How to Gamify Your Life: An Experiment – Part 1

Gamification.

Just like social media and tablet devices, gamification is very hyped in the media these days. With the advent of Foursquare, Fitocracy, and Farmville, gamification has become a big deal for any company looking to increase loyalty amongst its customers; if customers have fun interacting with your company, engagement (and sales) are bound to go up.

If companies can use gamification to make customers more engaged with their company and products, might gamification be a practical solution for individuals looking to feel more motivated and be more engaged with life? That’s the question I seek to answer in this series. What follows is a log I kept as I set up and conducted this lifestyle experiment.

I have no quantifiable metrics for success or failure. I will simply keep my eye on this one question: “Am I enjoying life more as a result of gamification?” I understand that this is very subjective, but outside of the world of online analytics, companies often measure customer engagement in the same way through surveys and focus groups.

I begin the log at Week 0 as I set up the different aspects of the experiment.

Note: Parts 1, 2 and 3 are dedicated to the experiment itself. Part 4 contains all of my recommendations and guidelines for gamifying your own life. If you want to jump straight to the recommendations and guidelines, click here.

Week 0: The Set-up

After spending most of this past week test driving the initial elements of this experiment, I think I’m ready to go. A great deal of my experiment is based on the research of Jane McGonigal and Jesse Schell. As such, the following four elements of gamification have been implemented extensively into this experiment because they are the fundamentals underlying most, if not all, successful games.  The four elements are detailed below, along with how I’m implementing each one.


A) Blissful Productivity / Quantification of Goals – Creating structure so that I always know what needs to be done, step-by-step and the rewards are properly timed and outlined so that I feel compelled to act.

1) I’m tracking Strength, Charisma, and Intelligence on an iPhone app called Track ‘n Share Pro. When I go to the gym, I earn strength. When I talk to strangers or meet new people, I earn charisma. When I read non-fiction, I earn intelligence. Pretty simple. I still haven’t determined what I will do with these stats yet. Maybe I’ll analyze how balanced my life is (career vs. social life vs. learning), but this is still a work in progress.

2) I’m tracking my various skills in an iPhone app called Level Me Up! This app uses the 10,000 hour rule (as made famous by Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers), allowing you to record how much time you spend developing certain skills to then translating that time invested into experience points that you use to level up. Here’s a screenshot of what the app looks like:

Currently, I’m tracking weightlifting, writing, iMacros/VBA (automation tools for my job), mind mastery (meditation, focusing exercise, etc.), and my job itself (batched into one skill called Marketing). Even better, I’ve tied rewards to a few of these skills, as follows:

@ Level 10 of iMacros/VBA – Developer software (VBA friendly).

@ Level 25 of Marketer – Productivity software (Omnifocus? Things? Evernote Premium?)

@ Level 20 Entrepreneur – $300 budget for Black Friday / clothes shopping (else, normal $120 budget)

@ Level 10 Mind Mastery – A biofeedback meditation device

3) Every time I level, I earn “level currency” that I can spend to activate special abilities. At the moment, they are:

Weekend Warrior

Earn 2x experience on weekends.

Cost: 0 levels

Weekend Stockpile

If you level up the weekend in which you activate this ability, add $20 to your splurge account for each level. Can be used once per weekend.

Cost: 1 level

Fair Exchange

Put $20 into a splurge account. However, must also put $20 into savings account when activating this ability.

Cost: 1 level

Amplify

For one day, a skill of your choice earns 3x experience. From midnight to midnight. Cannot be stacked with Weekend Warrior ability.

Cost: 2 levels

Buck the learning curve

Reduce level needed until a reward by 1.

Cost: 3 levels

 

B) Epic Meaning – Giving the game purpose and significance.

1) To start, I created an Epic Meaning statement, which I read every morning. To increase the feel of gamification, I’ve printed out this statement on nice paper and rolled it up in scroll fashion.

This statement there to remind me of my purpose each morning before starting my day. In a nutshell, I’ve defined my purpose as learning what it takes to live an extraordinary life – and discovering happiness, wealth, adventure, and fulfillment along the way – with the ultimate goal of helping others (friends, readers, current and future family) follow an extraordinary path of their own. I then go on to remind myself that on each day, we are given an option to move forward or stay where we are. These choices translate into experiencing the pain of discipline or experiencing the pain of regret. I then prompt myself to choose wisely.

The goal is for this statement to give a motivational boost whenever I read it. I’m hoping that the more I read it, the more it pops up in my mind throughout the day, reminding me to never stop pushing, lest I fail at my mission and suffer from regret.

2) I’ve added random reminders in places I spend a majority of my time in order to keep me in the gaming mindset. Whether through imagery, motivational quotes, or even small statements to reframe my activities, I find them all helpful. Since epic meaning is a very personal thing (taking into account your values, desires, and dreams), you may find my style of creating epic meaning to be ineffective for you, or even silly. Therefore, I encourage you to create a style of epic meaning that has significance for you if you ever feel compelled to mimic this experiment.

 

C) Urgent Optimism / Increased Agency – Creating feelings of control of one’s situation and the belief that every encountered problem has a solution, no matter how frustrating or challenging.

No one plays a video game and doubts that there is a way to beat a level or boss. So how does one adopt this mentality in real life? This is more of a mindset shift than anything else. Instead of wondering “Can I do this?” I should immediately ask “How can I do this?” This prevents wasting mental energy on whether or not I have what it takes, and instead routing that mental energy towards solving the problem.

