My dragons tend to dress well and color their hair oddly

That’s right, baby! I give myself over three times as many points for talking to somebody than I do for going on a jog. That’s because I find jogging easy, and I find cute people terrifying. This is where games are freaking powerful. I have now given myself tangible rewards for working on the things that really matter to me.

Speaking of rewards….

Step 3: Reward

This is lake Tahoe. I went here because I earned it.

There is nothing wrong with wanting good rewards for good work. Be proud! Let the world know! And more importantly, let yourself know. On the inside, we’re just animals with more complicated brains. And animals like treats when they do good stuff.

Just recently, I gave my first big public talk. I earned 250 EXP for this talk. Yes, a quarter of a whole level. Why? Because it was HUGE. It went so damn well, and opened up so many doors for me. I also didn’t stop with just some experience points. I gave myself a trip to Tahoe.

You see, whether you like to admit or not, the same ways we train our animals also work on us. If we link behaviors to dopamine, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good, we will be more likely to do those things again in the future. So I made sure to link this extremely important moment with excessive reward. That way, the cat in my intestines will be eagerly looking for a repeat experience.

What’s rad about this is it keeps me motivated, having fun, and unscheduled. I don’t need to go to the gym at the same time every day, because I have the motivation to make it happen no matter what. I don’t feel boxed in. I feel empowered.

Step 4: Track everything, but keep it fun

What? Did you think I was making this all up?

The last thing to do is the easiest. Track everything you do. Most importantly, track the points you earn, and your level. Remember that people play games because they are fun.They don’t play them for the points themselves. So keep the tracking fun.

You can do this in all kinds of ways. Maybe you jump up in the air and give yourself a High Five whenever you earn points. Or maybe, every 100 points you get a favorite snack. Don’t let this become another life-hack that you’re only doing because you think you have to. Figure out how to do it it because you want to.

I literally built myself an app that congratulates me whenever I earn EXP. If you want something similar, I like both SuperBetter as well as one called Habitica. But really, you can do this just in a Google doc or on a big whiteboard somewhere. Do it how you want it. And keep it that way.

Aww. Look how happy and dorky she is.

I hope you enjoyed this article! If you are a first time reader, please consider subscribing to my email list. I will immediately send you my favorite gamification resources as a thank you. If you are already subscribed, you are rad, my friend. Otherwise, rock on people!


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