Making changes probably involves a  few (or maybe even a lot) of new habits, from a daily morning meditation, reading everyday, calling friends or running three times a week – or whatever else you may have chosen to adopt. The question is, how can you keep those little important habits fun, without them becoming an onerous chore?
One of the things I have learned from my life as an academic is that it often just takes little twists to turn behaviour from onerous to fun and easy – and one of the most powerful ones for this is a tool called Gamification. And no, you don’t have to be a serious gamer to apply this…

What is Gamification?
Ever wondered why so many people are spending large amounts of time chasing Pokemons, staring into little and large screens – and even get totally disconnected from the world? Well… the answer is actually gamification. In many cases, gamification is sadly a waste of time (no, you won’t get fit by playing some soccer game on a console). However, those games teach us a lot of interesting principles about human behaviour – and these can be used to make potentially unpleasant things much more fun. Accordingly, gamification means that you use the basic principles of game play to deal with your daily tasks… this can change the attitude you have to them and results in often quite astonishing results.
Gamification takes away the pressure from the 'having to do' and focuses your attention on the reward Click To Tweet

How does Gamification work?
Think of any task you have to do. How do you feel now? Dreading it? That is probably a reaction to many things. But how if you focus not on the task itself, but rather on the outcome, maybe even winning against your friends? Gaining a reward for doing it? You probably feel better.
This is basically the underlying mechanism of gamification: it takes the focus and attention away from “having to do” the task – and draws your focus towards the reward, thus making the task more fun to complete.

Which (new) habits can be gamified?
Basically, you can gamify pretty much whatever you want… Think of some real life examples of gamifaction applications: Walking around? Pokemon Go. Running? Nike+ … even “best employee of the months” is a sort of (though sadly usually pretty lame) gamification.
The point to watch out for is to take away your attention from performing the task, and focus more on some form of reward, progress or outcome. That way, rather than dreading the habit and thinking of it as a chore, you focus on the outcome. In an ideal world you can also bring in others: like virtually running against friends in the case of Nike+.
If it is a habit, it can be gamified... from exercise to reading, from eating to writing. Click To Tweet

Tips for Gamifying
First think of a specific task or action you want to do. This needs to be measurable in some form (e.g. reading for 30 minutes. Writing 500 words. Making one phone call. Clearing out all of your email…. whatever it is).
Then think of what really spurns you on… basically this can be  an outcome that is measurable, something that only you can see – or something you want to share with friends or others. Or indeed it could be a bit of a combination.
Then think of rewards:
Would it reward you to see your own progress? Think of measurement tools.
Would it be most rewarding to get your friends to “monitor” your progress? Think of ways to share what you are doing.

Tools for Gamifying
There are some cool tools around for “gamifying” what you are doing. Some are very specific to a particular task – others are more flexible and let you gamify what you want. Here is a selection of some of the ones:
Specific Tools

  • Nike+  – very much a running tool. Let’s you monitor and run against friends – or groups.
  • Fitocracy – very much focused on everything fitness and health related.
  • Chorewards – living with someone? Turn doing household chores into playing a game…

More general tools:

  • Habit RPG – the “granddad” of gamification – very flexible and adopts to a lot of tasks. Personally I do find the user interface a bit retro and very very gamy … but that may be attractive to some people.
  • Karma – easier and more tracking options. More “serious” than Habit RPG and integrates with a todo list software from the same company. No dragons and co here – but easy tracking.
  • Mindbloom – actually several different apps to track different aspects of what you are trying to achieve – probably the most complete solution if you want to completely gamify all of your life. Probably takes a lot of commitment to log all your progress though.

Remember also that gamification is for habits … it doesn’t really work for big life plans, until you have broken those plans down into little actions that will bring you closer to your target! So it is still important not just to tinker with a few habits that seem good, but to first sit down and design a big plan.Gamification is for habits. Remember to plan them first to make sure you really hit your goals! Click To Tweet
Once you have designed small habits that bring you closer to your ideal self, gamification can be a super motivator: adding competition elements, being able to track progress and challenge yourself and friends can be great. However, this doesn’t mean you should gamify everything that you do – because eventually the gamification itself could become a chore! So be careful to gamify bit by bit to make it a success. Give yourself pretty clear goals and timelines – use these to establish your habits – and then you can gamify the next one!


Gamify yourself
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