Podcast: Leveling up on Relationships

Leveling up on relationships

Can we take some of the principles that make role playing games and video games so engaging and apply them as motivators for improving our most important relationships? Ryan thinks that by completing tasks, earning experience points, and collecting cool boosts he will level up enough to slay the dragon of relationship complacency. Take a listen to learn about his process.

Episode 19: Leveling up on Relationships

Listen, rate, subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify

A few notes from this episode

The experience point system is totally subjective. There are no formalized to assigning experience points for something like this. So I deliberately made values low for the ease of tracking. If you want to use my system of valuing experiences, level thresholds and rewards… they’re below.

10The joy of starting an adventure
225Family movie outing
360Baseball game
4100Camper parts
5150Day off for camper restore
6215Camping weekend

I collect experience points by completing certain tasks relevant to my quest. Dungeons and Dragons is big on tables (well, it used to be). So here’s another table with some ideas of tasks and experience point values.

Do something new together10
Complete a goal together10
Do something fun together5
Send and encouraging or flirty message1
Have a conversation for their sake1
Talk about family goals1

How do I track all these points? I use a simple tally counter app on my phone. Since I’m an iPhone user, I use a simple one called “Counter“–I believe it’s available on Android, too. There are some dope apps that will work on your iWatch, too… but I don’t have me one those fancy watches.

And how about some bonus content?! Since my “gym rat” quest is visible. Here are the tables for that.

10Dopamine boost for showing up
225Creatine bottle
360Favorite protein powder mix
4100New jump rope and garage space to use it
5150New shorts
Dunk a basketball250
HIIT Workout3
Workout with someone2
Normal workout1
Add additional weight to an exercise1

Now, quest brave adventurer–and be well! Godspeed!

Transcript of episode:

  1. This is the Bad Ass Dad Pod
    1. A podcast about my 3 quests to become a bad ass physically, financially, and relationally.
    2. Really this podcast is about unlocking the best feelings about ourselves no matter what age we are.
    3. I’m Ryan Dunn… defender of the daddy realm, dual-class, level one parent and spouse, lawful good podmaster.
    4. In this episode, I’m going to lay out a plan for leveling up relationally.
      1. What I mean by that is that I want to lay out a plan for being better in my relationships–for making my most important relationships more enriching for all involved.
      2. And recently I’ve become obsessed with the idea of gamifying my life–which, essentially, is using the principles that keep us engaged in games and applying those principles to real life in order to be engaged in a fun way there, too
        1. There’s a bit more info on that in the previous FULL episode of this podcast
        2. Which, of course, you can find at thebadpod.com
        3. Or wherever you listen to podcasts.
      3. In this episode, I want to get real and apply some of these principles to my quest of having bad ass relationships.
      4. So I’m going to take some of the principles that make role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons so much fun and, importantly, so engaging and engulfing… and apply them as a measuring tool for improving my most important relationships.
      5. By doing so, I’m going to level-up in my dad and spouse roles. In this case, I’m going to literally level up.
      6. Sound good?
    5. [MUSIC OUT]
  2. BUT first, … don’t you love that?
    1. Get you all pumped for the gamifying stuff and then take a little interlude.
    2. It’s necessary, though… I promise, I’m not going to waste much of your time. And this isn’t an advertisement.
    3. But it’s 2020 and I feel like it’s time to give a quick update on my three quests.
      1. If you’re just joining me… I’ve been questing for about 8 months.
      2. I’ve been questing after three different goals that I believe are going to help me unlock my best life… even though I’m a middle-aged man.
      3. Of course, I’ve learned that it’s the actual journey that’s making for my best life and not the realization of my goals and all that warm stuff…
      4. BUT, it’s way more fun when I complete a quest and get to set out on a new quest… so I simply want to check in–here in the beginning of a new year—and assess where I am on my 3 quests.
    4. Firstly, I wanted to not take my most important relationships for granted.
      1. 8-months in to that quest and I feel like I’m way better than the work- and status-addicted scrub I was a few years ago…
        1. I feel like I’ve come a long way in communicating to my family that I value them.
          1. My key activity on this quest was in carving out deliberate time to lavish attention on them.
        2. I called this quest my most difficult one because it’s the quest that I couldn’t really quantify or measure. 
        3. Wellllll… now, thanks to my son’s emerging interest in Role Playing Games… I believe I see a way to apply some measures to the relationship quest.
          1. So that’s what this episode is going to be about.
          2. How I can collect experience points in my relationships, level up as a parent and spouse, and obtain key rewards to help me move further on my quests.
        4. So this is kind of like a reset on the relationship quest.
          1. I’ve gained a lot of ground. 
          2. Now it’s time to set a new objective… and that objective is leveling up.
    5. With that, let me touch on my other two quests.
      1. Physically, I’ve been questing to dunk a basketball.
        1. My first step in that was to lose about 30 lbs.
          1. I’ve stalled out at 20.
        2. And I didn’t wait until I lost all the weight to start jump training.
        3. So I’ve completed one round of specific jump training
        4. I’ve been hitting the weights.
        5. And, dangit, I’m close.
        6. I can grab basketball rim on my jumps any day of the week.
        7. But here’s something startling I discovered:
          1. Yesterday I was doing stationary jumps with a 10-pound medicine ball.
          2. I noticed that my jumps were several inches shorter when I used the medicine ball…
          3. An extra 10 lbs makes a huge difference.
          4. So if I’m going to complete this quest… which, after months, I’m kind of eager to do… than I need to kick off that last 10 lbs of weight that I’m carrying on my frame.
          5. So as I begin 2020, I’m joining 50% of America in counting my calories and trying to shed some weight.
          6. And with that, I’m continuing my habit of hitting the gym and doing a lot of strength training to get some more explosiveness in my legs.
        8. I’ll admit this, though… I’ve sized down on pants and gotten a bit more cut because of this journey thus far… 
        9. And I’m feeling good! So, though it’s been a long journey, it’s not been without rewards.
        10. Sot hat’s the physical quest.
      2. Financially, I’ve been questing for what every true-blooded ‘merican quests for: to get out of debt.
        1. I started this journey with roughly about $34000 of consumer debt.
        2. I found that the debt payments were killing my family’s future dreams–specifically, to buy a house and travel more… and to not feel like we have to be held in jobs because they have nice paychecks.
        3. So, I gotta slay the dragon that is debt payments.
        4. This is a long quest.
        5. I’ve done the sword-sharpening work of developing a family budget
        6. And devising ways to save more
        7. And we’ve delivered several critical blows to the dragon of debt…
          1. But that thing takes a long time to die.
        8. So, at our current pace, we’ve got another 18-20 months of questing here before that dragon is dead… 
        9. That’s another 18-20 months until we’re 100% debt free.
        10. I’m going to see how I can game-ify this quest in the new year, as well.
        11. But for now, let’s talk about game-ifying our quests to be bad ass parents and spouses.
