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How to improve your life with gamified design prototyping – Part 1

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

author: @aestranger

Reading time: 8 minutes

4 points on how to improve your life with gamification

A few years ago I had written a piece on how to gamify your life to discover your strengths, with the Hero’s Journey as a type of template. And recently working through some business gamification solutions, I wondered if I could update that post by using gamified design thinking and prototyping sprint methodologies.

But with that statement, I do want to make one thing clear from the start before we get going in what has become a two-part series. These articles aren’t here to blatantly and outright state that the only way to improve your life is through gamification, or design thinking, or agile thinking or what else is out there purporting to the one solution to save us all. As I work with gamification techniques, theory and games on a daily basis, and I do believe that for certain people this type of method could help them. But at the end of the day, it is entirely up to you to decide whether it can actually help you. I am simply here to inform you and offer a perspective.

The aim then of these two pieces is to outline the ideas, theories, practices and methods of thinking of gamified prototyping that support’s the willingness to want to change something about your life. Be that a want for more daily exercising, the want to change careers, learning a new skill or something else.

And for those who do not wish to go through the entirety of the two blog posts, here is a summary of the overall idea: At its core, these written pieces are about exploring a method for breaking down large objectives and concepts into smaller manageable pieces. And then developing those smaller pieces into actionable points, building a ‘prototype’ for you to execute and use and then iterate upon. This is so that anything that doesn’t work can be discarded quickly so that you can move on to a more effective method. As such the piece is broken into two articles or parts:

  • Elements needed to achieve change
  • Design process to achieve change

Let’s first explore the elements needed in order to develop an idea and strategy for the prototyping process discussed in the next blog post.

But I need motivation & will-power to do this…

Will-power and motivation can be seen as perspectives that you have at a point in time. To achieve or receive either can be done by changing a mindset of how you view a challenge ahead of you. There is a great article in the Harvard Business Review that discusses the points that you need to focus on when, as they sat it; “you’re just not feeling it,” when it comes to motivating yourself.

I am going to borrow the outline and at times paraphrase the various points that they make in the article, as I believe that they are good starting points for exploring a foundational strategy around developing an understanding around motivation. I feel that we need to establish these before we get going into the methodologies around prototyping and design sprint thinking for improving your life. And to also establish some terminology that’s more commonly associated with gamification.


1. Goals

The first thing you will need to do is define clear and realistic goals for yourself. When determining and setting your goals, you will need to be as specific as possible. When you choose and set well-defined and detailed goals for yourself, you will start to activate the intrinsic motivational lever of Mastery (Griffin, D., van der Meer, A. (2019) Press Start, pg. 97). What this means is that when you achieve one of your goals, you will feel a sense of accomplishment and empowerment from success. The sensation will likely be a euphoric one.

If your goals appear to be too large, vague, complicated or over-encompassing, then break them down into their constituent parts to make them more manageable. One method of breaking down a goal is through First Principles Thinking, made popular again most recently by Elon Musk.

Once you’ve broken down your goals into smaller parts, consider how you can achieve each part and what about each part you find enjoyable to do. Have the parts that you enjoy or are good at, branch off further into areas such as being able to show off your skills, or being able to work together with a favourite colleague, friend or your partner. Knowing these aspects will help you later during the prototyping exercise.

And to move your mind more into a gamified state, write your goals down as game objectives or quest objectives. Consider what the win state could look like if you achieved your goal. At this point, it need only be a vague idea of the win state. And if you are literary inclined, you could create some flavour text for your game objectives.


2. Rewards

Rewards are some of the hardest aspects to define when you are considering gamifying anything. It can be difficult to define what reward is appropriate when an objective has been achieved, as you will need to consider intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards. An intrinsic reward will usually be something along the lines of the knowledge and feeling of elation of having successfully completed a task. And what that completion means for you personally. An extrinsic reward is an external, sometimes tangible, reward, and it may work to motivate you, depending on what you find valuable.

If you do choose an extrinsic reward method, make sure that what you choose has a positive effect upon you or whoever it is being rewarded too. This is essential, as the wrong kind of reward may cause you to rush and make mistakes in order to achieve the reward. If that happens, then anything you’ve done to that point will be undermined, and the end result will be your motivation being lowered even further.

