As a kid, I was addicted to video games and YouTube. Every day after school, I would run to my room and boot up the computer.
In the summer months, I could play for seven hours a day. I lost track of time, immersing myself in video game worlds completely different from my own. And at night, in the hour before going to bed, I would binge-watch the most random YouTube videos ranging from food reviews to obscure documentaries on the history of 2b2t, Minecraft's oldest anarchy server.
My addiction only became worse during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the blink of an eye, I now had hours more time to play games and watch YouTube.
So I did.
My life became a cycle of eating, attending online classes, and playing video games. Until I hit a tipping point. I encountered what game scientist Jane McGonigal calls "gamer regret." I was playing games so much that I regretted what I was missing out on in the real world.
Gaming had become a form of escape. I took a step back and asked myself a profound question: if I lost all my progress in the games I was playing, my thousands of hours in Minecraft, my hundreds of hours in Total War Warhammer 2, would any of it translate to real-world value?
The answer was no.
What drew me so much to these virtual environments? The reason was simple.
The real world didn't provide the carefully designed pleasures, the thrilling challenges, and the powerful social bonding I could get in games.
All my real-life dreams like becoming a Professor, Playing tennis division 1, and becoming a content creator, seemed so distant and far off compared to the comfort and ease of logging in and playing another game of Bed Wars in Minecraft (but I got pretty damn good at Bed Wars).
In games I could fully embrace my childhood curiosity and playfulness. I could explore, create, and learn to my hearts content. But in real life, I was forced to do endless homework assignments, essays, and study for tests. My playful nature was destroyed.
The Turning Point
Then one day while wandering around my basement in a slight melancholy, I encountered a video by Ali Abdaal reviewing the Building a Second Brain Course by Tiago Forte.
I don't know what it was that made me click and watch the video that day. The appeasing thumbnail, the strange title, or the will of the peanut butter gods, but watching that video marked a profound turning point in my life.
Ali described the main learnings he took away from the course including mindsets and workflows. Out of the entire video, two things intrigued me most.
First, he explained that by building a second brain, a digital, externalized, central repository for the ideas that resonate with you and the resources from which they come from, you can make your past self work for you. Your past work becomes the building block of future projects allowing your knowledge to experience a beautiful compounding effect.
Second, he described building a second brain like a game, a game in learning the best way to capture, organize, distill, and express knowledge in the way that makes most sense to you.
By the time I finished the video I was standing completely still, jaw open.
Up to that point my past self had done little to aid my future self other than do well in school. I had spent much of my middle childhood wasting away vast swaths of time playing video games and watching videos I wouldn't remember weeks down the line.
What Ali was describing was a game. If there was one thing I knew then, it's that I love games. And when I heard Ali describe building a second brain like a game, a beautiful profound question came to my mind: what if I could apply the things that make video games so addicting and fun to real life? Things like building a second brain.
This question led me down an incredible journey which I discuss more in my three part series on gamification starting with: How I Gamified My Life To Enjoy Learning and Studying Part 1. But in this article, I want to discuss how building a second brain saved me from video game addiction. And to answer that I will have to explain my experience with the BASB course and my journey into Obsidian.
Taking Building A Second Brain
After hearing about the course by Ali Abdaal, I did everything I could to join the next cohort of BASB. As a freshman college student, I was broke. So I applied for a scholarship and thankfully got in!
Just a few months after watching the video by Ali Abdaal I found myself in the first life zoom lecture for BASB cohort 14.
It was amazing.
Tiago explained that modern day society functioned off an old industrial model schooling system. Our childhood curiosities were destroyed as soon as we entered school because we were forced to learn things to a schedule. This led many to make the false conclusion that they didn't like learning when what they really didn't like was forced learning.
But by building our own second brains, reigniting our childhood curiosity, we could find joy and wonder in the process of learning once again.
Tiago explained doing this came through the process of fleshing out our own Personal Knowledge Management Systems (PKM).
In Tiago's words, "Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) is the practice of capturing ideas and insights we encounter in our daily lives, whether from personal experience, from books and articles, or our work, and cultivating them overtime to produce more creative, higher quality work."
The knowledge repository students build using their personal knowledge management techniques becomes known as their second brain.
Reigniting My Childhood Curiosity
Armed with this idea of reigniting my childhood curiosity, and the rest of the learnings from the course I began applying the concepts using knowledge management app Obsidian. Obsidian is an app which allows you to build a vast interconnected web of ideas using bi-directional links.
As you explore new ideas and concepts its nature encourages you to find ways to connect knowledge in the most interesting and insightful way possible. You have to learn how to balance folders, links, and tags to create the best personal knowledge management system for you.
As I used Obsidian I intentionally tried to apply the concepts from the course. I came at my knowledge management with a Gameful mindset. I fostered a playful, fun loving, curious attitude.
Instead of being forced down a particular path or direction like in school, I could dove into my curiosities.
I defined a Capture toolkit, a set of three main information mediums I stick to, books, articles, and podcasts. Alongside this I created a list of my Twelve Favorite Questions which act as filters for the knowledge I capture and reduce information bloat in my Second Brain.
Over the following months and years I noticed something profound happen.
I began feeling like a kid again.
I started to wake up every day with a genuine joy and curiosity for what I would learn next.
I discovered the parts of my brain that love figuring out the optimal tech tree advancement in Civilization 6 or finding the best item combinations in Terraria are the same parts that get activated by figuring out the best way to link a note inside of my system.
The same parts of my brain that love collecting League of Legends skins love amassing a compounding body of notes formed from the connections of my own unique information diet.
The video game-addicted self I was just two years before started to seemed like a distant memory. Finally, I found a game that was as enjoyable as the ones I was so addicted to as a kid. Building a second brain had saved me from video game addiction.
But the difference is this game translates to real life reward by helping myself and others.
Be sure to check out my three part series on gamification to learn how I made myself enjoy learning and studying.