  3. When I was around 12 and 13, I spent a great deal of time hanging around my friend’s living room listening to Iron Maiden records and playing Dungeons and Dragons.
    1. Really, I was obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons.
      1. That virtual realm allowed me to project myself into a land where I had amazing adventures and had incredible power….
      2. All of which I probably felt was missing from my very pedestrian, suburban, socially awkward middle-school existence.
    2. Well, my kid has hit the 12-year old mark…
      1. And, just like his dad… he’s in to the idea of mentally escaping to lands of danger and wonder 
      2. And using his amazing powers to slay mythic beasts
      3. He’s in to D&D… and that’s re-awakened my interest in the game, as well.
      4. I suspect he’s in to the role playing games for many of the same reasons that I was an awkward tweenager and teenager:
        1. They provide adventure.
        2. They provide a sense of empowerment.
        3. They provide a realm where we can be the hero.
        4. They allow us to quest after something meaningful… which can be an escape when we’re locked in a life-cycle of constant future preparation… and school… and homework… and tasks that don’t seem that important to the 12-year old spirit.
        5. Role playing games provide all that.
          1. They provide an imaginary realm where players have adventure, and are empowered, and become heroes.
          2. And they undertake meaningful quests together.
      5. Well, I want that in real life.
        1. I’m seeking for life to be adventurous and empowering and all that.
        2. It just isn’t as clear in real life on how to engage in those things…
        3. I think that part of the appeal of RPG’s is that they put structure around adventure, empowerment, and life advancement.
        4. So I want to take some of those structures and apply them to my real-life quests.
        5. And this could be a difference maker in my relationship quest because, previously, there was nothing there to measure. 
          1. At least, nothing quantifiable.
          2. There is no measurement for how well I’m doing in being a good dad and spouse…
          3. Besides maybe some kind of satisfaction survey…
            1. Which, with such a small sample size (you know, basically 2 people) is a little suspect.
  4. In the last episode of this podcast, I talked about gamifying goals for the new year.
    1. Essentially, it’s a way of making our goal achievement a little more playful… which is good… because we love to play, don’t we…
    2. It’s also a way of measuring advancement towards our goals
      1. Which is what we love about games
      2. We actually really appreciate that they provide a structure of advancement from one level to the next, or one round to the next, or one boss battle to the next.
    3. RPG’s excel at assigning guideposts to improvements
      1. Generally, this comes through the means of collecting experience points and then using those experience points to level up and collect new skills and gear
      2. Essentially, this is what I want to do in the realm of relationshiping.
      3. I want to collect new experiences, level up, and receive kick ass gear that’s going to help me on my overall quest towards badassery
      4. And, when I’m leveled up enough, maybe I can face down the big boss of complacency
        1. Ultimately, I think that’s the dragon that needs killing if we’re going to have bad ass relationships
        2. That’s the Smaug… the Tiamat… the, uhh.. The Puff the magic… I’m out of famous dragons. 
        3. Wasn’t there a famous lollipop dragon at some point? I feel like I sang a song about a lollipop dragon as a kid… we don’t need to kill that dragon…
        4. We need to kill the big, firing-breathing beast of complacency.
        5. We got this, yo.
  5. Here’s how we’re gonna do it.
    1. In D&D, players go on quests… sound familiar… we’re already there, right? We have an objective.
      1.  Shoot, we’re just into a new year
      2. You probably brought a whole list of attributes your seeking after into this year in the form of resolutions
      3. Well, let’s game-iffy those resolutions 
      4. And the first step is to not think of them as resolutions but as quests.
      5. So let’s take the most common, obvious example we can: hitting the gym.
      6. I loved popping into my local gym on Jan 2.
        1. There was hardly any parking.
        2. All the cardio machines were crammed.
        3. It’s a cliched resolution to say: I”m going to work out more.
        4. But it’s a resolution that a lot of us renew each year.
      7. Well, let’s turn our mindset on that little bit.
        1. A resolution says, “this is how it’s going to be.” It’s meant to be firm.
          1. It’s meant to say “this is how it is.
          2. So when we make the resolution to work out more in the new year, we are firmly stating that we’ll be working out more in the new year. You know, like a declaration of congress “heretofore it is a new year. Therefore, be it resolved that gym attendance and sweat production will increase four score…”
          3. OK, that’s not possible. But you get the picture.
          4. The resolution mindset is a steamboat towards failure.
          5. Because when you falter, when you miss some workouts, you become unresolved.
        2. The idea here is instead say to oneself NOT: “let it therefore be resolved that I shall workout more.”
          1. But to say to oneself “I am questing to workout more.”
        3. Probably it would be good to go further and give a little specifics… Ala “I am questing to workout 4 times a week.”
          1. I don’t think Yoda would like this system… he’s more of a resolver when he says do or do not there is no try.
            1. This system says, there is a try… and you do because you try.
            2. DUDE, that might be my first T-shirt slogan: The Bad Ass Dad Pod: You do because you try.
            3. Shoot, should I just quit this episode now? Was that a mic drop?
            4. Probably not. I’m probably way more into that statement than anyone else.
            5. So let’s motor on… Get this car down the road! 
