stretching your mind Archives
Perhaps it's a common quality of only children, but I've long had a habit of turning little things into games. To this day, I'm always setting myself unnecessary but useful obstacles like, "New rule: Every time I enter a room for the next hour I have to do one thing to make it nicer." or "Challenge round! How many pieces of laundry can I fold and put away before this song ends?" And you know what? It works. It keeps me motivated and cheerful as I get more done than I otherwise would.
There are a variety of to-do list trackers which take a playful approach to productivity, but I found I did not stick with them after the initial charm wore off. I'd enjoy using them and would indeed find myself doing "just one more task" in the evening in order to score those few more points. Then I'd travel or get sick and once my schedule was disrupted, I would not return to them.
Over the past couple months, though, I seem to have found the one that has enough allure to get me back in the game even after a few days distraction. The key for me came in two parts: supporting habit-building and character advancement. HabitRPG, as the name suggests, is centered on building and maintaining habits defined by you. The core are your "Dailies" (though you can set some to occur only on certain days of the week). If you don't mark them off, your little character will lose life points that night. If you do, you'll gain experience and treasure, which increases as your streak of successful days grows. You also can list behaviors you want to reward yourself for engaging in or negative ones for which you want to penalize yourself. And HabitRPG also supports jotting down To-Do's, which bring a reward when checked off.
You set up the appearance of a cute little character and as you go about your day, marking things off your list, your character grows more skillful and, importantly for those of us who adore the character creation part of games, you can customize its appearance and powers. Those powers, for example, include its defenses against lost life points for missed Dailies and indulgence in bad habits, or its ability to extract greater rewards from completed tasks. My little rogue character is focused on that latter path, using ninja skills to glean a few more gold pieces from each task I ambush.
All good so far, but perhaps not compelling enough to keep me coming back, were it not for the sneaky inclusion of varying rewards and frequent, but not constant, extra treasure. These treasures take the form of eggs, hatching potions, food, and saddles. There are nine different kinds of pets that can be hatched from those eggs and ten different hatching potions creating their variations. This leads to a total of 90 pets to be collected, each of which can be fed its special variant food to grow into a mount. Sure, it's silly, but when making my bed and tidying the bedroom only takes a couple minutes and it has the potential for a treasure I haven't collected yet, I'm just more likely to do it.
HabitRPG gives me the pleasure of a microbreak playing a game (when I get a reward and take a minute to spend it), without actually leaving the context of my goals for the day or risking getting caught up for a long time in playing. It gives me a place to jot down trivial To-Do items (e.g., 'empty the paper shredder') where they won't clog up my main project planner. And it keeps the background hum of daily and weekly personal tasks from creating a sense of overwhelm when I'm looking at all my longer-term projects.
It's enjoyable and it really is succeeding in helping me shift my behavior in the direction I want to go. When games work better than more boring methods, it's a double win. Try out some fun and see if it turns out to be most functional too!
Want to learn more about the science behind gamification and its great potential? Check out Jane McGonigal's 2012 book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. It's available in print and as an audiobook. I listened to the version from Audible while getting things done around the house and working out; isn't that just like a sneaky little rogue?
The two biggest lies we can tell ourselves are "Things will always be awesome forever" and "Things will always be awful forever". On the high of a great new thing or the low of depression it can be so easy to view the present feeling as the true nature of the world, rather than as the current weather.
By forgetting that these peaks and troughs are just that, exceptional highs and lows from our normal levels, we cut ourselves off from treasuring the best moments as truly precious and from taking hope in the worst moments that this too shall pass. Delusion and despair come when you lose track of the sweep of your life and of your capabilities to get through the full spectrum of your experiences.
As C.S. Lewis put it in The Screwtape Letters, "periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty". Embrace this; there are valuable lessons to be learned in both states.
Extreme joy is a wonderful thing and well worth attempting to bring into your life more often, but its intensity can also leave you appreciating the quiet pleasures of your normal, middle-of-the-road days. Being extremely up also has a risk of shielding you from a realistic assessment of some problems and how you might perhaps be contributing to them. Deep gloom walls you off from daily satisfactions and from believing in your own worth and the skills you have which can elevate you out of the doldrums or improve your day-to-day life. But depression also is when your good habits have the greatest chance to show how fully you've brought them into your nature; when ya don't wanna do what's good for you, but you go ahead and do it anyway, that is when you show your greatest strength.
When you return to your default footing is when you have the greatest perspective and the greatest opportunity to contrast your perception while at the extremes with your present, more clear-headed view. Ordinary days offer you the most opportunity to identify the changes you want to make in your life and give you the most balanced set of your strengths to bring those changes into reality.
Return to the big picture often—journals or mood logs help build that bridge between the highs and lows—and keep reaffirming your happy dreams and your ability to make them come true!
Maggie Mason, when speaking on finding your passion, suggested that you ask, "What do I do when I'm sick and I have no energy to do anything and can't sleep?"
Look for the thing you'll do even when you're tired.
See where that intersects with the skills on your resume. Notice topics you keep going back to, even as other aspects of your life and career change.
It's this "core of who you are" stuff for which you want to be making space.
When someone is impatient and says, "I haven't got all day," I always wonder, How can that be? How can you not have all day?
Welcome to 2008! What are you letting go of today?
Here's none other than Stewart Brand to get us started out with some radical words:
My friend Jay recommended this great, short presentation that gives you the big picture on how stuff gets made, gets bought, and gets disposed of. Check out Annie Leonard in The Story of Stuff and then look around more at the website for ideas on how to change things.
Turn off your tv and your computer and pick up a book to relax with.
15 minutes with a good writer beats an hour of checking blogs and randomly watching videos on YouTube any day of the week.
"Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.”
-- Albert Schweitzer
My mother made me a scientist without ever intending to. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school, "So? Did you learn anything today?"
But not my mother. "Izzy," she would say, "did you ask a good question today?"
--Isidor Isaac Rabi
Cultivate a practice of learning every day. One great habit to start is to view encounters with difficult people as the best opportunity you may have each day. "What can this person teach me?" is always a good question, and the lesson isn't always a negative example.
Feeling a little out of touch? Hanging out with a bunch of knowledge junkies at parties and losing some of the references?
If you are wishing for a boost to feel in the swing of things, it's not as hard as you might think to at least get a basic grip on all those names, places and quotations flying around.
1. Read a complete issue of a real newspaper. The New York Times is ideal, especially the Sunday paper. Be sure to go through those sections you wouldn't ordinarily read, be they sports, fashion or business.
2. Read an amusing compendium of trivial popular knowledge. Any of the Mental Floss books are probably good for this, but Cocktail Party Cheat Sheets and What's The Difference are especially suitable.
3. Read a recent issue of the Economist.
4. Read a recent issue of People or Us magazine.
You should be well into the loop now.
Bonus ongoing step:
5. Start reading, or at least skimming, the Wikipedia Today's Featured Article and In the News items.