IT IS I, Aidan The Worldsinger!
I'm just joking. That's my game secret identity.
I created it after turning my life into a game following Jane McGonigal's book SuperBetter, and I think you should too.
In SuperBetter, McGonigal explains taking the mindsets we adopt in games and bringing them to real life (adopting a gameful mindset) can help us in our health, work, and relationships--also with leveling up your thinking using Obsidian. In addition, playing games like Mario Kart, Civilization 6, or chess can provide many benefits; we don't realize this because many people consider games a waste of time.
When I first read the book, I was skeptical too...
Through middle and high school, I was completely addicted to video games.
I have over 3000 hours in Minecraft, 800 in Total War Warhammer 2, and 600 in Terraria. During that period, I felt stuck and insecure; games were a method of avoiding those feelings. I understand more than most how games can be an escape from real life. And while I have talked about gamification applied to real life in the past, I have never gone this far in the application.
After going through the gamification exercises McGonigal provides, my life has changed for the better!
I feel more alive, playful, zesty (it's a word now I made it up), driven, better able to navigate negative emotions, and more.
In this article, I'm going to explore:
- What Being Gameful Means
- How Being Gameful Can Improve Your Real Life
- How I Turned My Real Life Into A Game
Before we get started, Get my gamification resource list with has all my best resources to learn to gamify your health, work, and relationships. Become addicted to healthy habits, supercharge your learning, 10x your productivity by getting into flow while working, and more.
I hope hearing my experience gamifying my life inspires you to make your own journey.
🕹️What Does It Mean To Be Gameful?
Being gameful simply means taking the mindsets you normally have when playing games and applying them to real life.
McGonigal summarizes 7 aspects of being gameful in the book:
- Adopt a Challenge Mindset: Embrace real-life obstacles as voluntary challenges rather than threats, akin to accepting a game's challenge.
- Prioritize Strength and Happiness (Seek Powerups): Seek experiences and practices that enhance your well-being and strength, similar to finding "power-ups" in games that boost abilities.
- Embrace Psychological Flexibility (Fight Bad Guys): Identify characteristic feelings, thoughts, or obstacles you face in real life as "bad guys" and learn to come at them with a challenge mindset.
- Commit to Action (Create And Pursue Quests): Regularly make small steps toward your significant goals, even when challenging, reminiscent of pursuing quests in games.
- Cultivate Connectedness (Find Allies): Establish a support network of at least two people for assistance and open communication about stress and challenges, akin to forming alliances in multiplayer games.
- Find the Heroic Story (Create A Secret Identity): Identify and focus on the heroic aspects of your life, drawing strength from moments of resilience and meaning, similar to how heroic narratives in games inspire and motivate.
- Learn The Skill Of Benefit Finding (Create And Achieve Epic Wins). Be aware of good outcomes that can come from stress or challenge. In games, we have the notion of "epic wins," or extremely positive outcomes that can arise when you least expect them, from the most unlikely or daunting circumstances.
Let's explore how I turned my life into a game following these mindsets and how they are improving my real life.
🎮How I Turned My Life Into A Game
I will now go through each aspect and explain how I applied it to real life, as well as show the benefits of doing so.
While I won't explain how to do it yourself, I strongly encourage you to get the book yourself and do the exercises if you're intrigued.
And AWaaaYYYyyyy we go!
🧠Adopt a Challenge Mindset
Here's an interesting fact about games: you are rarely hopeless while playing them. [^1]
That's because in games, we adopt challenges voluntarily to test our skills and knowledge. Failure and obstacles are not annoyances but actually make up the path towards our goals. This challenge mindset is similar to Carol Dweck's growth mindset, which is the belief that your skills and intelligence can be influenced through effort.
Angry Birds is a great example of a game that promotes a challenge mindset.
The gameplay loop involves using birds to fight against an evil pig empire.