  6. Alright, I’m getting off the gym topic. I wanted to talk relationships in this episode
    1. My goal here is to quest for more meaningful relationships and to do that I’m going to game-ify some objectives that I believe will deepen my most meaningful relationships.
    2. If you’re not into the whole relationship objective idea—if you’re really looking for ways to keep your ass at the gym—don’t tune out… or click out… or whatever navigate out… whatever the hell you kids are doing today…. don’t leave, because I think as I go through my thought process here, your gonna see the light towards gamifying any life quest.
  7. So here’s what we’re going to need for a successful quest: 
    1. First, let’s identify the dragon we want to slay
      1. You know, a prototypical D&D quest begins when you and your party stumble into a village and find the people living in fear because they’re threatened by some monster—often a dragon.
      2. You are promised rewards if you free the village of the threat of the dragon.
      3. In order to slay the dragon, you’ll need to find out where it lives, when it is vulnerable, you’ll need to collect some magical items to help you slay it, and you’ll need to level up so you are strong enough to face the dragon… because dragon’s are pretty bad ass.
    2. So, for personal success, identify your dragon. That may actually change the nature of your quest.
    3. Let’s turn back to our working out resolution example for a moment.
      1. If I had made a new years resolution to work out more… that likely wasn’t just inspired by a want to work out more.
        1. Like, not working out enough is not the dragon here.
        2. Low self esteem, might be your dragon
        3. Low energy levels might be your dragon
        4. I don’t know, oddly fitting clothes might be your dragon–though I think that’s probably linked to the self-esteem thing…
      2. ANYWAYS, getting truthful about the dragon is going to point us in the right direction of our quests.
      3. I think part of the point here is not to make the means the end.
        1. Seriously, no one every says, “I want to train more” because they want to train more.
        2. They say they want to train more because, in all honesty, they want to get better at something or feel better about themselves.
    4. The dragon, simply put, is the problem you’re trying to overcome.
      1. For me and where we’re at today, I’m slaying the dragon of complacent relationships
      2. That’s what’s raining fiery death on the good people of Dunnville… and burninating all the joy out of our otherwise happy home…
    5. So what do I need to acquire or do in order to slay the dragon?
      1. Well, complacency is a state of acquiescence, right?
      2. It’s just a point of resolve in which one says this is where we’re at, and where we’re going to stay.
      3. So if that’s the bad boss of this quest, I’ll look at ways I can disrupt the cycles or practices that keep me complacent.
      4. How does one overcome complacency?
        1. Here’s what Google tells me:
        2. Firstly, set goals.
          1. Alright, I can do that.
          2. We’ve talked about what we want to do as a couple and family
          3. We want to take more adventures–especially exploring the neighborhoods of our fair city… which is Nashville, TN.
          4. And we want to maintain our weekly hikes.
          5. Team goals for the win there.
        3. Second way to combat complacency, ala Google, do new things and shake up your routine
          1. I like my predictable life
          2. So the new things is a good call out for me.
          3. Set goals, do new things… there both on the list of things I’ll need to accomplish on my way to slaying the dragon.
        4. Thirdly, express yourself unexpectedly.
          1. Man, another good call out.
          2. This is a little different than the do new things idea…
          3. That is some shared activity.
          4. Expressing yourself unexpectedly would be like sending the rando flowers to her office just because
          5. Or taking a moment in the midst of running to car on your way to a worship service to say “I’m glad we’re in this together…”
  8. These ideas are now suggesting actions to be undertaken in or order level up in prep of slaying the dragon.
    1. Now, one mindset or system of goals might say…
      1. I want to not be complacent in my relationship
      2. So I’m going to text my wife something encouraging or flirty every day
      3. The leveling up/gaming mindset changes the focus
    2. Instead of saying I’m going to send that message every day. 
      1. I’m going to say that I get a point for each encouraging or flirty message I send.
      2. Additionally, I’m going to be awarded points for doing something new with my family
      3. Or for setting a goal and undertaking an action towards that goal with my family
    3. When I collect a certain number of those points, I will have gained the experience necessary to level up
    4. And when I level up, I unlock a reward that will help me on my further quests.
    5. It’s very much like leveling up or advancing in a role playing game like Dungeons and Dragons.
  9. So we’ve identified a dragon, we’ve identified what we need to do in order to kill it.
    1. Now, we’re going to assign points and point levels in order to achieve advancement
    2. Now, let me admit, there’s no science behind this… it’s all subjective.
      1. I’m just going with gut as to what seems like a fair point value and level for each activity.
      2. In D&D, there are definite values and such that they’ve spent years figuring out.
      3. We don’t have that.
      4. I’m just going to ask you to be fair to yourself.
    3. So let’s say you want to slay your poor self image
      1. And you’re awarding yourself points for going to the gym… because accomplishing that workout makes you feel good about you.
      2. You might say that each gym visit is 5 points and when you get 25 points you level up.
    4. For my relationship quest, I’m going to say I’ll also level up at 25 points.
      1. An important note her…. You’ll want to prorate your point totals.