There’s not much more I can do for Urgent Optimism, since life doesn’t come with an official rulebook and a guarantee that it’s beatable. However, I will be reading motivational literature throughout the experiment in order to keep my mindset where it needs to be.

 

D) Social Fabric – For many online gamers, the ability to play with friends, join groups and guilds, and interact with other players adds a key element to making games as engaging as they are.

Since my friends would think I’m nuts if I tried to ask them to join me in this experiment, I had no choice but to look elsewhere for a gaming community revolving around personal growth in the real world. Enter Fitocracy.com. After scouring the internet for an invite code, I’ve found Fitocracy a perfect way to use an already-existing infrastructure to engage socially with a community of gamers seeking to improve themselves through exercise and fitness.

 

Getting Started

There you have it. With these four elements in play, tomorrow marks the beginning of my gamification experiment. My hypothesis is that the following results will occur:

1) The linking of short-term reward to progress in various skills will incentivize me to practice more regularly. Usually, getting started with practice is the hardest part, so this will give me the push I need. From there, internal motivation will do it’s job.

2) The modifiers and bonuses will give me a fun way to strategize how to reach my short-term rewards quicker.

3) The social fabric of Fitocracy will motivate me to go to the gym and be able to discuss progress with others.

4) The epic meaning will infuse my day with a greater sense of purpose, leading to higher levels of motivation.

In addition to measuring the question of how happy and engaged I feel, I will consider procrastination (or lack thereof) as a secondary measure of success. Especially on weekends, I experience procrastination due to lack of motivation to do much of anything. A bad habit from college, I’m looking to destroy this feeling. In other words, I’m seeking to minimize Time-to-flow (how quickly from starting a task do I find myself in a state of flow). For more on the state known as “flow”, check out this link.

My first week’s results from this experiment will be next week’s post. Continue on to Part 2.

About Jon Guerrera

I'm Jon Guerrera, a life hacker at heart and the man behind the scenes here at Living For Improvement. This blog documents all of my successes, failures, and lessons learned as I experiment with finding happiness and fulfillment. I also wrote an e-book. If you like what I write on the blog, you can grab a free copy by subscribing.
  • Frank. J

    keep us updated! Also, what options do non-apple users have is interested in trying out this self development experiment? Any alternatives for android users?

  • Anonymous

    Hey Frank! Unfortunately, there is no Level Me Up alternative for Android users (I actually use an Android now as well.. I hold onto my iPod Touch for all iPhone apps). I’ve actually been moving away from that app and using a combination of Microsoft Excel, a stopwatch (which any phone has), and Habit Streak (an app for Android that lets you track how diligent you are with building habits). You just have to get creative with how you wish to track your progress (time? length of a streak? a custom-made formula or your choosing?). Hope that helps!

  • Shakesbeard

    Jon- You have done a nice job working to quantify your goals and determine their results. Everything can be viewed as how it benefits others also can’t it?
    I have spent years looking at myself and for all the benefit I’ve received I admit humbly that my greatest breakthroughs have come from working with others. Not “needy” others but “needing”.
    I’m looking forward to using an RSS to  download this site or it’s tools. Any directions?

  • Anonymous

    Hey Shakesbeard,

    I agree that everything one does can be viewed in terms of how it benefits others. For example, if this experiment is successful, I will certainly be using gamification to motivate me to get more involved in my community and in service to others.

    And here’s the RSS link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/LivingForImprovement

    Thanks for commenting!

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  • Great blog man! Really explains how we can gamify our lives. I think that gamification is the next big thing in life, so gamifying my life will be easy. I can use points-systems programs to motivate me to live healthier and watch my health in a safe and fun way. It can also be used at school and in businesses to engage the users to do things that they usually think are boring. I’ve heard that gamification can influence behavior best. Do you think that? All that engagement and motivation to winning a prize or a bonus like in Farmville and those online games. I think that gamification will become a success in our world because lots of people love to feel like they’re winning, and it will be embraced with “happy hearts” by everyone in the world. But if we use gamification without caring about the consequences, then gamification could be a horrible thing. Overall, great blog!

  • Thanks Gamification101! While I wouldn’t call gamification a silver bullet, it’s a great tool for inching forward with difficult goals that require higher levels of motivation. If you ever decide to try a gamification experiment, I’d love to hear about it!

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  • Rishabh Poddar

    Hats of to You! Not only for this article, but the complete series. I have a l

  • Rishabh Poddar

    Hats of to You! Not only for this article, but the complete series. I have a little request here. The App suggestions that you have given are all for iPhone, can you recommend some similar apps for Android?

  • Hi Rishabh! It’s unfortunate that Android doesn’t have as many gamified apps as iOS does. However, here are a few worth checking out: 

    1) TaskXP (Gamified to-do list system)
    2) Pomodroido (Gamified time tracker via Pomodoros)
    3) Zombies, Run! (Gamified running app)

    Hope this gives you a place to start experimenting!

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  • Rishabh Poddar

    Can you give me the list of iOS apps used for gamification which are similar to TaskXP? I think EpicWin is the only one. Reply if I am wrong.

  • Rishabh Poddar

    I had read this article months ago. Since then, I have spent lot of time reading, watching and experimenting. I have a VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION. Do you think that a Gamified system can have a man hooked up (motivated) till the end of life? Or is anyone and everyone bound to loose interest and motivation in gamification after a few months/years?

  • As far as I know, EpicWin is the only one. I’ve been using post-it notes for my tracking though, so I’m not 100% up to date on what gamified iOS apps are out there. 

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