Every loss gives you insight into using your birds more effectively. Failure is built into the game. Because of this, players see failure as fundamental to the learning process rather than something to avoid at all costs.
I adopted a challenge mindset in real life.
I see failure and obstacles not as annoyances but as the path itself.
Knowing this, I put more effort into my projects. I'm more okay with failure. I understand both of them are necessary for growth.
According to Jane McGonigal, "A power-up is any positive action you can take, easily, that creates a quick moment of pleasure, strength, courage, or connection for you. Collecting a power-up simply means identifying it as something you want to try. Activating a power-up means doing it in your daily life."
In games, we use power-ups all the time.
In SuperMario Bros, the fire flower has become infamous as the bane of all the Goombahs.
By identifying real-life power-ups, we can make it more likely to follow through with them when feeling down. For example, before reading the book, meditating wasn't the most appealing activity. But when meditation becomes a mental resilience power-up, it feels cooler and more tangible, making it more appealing. In addition, research shows it's The frequency of positive emotion matters more than the quality.[^2] You don't have to make massive changes in your life to become significantly happier.
Increasing happiness is more a matter of increasing the frequency of positive emotion.
McGonigal separates powerups into physical, mental, emotional, and social resilience. I went through and filled out power-ups for each of these categories:
- Do 50 jumping jacks
- Listen to audible while walking
- Listen to dancing Kong
- Have a Kombucha
- Eat some peanut butter
- Meditate for ten minutes
- Read the daily stoic
- Recite the Stormlight Archives Knights Radiant creed
- Message a friend or family member something nice
- Call my mom or dad
🥷Fight Bad Guys
According to Jane McGonigal, "a real-life bad guy is anything that tries to stop you from doing what you want or need to do to get SuperBetter. Spotting a bad guy means identifying it as a potential source of trouble or distress. Battling a bad guy means experimenting with different strategies for dealing with it effectively. Succeeding in battle means not letting it stop you from having a good day or making progress toward your goals."
Bad guys are classic in games: Bowser, the pigs in Angry birds, The Ender Dragon.
Spotting bad games can help you fight them because naming characteristic, emotions, thoughts, and obstacles can take away their power of uncertainty.
By giving a funny name to these things, you turn something that was previously uncertain and scary into something familiar and able to be acted upon.
My bad guys include:
- Hungry Hannah: Hannah is the past residual hunger that came out of my anabolic dieting experience. While she isn't a constant insurmountable hunger, she comes in short bursts to remind me to eat throughout the day because food, food tastes good.
- Busy Bert: Bisy Bert wants to do things optimally. If there is five minutes before the laundry goes out, he doesn't want to sit and wait for five minutes doing nothing. That's time to optimize. He wants to find some way to spend it effectively. This can be both a blessing and a curse.
- Insecure Chameleon: The insecure chameleon is the part of me that doubts whether I'm truly worth any salt on the internet. They think, who am I to tell other people what to do with their lives? Isn't telling myself what to do enough? Other people create better stuff anyways!
📜Create And Pursue Quests
According to Jane McGonigal, "In the SuperBetter method, a quest is not just another item on your to-do list. It is a purposeful action you take because it has meaning in the context of a bigger search. Maybe you're searching for better health, or better relationships, or a better job, or a better life for your family. Maybe you're just searching for your next great adventure. Whatever it is, completing quests in your everyday life will bring you one step closer to that which you seek."
Seeing regular tasks as quests not only helps you consistently work towards your goals but also helps you adopt a fun frame.
Fun framing happens when you decide to do something purely for the joy of doing it.
By fun framing an activity, you make the activity a reward in itself. Researchers showed when people adopted a fun frame for exercising, they were less likely to reward themselves with food later. They saw the exercise itself as the reward. [^3]
Two of my favorite questions to adopt a fun frame are: how can I make this into a game? And how can I make this more fun?
