Gain experience points, level up your life, and earn rewards

There’s a reason we really get into apps like Fitbit or MyFitnessPal. It’s the same reason we sink time into games like Candy Crush and Wordscapes. Insert your favorite app here ______. It’s probably utilizing a similar principle in inciting your brain and keeping you engaged.

These apps excel at exciting the rewards centers of our brains. By offering us points and rewards for certain activities, our brains get a kick of reward chemicals (like serotonin) when we achieve goals and mileposts–like when we earn a cool boost after completing a level in Candy Crush. Because our bodies feel really good when serotonin kicks in, our brains push for more of it. So when we start thinking about these rewarding apps, our brains send out dopamine–the messenger of wanting urges–in order to spur us to pursue the serotonin releasing rewards.

Thinking about these apps produces a Pavlovian effect inspired by dopamine. We’re motivated to play. We want more rewards.

They trick us into being motivated.

Good apps trick us into being motivated by rewarding engagement. We can use that principle to reward our own good habits.

We can take those same principles that the apps use for motivating engagement and use them for our own life goals and motivations. We simply need to borrow some of the principles utilized by app and game makers.

We motivate ourselves by applying a system of points, levels, and rewards to our tasks. Using these motivating factors, we undertake good, healthy habits that help us achieve our goals.

The best way to describe this process is by showing you how I’ve applied these principles to the three monumental quests of my life:

  • Relationship Ranger: To not take my most important relationships for granted (relationship quest)
  • Gym Warrior: To dunk a basketball (physical quest)
  • Debt Mage: To get out of debt (financial quest)

(You need not assign weird little titles to your quests. I just think it’s fun… for me.)

Develop your own quests (like becoming a minimalist, running a 5K, or eating a keto-based meal plan). Then figure out what tasks are key to success on that quest. Once those tasks are identified, assign experience points to those tasks. Then decide at what point you will level up and earn a reward.

When it comes to level rewards, make sure they act as boosters. They should be items or activities that help you further your quest. See some examples below.

How to track 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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_4262-1.png
The Counter app

Relationship Ranger

Here’s an example of essential tasks for my relationship quest:

Do something new with family10
Complete a family goal together10
Do something fun together5
Send and encouraging or flirty message1
Have a conversation for their sake1
Talk about family goals1

As I collect points for completing these tasks, I’m working towards leveling up and collecting the following rewards:

10The joy of starting an adventure
225Family dinner outing (or takeout)
360Family movie night
4100Camper restoration parts
5150Day off for camper restore
6215Camping weekend
7280New family board game
8370Canoe or kayak outing

All of these rewards help me spend more time with my important relationships.

Gym Warrior

My physical quest is to dunk a basketball… for the first time (while being in my mid-40’s). I’m working with the following point system:

Dunk a basketball250
HIIT Workout3
Workout with someone2
Normal workout1
Add additional weight to an exercise1

My Gym Warrior levels and rewards:

10Dopamine boost for showing up
225Peanut butter powder
360Favorite protein powder mix
4100New shorts
5150New jump rope and garage space to use it
6215Personal training consult
7280New shoes
8370Professional massage

Debt Mage

Financially, I’m questing to get out of debt. Here are my incentivized activities:

Pay extra on a debt payment25
Do a budget analysis20
Put money into savings10
Praise family member for how well we’re doing3
Check the family budget2
Check our bank account1
Skip Starbucks1

It’s been a challenge discerning level-up rewards for this quest. Afterall, the goal is NOT to spend money, right? So how do I reward behaviors and keep from spending money?

Well, in this case, I think it pays to incentivize behaviors and activities we are likely to engage in anyway. For example, our family is going to eat at or (or from) a restaurant regardless of the financial plan. If I make a restaurant meal a level-up reward, then I have incentive to do the actions that earn me a level up. It’s a bit of a back door: I know we’re going to eat out, so I praise my family members for being so responsible, check the budget to make sure we haven’t over spent on utilities and check the bank account to make sure we have the money to spend at a restaurant, thereby earning points towards a possible level-up reward of eating out.

10Congrats on starting the debt-free journey!
225Whatever you want at Starbucks
360Family dinner out
4100Expense-tracking app
5150New record
6215Get a money-related book
7280Get an investment book
8370Invest in something

Those are the details of my journey. May they help you along on your’s! Godspeed, fellow questor!

These posts have some more ideas and details:

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, 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.)

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