The Power of Gamification – Turn Your Life Into a Game

Do you regularly fail to establish good habits and steer your life path onto a better course?

Perhaps you’re already doing everything right by tracking your habits, building streaks, and studying books like “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

However, after a short sprint of change, you often run out of steam, and you find yourself again and again in the familiar routine of daily life, seemingly not making any progress in the game of life.

You are not alone in facing these difficulties because almost everyone struggles to set their life on a better course and become the creator of their own happiness.

Good habits are the key to success.

To build good habits, self-help literature recommends establishing a streak. Streaks refer to the uninterrupted sequence of successfully completed days. The longer you do something daily, the more it becomes a routine, and eventually, you perform it automatically with little resistance.

An example from my life is lifting weights at the gym. When I started working on my body’s fitness six years ago, I always felt a strong resistance to packing my workout gear, heading to the gym, and following my training routine.

Thanks to a good friend and training partner, I persevered through this critical phase, which lasted for several months. Now, after years of continuous training, it would feel strange not to walk into the sacred halls of my gym several times a week.

I find it harder to tolerate the state of not exercising than the training itself. This is where the advantage of habits reveals itself: they enable us to tackle even the toughest tasks with a certain ease.

I even believe that the success of most people, whether as entrepreneurs, artists, or athletes, is almost always attributable to good habits that have been consciously or unconsciously developed.

How long does it take to build a new habit?

According to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology in 2009, on average, it takes a person about 66 days to transform a daily action into a solid habit.

This also highlights why most people struggle with this challenge, as even though 66 days may sound like a short period, it is actually a long time during which life can take the wildest turns.

In the initial days, individuals are often fueled by a wave of motivation that makes failure seem absurd. However, as the weeks go by, everyday stressors can dampen motivation or even prevent the positive action from being carried out altogether.

In this context, individuals who have managed to consistently perform a new action for 66 days have demonstrated remarkable perseverance and resilience, belonging to a small but admirable minority.

The magic word here is gamification.

The realization that success is only granted to a few individuals might lower your motivation to even attempt to build more positive habits.

In reality, you don’t have to be a superhuman to achieve this; all you need is the use of gamification elements and setting the right incentives to sustain your motivation over several weeks. This approach is known as gamification.

Thanks to gamification, for example, hundreds of millions of people learn foreign languages daily using the Duolingo app. One gamification element employed by Duolingo is visualizing streaks. The days successfully completed are meant to serve as motivation to keep going. This works extremely well because once a user has built up a multi-day streak, they are motivated to maintain it. The longer the streak, the greater the motivation.

The Problem with Streaks:

However, streaks can be both a blessing and a curse.

They become a curse when a user breaks their streak because often, motivation is lacking to start the streak over.

From the perspective of the broken streak, the old streak suddenly appears as a challenge that can only be repeated with immense effort.

An absurd paradox occurs where the longer a streak has lasted, the greater the resistance to repeating that success.

Therefore, streaks alone are not sufficient for building positive habits. To succeed, gamification must go further and ensure that setbacks, which will always happen, do not lead to permanent demotivation.

In the end, you must try to outsmart your own brain and make the action addictive. Just as you condition a dog with treats to perform tricks, you can condition yourself to perform certain actions by coupling them with positive rewards.

As an example, computer games like “League of Legends” or “World of Warcraft” can serve as models, which I like to refer to as designer drugs for the brain.

Players in these games constantly achieve micro-successes: they level up, complete small tasks, and receive confirmation of their achievements, triggering dopamine release in their brains.

How to turn your life into a game?

Now, how can you achieve a similar effect in your own life?

Life itself can certainly be seen as a game. As the protagonist, if you perform the right actions, you earn points in your life bank account, unlock more interesting career levels, and can explore exotic “maps” during vacations.

The significant challenge, however, is that the actions that lead to these rewards are often far removed from those rewards themselves.

For example, a student who chooses to use today for studying instead of wasting time on their smartphone or in bed may not see the fruits of this effort for several weeks, months, or even years.

Gamification must ensure that positive actions result in immediate positive feedback so that our primal brain understands the direct connection between action and reward.

To achieve this, you can start by identifying positive actions you want to incorporate into your life. In the second step, assign points to each of these actions that you will earn once you perform them on a specific day. Conversely, you can deduct points for negative actions such as smoking, drinking, or other vices.

Ideally, the points system should be balanced in a way that always motivates you to earn more points, while still presenting a challenge to accumulate enough points throughout the day.

When I first played this game, I only awarded myself points without tying those points to real rewards. Interestingly, even this version of the game worked excellently. However, for those who want to take it a step further, you can tally up the points earned and use them as in-game currency to “buy” specific rewards.

For example:

  • 10 points could buy you dinner at your favorite restaurant.
  • 50 points could earn you a spa day.
  • 100 points could be used for a weekend getaway with your partner.

Of course, as a player, you need to ensure that you 1) reward yourself with things that truly represent rewards to you and 2) set rewards that are not too easy but also not too hard to achieve.

By linking real rewards, motivation to perform positive actions increases dramatically. But what happens if, as a player, you end up with a negative score?

The same as with a negative bank balance: it limits your ability to purchase rewards. If you want to reward yourself, you need to first regain a positive point balance.

Conclusion – The Game of Life

This is the game of life. You can play it with a pen and notepad, or digitally with my Notion template. Regardless of which version you choose, I am convinced that this game can change your life, and I look forward to hearing your feedback.

PS: Download the free Game of Life template for Notion here.