Here are some of the quests I completed as a result of reading the book were:
- Creating linked book notes of SuperBetter
- Recording a podcast about the science of learning with my brother
- Calling an old friend of mine from Freshman semester of college
According to McGonigal, "Scientists define a true ally, or strong social tie, as someone you can speak to honestly about your stress and challenges and whom you believe you could ask for help with a serious problem."
Finding allies in a game can have a myriad of benefits.
Firstly, mirroring people in physical movements or sensations increases liking. When we play games in the same physical space as someone, we mirror a ton, increasing liking between players.
Secondly, games can help us build empathy for those in an outside group. As McGonigal writes, "To feel more empathy with others, people have to have positive social interactions in safe environments. Synchronization can't happen if you're preoccupied with negative thoughts or feelings. ... When we play a game, we come together on equal terms and equal footing. We agree and trust each other to follow the same rules, to pursue the same goal, and to treat each other fairly. We accept each other as worthy teammates or competitors, regardless of our outside social status."
Thirdly, games can actually have tremendous cognitive benefits. Playing Civilization 6 requires you to practice difficult long-term decision-making. Playing an FPS can increase your reaction time.
And way way more benefits...
The only times when games are negative for you are when you are addicted--usually defined as playing more than 20+ hours a week--or when you play predominantly competitive games with complete strangers.
Despite the benefits of finding allies, we are experiencing a loneliness crisis in America. Why? Sometimes it's hard to be vulnerable and ask for help with a serious problem.
The SuperBetter method resolves this problem with a critical insight: it's easy to invite someone else to play a game.
So, instead of asking someone for help with a serious problem, McGonigal recommends you ask one of your close friends or family to become an ally to your game. Tell them about the SuperBetter method, your powerups, your bad guys, your quests, and as we will soon get to your secret identity and epic wins.
I chose two people to be my allies:
- John Mavrick: my best friend and fellow content creator John. We play a weekly Gloomhaven session together so it was easy to explain the concepts to him. John if you're reading this Hi lol.
- Skye Helfant: my best friend brother (yes it’s definitely a thing). Even though he’s off in the Netherlands right now, we have never been closer.
🎭Create A Secret Identity
According to Jane McGonigal you can think of your secret identity like "an avatar for the real world. In video games, avatars are the heroic characters we play as. We see the virtual world through their eyes, and we draw on their special strengths. Simply by adopting a heroic nickname or secret identity, you can bring out some of your most important challenge-facing attributes, like determination, courage, and compassion."
Lots of games have secret identities: Metal Gear, Hitman, Spiderman.
Adopting a secret identity is so beneficial because avatar relationships can increase self-efficacy and self-efficacy AND motivation are needed to pursue goals effectively.
Just seeing an avatar pursue and complete a goal like running a 5k, cooking a healthy meal, etc. can increase self-efficacy in the person playing them. However, this effect only occurs if the avatar is created to look closely like you. [^4]
It also builds self-efficacy and motivation.
Self-efficacy is our belief in our capability of creating and pursuing goals. Motivation is our desire to act on our goals, whether as small as getting a glass of water or as big as writing a book. You need both self-efficacy AND motivation to pursue goals effectively.
For example, take someone who is motivated to create a business, but has little self-efficacy. They are motivated to make passive income, help others, and learn new skills, but they haven't ever finished any goals related to it. Therefore, they don't have self-efficacy and don't pursue their goal.
Contrastingly, someone might have high self-efficacy but little motivation.
For example, someone that is great at playing the Violin but doesn't have much intrinsic motivation to do it because they have been forced to play by their mom their whole life. As soon as their mom is gone, they will likely stop playing the violin.[^5]
Adopting a secret identity can help you create both self-efficacy and motivation.
To create my secret identity, I had to do a few things.
Firstly, I assembled my hero dream team. A hero dream team is three or more heroes working together to achieve a common goal. They should all embody something your ideal self would show. They can come from real life, video games, books, movies, etc. My dream team is:
- Kalladin Stormblessed from The Stormlight Archives: embodies self-discipline, perseverance, and a determination to help others.
