The best way to achieve big goals is to reward yourself for progress each step of the way.
March 25, 2019 7 min read
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Gamification is turning a task into a game in order to motivate yourself to do it. The beauty of gamification is that the difficulty of a task (or how dreary it may seem) can be offset if you feel rewarded for completing it.
Gamification works because it creates a feeling of being rewarded each time we complete a task — however small it may be. It makes our progress feel tangible, and this spurs us to keep pushing.
Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably already using some form of gamification in your life. Let’s take a closer look at how gamification works and how you can use it to boost productivity, set and accomplish big goals and find the success that has been eluding you.
1. Understand how gamification works.
Gamification isn’t a gimmick — it works because it triggers powerful emotions. By using game mechanics in a non-game context, gamification makes tasks more fun and engaging. Think of how it feels when you’re transported to another world via an online video game. You find yourself immersed in a storyline where you’re conquering amazing challenges.
Along the way you’re incrementally rewarded as you build skills and achieve small, steady wins. This feeling of “winning” gives players a constant feeling of gratification and enjoyment. When we experience something we enjoy, our brains light up with a pleasure-producing chemical called dopamine. This is the brain’s version of a carrot — it keeps you motivated and focused.
At its core, gamification is a motivational technique to help people engage, feel motivated and stay on task. By providing a reward or incentive, gamification mimics how you might interact with a computer or online game.
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2. Know the elements of gamification.
Humans have evolved to be stimulated by problem-solving and learning, and gameplay is great at doing this, in part by doling out small rewards for incremental progress. This keeps our brains engaged and keeps us on our quests, said Tom Chatfield, an author and tech philosopher who has studied gamification and is an avid gamer himself. He breaks gamification down into a few key components:
- Experience bars — These measure our incremental progress and help us visualize how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.
- Multiple long- and short-term goals — These are our main quests and side quests, which are broken down into smaller tasks.
- Rewards for effort — Every bit of effort exerted in a game is rewarded through credit, such as gold, loot and experience.
- Rapid, frequent and clear feedback — This clearly links actions to consequences, which makes learning easier and faster.
- The element of uncertainty — This is the neurological gold mine: we keep going because we want to find out what’s next.
- Windows of enhanced attention — Gameplay helps boost memory and confidence. Game players are more willing to take risks and pursue difficult tasks.
- Other people — Gameplay gives us a chance to connect with multiple players online.
3. Create your own gamification system.
There are simple, low-tech ways to gamify your life and work to supercharge your motivation and get more done. The first step is to define your goals. These should be specific, so you know when you have reached each one. Then attach a certain number of points to each goal correlating to how important (or difficult) each goal is to accomplish.
For example, if you’re hoping to run a marathon or write a book, you might assign 500 points to accomplishing that goal. You’d then break this larger goal into smaller “missions,” which you work at daily or weekly, such as accomplishing three to five runs per week, which steadily increase in mileage — and each run is worth 20 points.
Track your progress by writing down your daily accomplishments and then comparing your progress over time. Reward yourself once you reach a set number of points. Maybe you’ll treat yourself to a dinner out after you’ve earned 200 points, or take a trip to your favorite store after 300 points, or a day at the spa after 500 points.
4. Boost productivity through “mini-games.”
You can use gamification to increase your productivity by making “mini-games” while doing chores or ticking off daily tasks. Try assigning a point for each dish washed, or 5 points for each page completed for a report or for each email sent. Time yourself going through the grocery store — can you beat your old record? Or how quickly can you fold and put away a load of laundry? By keeping track of these things, you incentivize getting through the work more quickly, and you’ll be amazed by how much more productive you can be.
Checklists are another form of everyday “mini-games” you can play to stay on task. Ticking off checklist items triggers the same dopamine release as achieving a game objective, and if you give yourself a small reward after each item is checked, you’ll reinforce your motivation to keep going.
Come up with a list of small rewards, such as a snack you enjoy, taking a 15-minute break or watching a favorite show or YouTube channel. Try rolling the dice when you complete a task and check it off your list. Whatever number you roll, give yourself the corresponding reward.
5. Use gamification apps and tools.
One of the most popular ways to use gamification is through online tools and apps that are designed to use the principles of gamification to help you improve your life. A variety of tools and services are available.
Like a video game, an online tool can create intrigue and excitement. Using these programs gives you a sense of achievement, which is an incredibly powerful psychological force behind human behavior.
6. Gamifying the workplace.
We’re in an era where companies must continually innovate and find ways of being relevant, or risk being sidelined and ineffective. In order to do this, you need employees who are working at the top of their game, who are motivated and focused, day in and day out.
More than 70 percent of business transformations fail due to lack of engagement. Gamification may be a solution. It can help amp up employees’ engagement, getting them invested in their projects and increasing their motivation to do the work assigned to them.
The idea is to make work fun and make difficult tasks feel easier to complete. You can do this by setting up work projects like game levels. When you level up, you’re essentially hitting a milestone. You can earn badges for tasks accomplished and track your progress. Some employers have found success using a role-playing game (such as the abovementioned Habitica) that allows you to set recurring tasks and one-off tasks, and build good habits. You will be rewarded with gold, new skills and in-game spellcasting abilities.
7. Gamification to help you learn.
Gamification has also been shown to be beneficial to learning by creating experiences that more fully engage learners, hold their attention and motivate them to keep striving to reach a goal.
Gamification can make learning more informative and fun, and because you’re more actively involved in the process, the information is more likely to be committed to your long-term memory. Gamification also lends itself to interactive learning elements, which creates feelings of immersion, so learners feel more integrated into the learning process.
When you break it down, gamification can spur innovation by creating unique ways for people to be more invested in their performance and feel more motivated and focused on their goals. At its core, gamification is our ability to harness our psychology to improve ourselves.