When choosing a reward, be sure that it builds upon what you want to achieve already. For example, if you are considering a career change, then perhaps structure the rewards in such a way that after you’ve successfully contacted fifty people in an effort to develop your new career, only then do you buy yourself a new, much needed, laptop as a reward. The laptop is then a ‘nice to have’ but is also a necessary piece of equipment to help you consolidate the efforts you’ve done so far.

Alternatively, if rewards do not motivate you much, you can also consider consequences and loss aversion as motivators. These can be powerful ‘negative-rewards’ (in this sense using the word negative in a similar vein to ‘negative-space’). People do become surprisingly more motivated when they are actively trying to avoid losing something of value to them or to mitigate an unfavourable consequence. (Griffin, D., van der Meer, A. (2019) Press Start, pg. 48).

3. Progress

Progress can be a way to measure how far you’ve come, it could be seen as a roadmap that you can build and use to determine how to get to a goal and how long it will take you to get to your next goal (Griffin, D., van der Meer, A. (2019) Press Start, pg. 214).

The way, therefore, to create an effective roadmap for your progress journey is by using the mini-goals you described in the first point. Basically, you are creating easy to manage milestones for yourself along your way to your main goal. In terms of time, you may need to break them down further to refine them a bit more, as some people may find weekly or daily milestones far more manageable than monthly ones.

A good trick to use is to visualise your progress, create an actual progress bar, or experience bar or checklist. Though, not to promoting to-do lists here, as those don’t always work for everyone, and also don’t want to promote spending hours on creating a beautiful visualisation. But a quick paper method of being able to say that you have completed 2 or 3 steps out of 10 can be helpful to maintain your motivation while progressing to an objective.

4. Belonging

As you may know, if you’re a regular at this blog, humans are communal animals, we seek each other out. We long to connect with each other, and once we find a connection, our motivation increases with how much we wish to maintain that connection. At times it will be difficult but maintaining strong connections, through communication and collaboration are worthwhile long-term intrinsic rewards, that tend to far outweigh the possible consequences that we may envision when connecting with others.

One outcome of creating connections is that behaviours will be influenced by the communal connections that occur. What this translates into is that you will either be encouraged to work harder or less by the connections you’ve made. In other words, you may want to achieve as much as the next person or you may become lazy and passive and let others who are ‘better’ at a task take over for you. This is down to how you perceive your own skill level and what your motivation is for the goal you wish to achieve.

One definite benefit of social engagement is the way in which we offer each other support, a great example of this is in the HBR article mentioned earlier: “Interestingly, giving advice rather than asking for it may be an even more effective way to overcome motivational deficits, because it boosts confidence and thereby spurs action. In a recent study I found that people struggling to achieve a goal like finding a job assumed that they needed tips from experts to succeed. In fact, they were better served by offering their wisdom to other job seekers, because when they did so, they laid out concrete plans they could follow themselves, which have been shown to increase drive and achievement.” This is a great method for self-reflection, as it allows you to order your thoughts around what you know and what you are capable of doing. Thus, the act of providing support to others highlights your own strengths and abilities, allowing you to better understand yourself and what changes you are already capable of making.

In conjunction with giving advice, there is also the perception that we have of ourselves and the perception that we believe others have of us; this the motivational lever of Esteem (Griffin, D., van der Meer, A. (2019) Press Start, pg 115-116). This esteem-value perception can influence our motivation and move us to excel if we believe that we will be viewed in a favourable light or motivate us because we set a positive example for others to follow.

Final thoughts

To finish off the first part of this two-part series, these points are simply the essential elements required to try and gamify your life for the purpose of (self-) improvement. But rather than going through an extensive list of mechanics and elements, you can use them as the foundation for going into a design-sprint methodology for your own life. Which is what we will explore in the next part.

Hopefully, this first part has given you some insights into the initial process you should think about before you develop an actual plan for how to execute your won changes in life. In the next part, we will go through the execution of the plan, using a design sprint methodology for prototyping as a. It may not be a 1:1 likeness, but the concept is that if we use the methodology as a framework, we can order our minds into a way of thinking that will help us to make the changes we want to make more effective.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æ, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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