- Hoid from The Cosmere: embodies wisdom, open-mindedness, playfulness, and humor.
- Mark Watney from The Martian: embodies zest for life, curiosity, playfulness, and humor.
- Leonardo Da Vinci: embodies zest for life, curiosity and a love for learning.
- Elend Venture from Mistborn: embodies zest for life, honor, and a determination to help others.
Once I had my hero dream team, I read through a list of strengths McGonigal provided and picked out the top five that resonated with me. Here they are:
- Creativity: You show great imagination and originality; you always go beyond traditional thinking.
- Curiosity: You love to explore and discover; you crave to learn about new things.
- Open-mindedness: You are always receptive to new ideas or arguments and think things through carefully from all sides.
- Vitality and zest: You live as if life were an adventure; you bring energy to everything you do.
- Humor and playfulness: You see the lighter side of life; you are always making others smile.
Then I had to go through and determine how I could pursue each of these strengths in some fashion:
- Creativity: use linked notetaking apps to develop novel insights and write and converse about them.
- Zest: dance to a silly song like Dancing Krone for a few minutes. Sing in broad daylight.
- Wisdom: give advice to someone I love. Actively listen in a conversation. Philosophize.
- Open Mindedness: purposefully look for conflicting information to my beliefs.
- Curious: learn something new. Write.
- Humor and playfulness: do stand up. Watch a comedy. Try and make jokes with friends.
The last mission was to pick a heroic nickname.
I followed my Stormlight Archives passion and made the name: "Aidan The Worldsinger." Worldsingers in The Stormlight Archives are travelling storytellers who spread their knowledge and wisdom to every place they go. They are intensely open-minded and curious about other cultures, and promote unity and peace. My secret identity alter ego is below:
🏆Create And Achieve Epic Wins
According to McGonigal, "epic wins are an awe-inspiring outcome that helps you be more motivated and less afraid of failure."
This makes them different from quests, which are about making steady progress. Epic wins require a few things. According to McGonigal "A [epic win] is realistic if you have reason to believe you'll successfully achieve it if you make your best effort. After all, games are designed to be winnable. A [epic win] is challenging if, in order to achieve it, you have to learn a new skill or draw on strengths like creativity, cleverness, and grit. A goal without an interesting challenge is just work! A [epic win] is energizing if just thinking about it fires you up. You know you'll feel fantastic if you achieve it."
Epic wins are a staple piece of why games are so engaging.
Think conquering The Moon Lord in Terraria, reaching the Information Age in Civ 6, or beating the Griffin in The Witcher 3.
After thinking about what epic wins I would like to go for, this is what I came up with:
- Meditate for 30 days straight for at least ten minutes
- Learn to converse, debate, read, and write, at a 10 year old level in Spanish in 6 months
- At the start of the second quarter of 2024, be making $3000 per month in revenue from my business
With these epic wins, McGonigal recommends three separate ways to evaluate progress:
- Measurable Wins: exactly what you think, a number attached to your goal to show you are making progress.
- Breakthrough Moments: a major leveling-up moment in pursuing your epic win, like a new strength, skill, or achievement.
For example, to make $3000 per month from my business at the end of the second quarter of 2024, I can split it into these quests:
- Measurable wins: make $1500 per month in revenue by the first month of 2024.
- Breakthrough moments: Have taught the first cohort of my Art Of Linked Reading Coaching program (more to come out soon)
- Sneaking Up Sideways: be able to afford buying a course on something new I want to learn from my business income.
🎮My Life As A Game
Turning my life into a game has changed it for the better.
I'm improving in the areas of health, work, and relationships. I'm adopting a challenge mindset, using power-ups, fighting bad guys, creating and pursuing quests, finding allies, embodying my secret identity, and creating and achieving epic wins. I highly encourage you to turn your life into a game as well, even if you don't play games.
