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Gamify Your Life

Computer games that help you reach real-life goals

Computer games make it fun to confront obstacles. Wouldn't it be great if your real-life obstacles were as much fun to tackle? Now there are tools that "gamify" everyday life, to tap into the motivating power of computer games.

Whether you want to reach a goal, kick a bad habit, or manage a workforce, you can gamify the choices to help make better ones. Here are two free tools for doing that, and the science of why they work.

This free app lets you design the positive and negative behaviors that advance or damage your avatar. You enter your real life actions into the role playing game throughout the day, and watch your avatar move toward a new level or to its death. You get to weight tasks according to your real priorities, but if you neglect a task, the system increases its weight to get your attention.

The motivating power of this tool is impressive. You can tie it to real rewards, perhaps tying the new episode of the Mindy Project to spending an hour on your paper and cooking a vegetable dish. Or you can focus on the varied in-game rewards. What if you just eat cake on the couch and let your avatar die? Graphic feedback on the consequences of your actions help you take a realistic look at your choices. The game makes it fun to be accountable.

Source: HabitRPG

Community is part of the fun. User groups have been created for mutual support on specific goals and habits. You can join a team-based “quest,” where your choices will affect the scores of your team mates, and vice versa. And you could tackle one of the open “challenges” to progress with others toward a meaningful goal. This app is being used to manage complex mental health and life transition challenges as well as familiar self-management goals like productivity and health. User communities span the globe in all age groups, and there's ample room to shape it to your personal needs.

You can gamify your organization and your worklife with MyObjectives. Each employee's job responsibilities are transformed into a quarterly scorecard through a consultative process. Your MyObjectives scorecard tells you exactly what you need to do to get the rewards you seek. You always know where you stand with clear graphic progress indicators. It’s a team-based tool, so your progress affects your team, and vice versa. This tool is currently in open beta testing, so your organization can apply to access it at no cost.

Alliance Enterprises
Source: Alliance Enterprises

The human brain is continually making decisions about where to invest its energy. In a world of information overload, it's hard to allocate your energy among competing goals. Tools that help you do that are extremely valuable. That's why "management by gaming” is a growing trend.

Management by gaming can make work more fun because it stimulates the brain chemicals that make us feel good. Dopamine is released when you approach something that meets your needs. We step toward distant uncertain goals to meet our needs, and dopamine is only stimulated when you see progress. Clear graphic evidence of progress toward a goal stimulates the great feeling of dopamine.

Oxytocin is the brain chemical that makes us feel good when we trust and feel trusted. Team-based gaming tools help stimulate the good feeling that you have social support in your quest for survival. Serotonin is the brain chemical that makes us feel good when we compare favorably to others. No one likes to admit to this thought process, but we can all see that it’s a huge dynamic in daily life. Our brains are always looking for ways to enjoy the good feeling of social importance without the bad feeling of conflict. Computer games are a great way to do that! Workplace scorecards give each individual a clear path to shine without the dysfunctions well known in organizations.

We need tools to make choices explicit
Gamificiation make choices explicit. You may think your choices are obvious already, but much of your decision process is just a flow of electricity down the most accessible pathway. The electricity in your brain flows like water in a storm - it finds the path of least resistance. Your electricity will flow effortlessly into the channels you built up before.

"Neural signaling" by Natl Inst on Aging
Source: "Neural signaling" by Natl Inst on Aging

That feels normal and natural so it feels like something is wrong when you try to redirect it - even if you're making a better choice. You keep doing things you did done before until you figure out how to electrify new pathways. Gaming tools help you activate alternatives in your brain that you may not have found with your conscious process.

We need tools to make life fun
Our brain evolved to focus on survival. The mammal brain releases happy chemicals when it sees a way for you to meet a survival need. It would be nice if your happy chemicals just flowed all the time, but that’s not how your brain is designed to work. You may think people in other times and places were happy all the time, but that’s an illusion. Your ancestors didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, so signs of food made them happy. People today are curiously focused on food and securing resources because that’s the job our brain is designed to do.

We have harnessed this cockamamy operating system to do great things. We learn to focus on distant goals once immediate needs are met. But it’s hard! Our brains need frequent reassurance that we are on the path to rewards. That’s why nice graphic proof is so appealing.

Nicole Lazzaro
Source: Nicole Lazzaro

The fun factor is illuminated by game design expert, Nicole Lazzaro. She researched the pleasure of gaming and detected four different kinds of “fun” responses: hard fun (the pleasure of accomplishing a difficult task), easy fun (the pleasure of novel stimuli), serious fun (the joy of building confidence in your skills or being distracted from distress) and people fun (the perception of social support).

There’s lots more information on your brain’s quest for happy chemicals in my book Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin and Endorphin.

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