What if life were like a video game? Well, turns out that’s not an impossible feat if we take some time to think it through. The way you can achieve this reality is by applying a technique called gamification.
The process of forcing yourself to spend less time with technology can often be a very uncomfortable, unrewarding, and tedious process. By applying gamification techniques to your journey, you can make the process of reaching your goals a lot more enjoyable. When something is fun to do, we are more likely to keep doing it. Given this blog is all about your success, health, and happiness, it’s only fair that I let you in on this little secret.
I’ve defined five steps you’ll need to complete in order to transform the laborious task of staying away from your favourite apps and websites into a kick-ass real life video game.
These steps are:
- Determine your adversary: Every video game has an enemy which the protagonist must defeat.
- Quantify your success: The easiest way to gamify your progress is to figure out how to describe your progress with numbers. From this we can then define success as either increasing, decreasing, or maintaining these values.
- Create a reward system: Treat yourself when you reach a specific goal. We want to reward good behaviour as often as possible. This will keep your passion alive.
- Define an Ending: All good things come to an end. Games are no exception. By defining when the game will end, we prevent it from getting boring and create a reward for sticking with the game over time.
- Define how you’ll present the data you’ve collected (OPTIONAL): The strategy of gamification is most fun when you visualize the data you’ve collected along the way. By visualizing your data, you allow yourself to analyze your progress at-a-glance. This can be a very rewarding and eye-opening experience.
Step 1: Determine your adversary
By now, you probably have a good idea of what annoying technology habit you are trying to kick. This will be your adversary. The entire goal of the game is to successfully defeat your adversary in some way. We will define what defeating your adversary looks like in the next step. Your adversary is probably going to fall into one of the following categories:
- Devices (cell phone, video game console, laptop, tablet, desktop computer etc.)
- Digital content of a specific format (posts, videos, episodes etc.)
- Digital content related to a specific topic (anime, sports, celebrity news etc.)
Step 2: Quantify your success
Every measure of success in a video game is quantifiable. For example, in the war simulation game Call of Duty, you have your win-loss ratios, the number of hours (more often days) you’ve spent playing the game, your experience points, level, rank, and others. Each of these measures of success are quantifiable, meaning they can be expressed as a numeric value (e.g. -1, 0.2, 7000 etc.). What keeps you hooked on playing the game is the hope that each and every one of these measurements will increase over time. Therefore, to keep you hooked on making progress in your journey to success, you’ll need to figure out a way to quantify that progress.
Here are a few ideas you could use as inspiration:
- Record the amount of time you spend on the app or website
- Count the number of days you’ve visited the app or website
- Count the number of times you accessed your device when you didn’t intend to
- Count the number of posts/videos/episodes/etc. you’ve consumed
Once, you’ve decided what you’ll be measuring, you then need to figure out what tools you’ll use to record these measurements. You can do this either manually or with the help of software. If you are unsure of what software to use, you might find it helpful to take a look through my Tools page for ideas.
In practice, I’ve found its most effective to record your progress manually. This is because when you manually keep track of your habits, you force yourself to be conscious of the decisions you are making. The fact that you have to manually record your technology habits, might give you all the motivation you need to not start in the first place. You can then use software as a backup in case something goes wrong.
Step 3: Create a reward system
What does success look like to you? Do you simply want to get your measurements down to a specific number (e.g. at most 30 mins of Twitter use per day) or do you want to go completely cold turkey and not use these technologies at all?
Below are some template sentences you can use to help you figure out a reward system. You can simply replace each < > with what makes the most sense in relation to your situation:
- If I spend <number> minutes on <technology> then I will get a reward
- If I use <technology> only <number> times over <some interval of time> then I will get a reward
- If I todays measurements are lower than yesterday’s measurements, then I will get a reward
- If I only consume <number> units of <technology> then I will get a reward
Be sure to have a good mix of easy to attain and challenging to attain rewards. If all your rewards are challenging to attain, then you will quickly lose motivation. Having a few easy ones in the mix, keeps motivation high.
Once you’ve defined what success looks like, decide how you are going to reward yourself when you reach these milestones. I would try to avoid choosing a reward to be time spent with the technology that you are supposed to be staying away from. This might further reinforce the bad habit. If you decide to do so anyway, make sure that it is one of the most challenging rewards to attain. You don’t want it to be an everyday thing. A better choice would be to simply take a moment to revel in how awesome you are for reaching your goals or choosing to spend some time doing other things that you find enjoyable or BOTH.
Step 4: Define an ending
You did the work so now it’s time for you to reap the ultimate reward: finishing the game. But, what’s the best way to do this?
Your first option is to set a time limit. If you are trying the strategy of gamification for the first time, I wouldn’t let the game run for more than a month long. I think a 1-week challenge is a good starting point. Once you’ve successfully completed that challenge, then you can shoot for a longer duration. Before starting a new game, I would take a 2-day break or longer to help you regain motivation for the next round.
Another way you could define an ending is by defining a specific overarching goal that you’ll need to complete in order to WIN the game. In this case, I would still recommend that you use some kind of time limit in the case that your overarching goal turns out to be too much for you to do at this moment. You don’t want your game to go on forever. If it turns out that your overarching goal was in fact too ambitious, don’t hesitate to change it to something else that is more achievable.
Step 5 (OPTIONAL): Define how you’ll present the data you’ve collected
Numbers are boring. We can fix that. We fix it by creating cool graphs, charts, and other data visualizations to represent our progress. Here are some examples of how you could visualize your data:
- Represent a streak of success by a growing line of stars ⭐️
- For each day you decrease your technology usage, mark that day with a down-arrow ⬇️. For each day you increase your technology usage, mark that day with an up-arrow ⬆️
- Hand draw a 10 x (Number of Days Your Game Lasts) grid. Colour in the squares based on how much you used your forbidden technologies that day
- Assign a sticker (or some other symbol) to each reward. Every day that you earn that reward, add the sticker corresponding to that reward to that day.
- For the geeks: Use Excel or some other software tool to create fancy computer-generated graphs and charts
Although I would say this step is optional, I believe that it’s an important feature to include in your game. When you stay consistent with tracking your progress, it will be very rewarding to look back and be able to understand at-a-glance how you have advanced over time.
What I’ve described above is all you’ll need to do to get a basic game going. If you have any amount of curiosity about how it’d go, I’d recommend that you try it out at least once. For some this technique might be a real game changer.
Congrats, you made it to the end of this blog post! To reward you for your efforts (wink wink 😉😉), I’ll let you in on another tip you might find useful for gamifying your road to success. In addition to spending less time with distracting apps and websites, it’s often equally valuable to make a goal to increase the amount of time you spend doing the valuable things that these technologies distract you from. To really get the most out of this strategy, I would highly recommend that you choose an activity or two that you want to replace with your excess technology usage then apply the same gamification techniques as described above. It will make this strategy that much more effective.