Get my gamification resource list with has all my best resources to learn to gamify your health, work, and relationships. Become addicted to healthy habits, supercharge your learning, 10x your productivity by getting into flow while working, and more.
Here's what I would like to share this week.
📸News From The Channel!
📺Latest On De YouTube - How To Get The Most From A Book Masterclass: A new FREE four part series on YouTube that will teach you how to understand, connect to create novel insights, and smartly share learnings from a book.
🎙️Latest On De Podcast - E33 CK Janice: Balance Your PKM Practice With Slow Productivity: She’s known as CK on X but some people call her Janice. She's a 13+ Years Pharmacist & Photographer who talks about about Slow Productivity Notion Systems for Multi-Passionate 9to5ers on Twitter and Medium. She's Building a creative Slowprenuer side hustle.
In this podcast you will learn:
- How to balance your PKM practice with slow productivity
- How to navigate content creation and PKM with a full-time job
- How to apply systems thinking to PKM and life
💡My Best Insights:
P.S. Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links.
📖Book - Tress of the Emerald Sea: I continue my Brandon Sanderson addiction by reading the first of his four part secret project series. This book follows a young girl who is tossed into a world of adventure with pirates, dragons, and cooking, after her love gets taken by a Sorcerous. It juggles with themes of transformation, love, forgiveness, and more.
📰Blog Post - World Builders: This is a newsletter meant to make you a smarter storyteller. Join 79,000+ writers, creators, and founders for free. I have binge-read all of these posts this last week to try and become better at analyzing fiction. I'm thinking of starting a writing club with one of my friends next semester at Cornell, so this will help get me thinking about how to write stories for the club when we start.
🎙️Podcast - Ep. 275 — Accomplishing Hard Goals: Cal Newport explores how to accomplish hard goals with reverse goal setting. This involves choosing a goal, then reversibly defining the steps to get there until you are at your current state. As you pursue the goals you follow you change your plan respectively. As I'm thinking about my new goals for the next year and first quarter of 2024 this is becoming particularly important for me and you to reflect upon.
📺YouTube Video - Note Taking Basics - Fiction and Novels: If you want to learn more about reading fiction and novels this is the video to check out.
[^1]: Isabela Granic, Adam Lobel, and Rutger C.M.E. Engels, "The Benefits of Playing Video Games," American Psychologist 69, no. 1 (2014): 66–78.
[^2]: This helps explain why big life events like going on vacation, getting married, or getting a raise don't make you as consistently happy as you might expect. It's the small things every day that add up to make the biggest difference. Ed Diener, Ed Sandvik, and William Pavot, "Happiness Is the Frequency, Not the Intensity, of Positive Versus Negative Affect," Subjective Well-Being: An Interdisciplinary Perspective 21 (1991): 119–39.
[^3]: Carolina O.C. Werle, Brian Wansink, and Collin R. Payne, "Is It Fun or Exercise? The Framing of Physical Activity Biases Subsequent Snacking," Marketing Letters (2014): 1–12.
[^4]: Jeremy N. Bailenson, “Doppelgangers—A New Form of Self?,” Psychologist 25, no. 1 (2012): 36–38.
[^5]: Because we need both self-efficacy and motivation to pursue goals effectively, some people like Cal Newport advocate building capability BEFORE creating a vision for your life. If you don't have self-efficacy before creating a vision you are motivated by, you won't effectively pursue those goals. He dives into how to do this inside of his new and improved Deep Life Stack 2.0. Ep. 274 — the Deep Life Stack V2.0.
Got questions? Hit "reply"! I read every email (yeah people are surprised!) 🤗 Thanks for reading!
Thank you for being part of the journey!🎊 Whenever you're ready there are three ways I can help you:
The Art Of Linked Reading: This course helps people who struggle to understand, connect, remember, apply, and smartly share insights from non-fiction books learn to do so with linked notetaking apps like Obsidian, Tana, Logseq, and more.
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