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.
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.
Here’s an example of essential tasks for my relationship quest:
|Do something new with family||10|
|Complete a family goal together||10|
|Do something fun together||5|
|Send and encouraging or flirty message||1|
|Have a conversation for their sake||1|
|Talk about family goals||1|
As I collect points for completing these tasks, I’m working towards leveling up and collecting the following rewards:
|1||0||The joy of starting an adventure|
|2||25||Family dinner outing (or takeout)|
|3||60||Family movie night|
|4||100||Camper restoration parts|
|5||150||Day off for camper restore|
|7||280||New family board game|
|8||370||Canoe or kayak outing|
All of these rewards help me spend more time with my important relationships.
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 basketball||250|
|Workout with someone||2|
|Add additional weight to an exercise||1|
My Gym Warrior levels and rewards:
|1||0||Dopamine boost for showing up|
|2||25||Peanut butter powder|
|3||60||Favorite protein powder mix|
|5||150||New jump rope and garage space to use it|
|6||215||Personal training consult|
Financially, I’m questing to get out of debt. Here are my incentivized activities:
|Pay extra on a debt payment||25|
|Do a budget analysis||20|
|Put money into savings||10|
|Praise family member for how well we’re doing||3|
|Check the family budget||2|
|Check our bank account||1|
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.
|1||0||Congrats on starting the debt-free journey!|
|2||25||Whatever you want at Starbucks|
|3||60||Family dinner out|
|6||215||Get a money-related book|
|7||280||Get an investment book|
|8||370||Invest 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:
This middle-aged man spent a year questing for his best physically, financially and relationally.
We’re slaying the dragon of complacency in our relationships by using game quests to level up!
The ideas that keep us addicted to games can keep us on our goals.