      2. It should be easy to level up at first.
      3. Game designers do this all the time… because experiencing initial success keeps people engaged.
      4. If you think about it, no one ever fails level one.
      5. You don’t want to set yourself up to failing level one, either.
      6. Make it readily achievable… then get progressively tougher as you move.
      7. So I’m going to say I need 25 points to hit level 2. Than maybe 60 total points to hit level 3. 100 total points to hit level 4 and so on…
    5. Actually, let me lay this out more in depth… because I’ve done a lot of thinking on it… and by sharing what I have in mind for myself, maybe you’ll be inspired to get your own system going… and have a clearer idea of how to do so.
      1. OR, you may simply want to go plug and play with my system… that’s cool too!
        1. I’m putting all this stuff up on the web site… 
        2. So surf you way over to thebadpod.com, bra!
      2. OK, here’s my gamifying system for the relationship quest where we kill the dragon of complacency.
      3. Keeping in mind that I need to do unexpected and new things with my family and engage in their goals…
        1. I will get 10 points for us doing something new together as a family or couple.
        2. I will get 5 points for us doing something fun together as a family… including playing a game, being intimate, watching a movie, going on a hike… etc…
        3. I’ll get one each for sending an encouraging or flirty message. For holding a conversation with a loved one for their sake, not for mine (meaning, I’m not engaging them in conversation in order to tell them something about me, ask them to do something, or convince them of something)
      4. When I collect 25 of these points, I will advance to level 2. I’ll hit level 3 when I’ve reached 60 total points… so an increase of 35 points points. I’ll hit level 4 at 100 points (so 40 more points). 
        1. I may need to play with the point levels some
        2. Experience is going to be the teacher here
        3. And, in order to stay engaged, remember, the levels should be easily advanceable at first and steadily getting tougher.
    6. Oh, that can sound like a lot of counting 
      1. I just downloaded a tally counter app on my phone
      2. That way, when I realize I’m getting points, I can just tap it up on my phone and it’s there for continued tallying
      3. The actual app I’m using is called “Counter”
        1. It’s free, which we both know is very important to me
        2. And it allows for several counts to be maintained simultaneously
        3. I’ll link on the web site: thebadpod.com
  10. So I level up to level 2, and then what?
    1. Well, in a game, when you level up, you generally unlock something that helps you further your quest.
      1. I talked about this is the last episode…
      2. But to rehash, we’re making a mistake when we offer ourselves rewards that are counter towards our own advancement
        1. Like, losing 4 pounds should not mean you get rewarded with a cheat day
          1. Have a cheat day on your diet, but don’t make it something you work towards
          2. Got me? You don’t want to reward the behavior you’re trying to avoid.
        2. Or saving $500 does not mean you should rob your savings account to buy yourself something nice.
      3. In the same way, me spending time with my family should unlock rewards that allow me to move forward on my quests. 
        1. Like this: my level 2 reward is going to be taking my family to see 1917.
          1. We all want to see it… including me.
          2. It’s a reward of something I’ll look forward to AND it will advance my quest.
        2. I’ve developed a list for the first several levels…
          1. At level 3, I’ll unlock a trip to Chicago to see a Cubs game–
            1. There are, of course, extraneous circumstances around that
            2. Like that my father offered the tix
            3. Which is awesome. I’m 44 and still getting stuff from dad.
          2. ANYWAYS, level 4: I’ll unlock a camper counter cover
          3. Level 5: a day off to work on my camper restore project
          4. Level 6: a camping weekend! (see a theme here?)
          5. Level 7 is a day off for writing (the idea there that I’d be freeing up other time for family).
        3. See where I’m going with this?
        4. Again, it’s all on my web site. Thebadpod.com
    2. So when next we shall meet, I shall be Ryan Dunn, level 2 parent and spouse.
  11. I know some may say I’m playing with fire… treating relationships like a game…
    1. I’ll disagree. 
    2. It’s because I take my relationships so seriously that I want them to be at their best.
    3. All I’ve done is devise a system that adds additional motivation and rewards to behaviors that I should be seeking out in pursuit of valued relationships.
    4. I’m seeking to have fun in love… which I would counter is necessary for having rewarding relationships.
    5. [Music IN]
  12. So now that I’ve soap boxed you, allow me my leave, good friend.
    1. “Til next we shall meet, you may find further suggested readings… and STUFF… at thebadpod.com
    2. It has been a pleasure to share this time with you and impart this information.
    3. If you find said information valuable… tell somebody… an easy way to that is to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts.
    4. My name is Ryan Dunn
    5. The music is by eyoelin
    6. Keep questing, my friend!
    7. OK BYE!

Published by RyanDunn

Ryan Dunn has a bunch of certificates on his desk. A few are awards for content production and marketing. Another marks his ordination as a minister. One says he’s earned a BA in English from the University of Iowa. The certificate next to that says he earned an MA in Christian Practice from Duke (with honors!). Ryan is most proud, though, of the things he’s created: The Compass Podcast, some deep content on RethinkChurch.org, a series of practical spiritual advice videos, a long-lasting marriage, and fantastic little boy. (He enjoyed A LOT of help on all of those projects, especially the last two.)

3 thoughts on “Podcast: Leveling up on Relationships

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