This series is written by Erik van Mechelen, based on the Octalysis framework by Yu-kai Chou.
Gamification in your life
Yes, gamification can be used to improve your lifestyle.
You’re probably already doing it. If you’re a parent helping your child with homework, you’re helping your son or daughter be the best they can be because you believe in education to change their life.
Gamification, depending on how you define it, is essentially positive psychology combined with game design. Throw in a bit of behavioral science, motivation, and design and you have a working definition of gamification.
Yu-kai likes to call this human-focused design (not to be confused with IDEO’s human-centered design).
This contrasts function-focused design (this chair is for sitting, nothing else).
Because human motivation is complex and complicated, we need to account for the various drives that play into it. Why do we want to move towards something better? Or away from something worse? Because we want what’s best for our life. Isn’t it as simple as that?
Simply stated, perhaps. But creating a life is what we are all doing and aim to do each moment of our day. How well you execute or live within the framework and models you’ve constructed (whether internally or externally) give you some experience on the spectrum from suffering to satisfaction.
In Yu-kai’s Octalysis framework, there are 8 Core Drives (and one hidden Core Drive) to behavior. If none of the drives are present, there is no behavior.
In this series, I’ll take each of the Core Drives one at a time to give you a detailed look at how each contributes to lifestyle and how you can apply more or less of each into your lifestyle design to improve your life satisfaction.
Ready to get started with Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling?
Yes? Good, me too!
How Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling effects your lifestyle
Here’s a short definition of Core Drive 1 from Yu-kai’s “Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards”
Epic Meaning and Calling is the need or the urge to be a part of something much bigger than just yourself. When this drive is activated, participants choose to be members of your system and will take action not because it necessarily benefits them directly, but because it turns them into the heroes of the company’s story.
So how can this be applied to lifestyle gamification? Let’s take just the first line…
Epic Meaning and Calling is the need or the urge to be a part of something much bigger than just yourself.
That’s all we need. Something bigger than just yourself. And something bigger than yourself. Examine the work you’ve done today. You’ve probably done something bigger than yourself on multiple occasions.
All we’re doing now is approaching lifestyle with the same mentality. How are you organizing your lifestyle to account for something beyond just yourself?
What’s more, Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling is White Hat and can produce long-lasting reward loops.
An obvious starter example: Volunteer and Charity
It’s easy to understand how volunteer work and charity often derive from Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling. Whenever you feel the urge to help others without expectation of return, that is, to GIVE, you are embracing compassion and giving. This sharing of your time and exercise of compassion and process of giving helps another individual or your community or even society (something bigger than yourself).
One aspect to notice. What other drives are present when you partake in volunteer and charity work? Usually CD1 is not the only drive present (CD5 is a common). Volunteer groups deliberately incorporate CD2 and CD5 to make volunteering more enjoyable.
The real test of if something is primarily driven by CD1 is if you would incorporate an activity into your life (for a larger purpose) WITHOUT recognition from friends or prompting from others.
A personal note on volunteerism
I do Reading Partners in Minneapolis, MN. I love it.
I like what Jordan B Peterson says about driving toward a better life. For yourself, for your family, for society, and for the world. When your actions improve each of these circles, the behavior feels optimal.
To apply this thinking and consider why the volunteerism feels so good: When I help a 3rd grader reading at a 1st-grade reading level, I’m helping myself be a better teacher, helping the child improve his reading ability, helping his community in the long-term be more literate, helping him be a stronger member of society.
In Adam Grant’s Give and Take, Grant cites research in Australia showing 100 hours is a “magic number” for volunteerism. Below 100 and one could feel more of the positive impact/reward. Above 100 though, and the individual moves toward burnout.
Interestingly, I do 2 hours a week (3 if you count driving time).
Yu-kai’s shift to Octalysis Prime
I don’t know this for sure, but I sense from my interactions with Yu-kai that part of the reason he has shifted to developing content for Octalysis Prime is because it has the potential to fulfill a larger Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling imperative for him. If he gets the change to improve lifestyle and workplace outcomes for people, and those people’s lives change so they can change the world, then Yu-kai has changed the world himself.
This is a different focus to his traditional design emphasis in his gamification consulting business.
Editing book for Vasco, 3x tech founder, about the dark side of founder psychology
I recently started content editing and collaborating with Vasco Patricio, a 3x tech startup founder from Portugal.
The opportunity gives me the chance to improve the following:
- personal, improve my editing and writing and critiquing
- startup founders, improves quality of life for startup tech founders, prepares the ones that will and dissuades those that aren’t cut out, and prevents suicide for those that are considering it
- startup ecosystem, adds to growing concern and conversation, the truth that media or the industry won’t share… suicides are UP
- the world, startups generally add innovation and can change the world, and this will be part of that conversation
In conclusion, your meaning ACTUALLY needs to matter
Some people do charity because they feel others will look down on them for not doing it.
This occurred in my team at Target. People would shrug and go because it was a team event. This even happened to me. I would have rather done a reading volunteer event than a food-packing event.
In essence, some of my team weren’t doing the volunteer event because they wanted to plant trees and regrow Minneapolis parks/wildlife areas, but rather because they felt compelled by CD5 and CD8.
ESPECIALLY when we’re talking about your LIFE, you best not bullshit yourself. You need to think really hard and feel out your emotions and reactions.
Start from first principles if you can. What would make a better life for me? For my family? For my community? Society? The world? Then build epic meaning & calling into your day-to-day.
When I took a few moments to answer these questions (using the Future Authoring program), it became very clear which epic meanings mean most to me and what I’m called to do. The beauty of our world is that there are many epic meanings and callings out there to pursue.
In life, you must do what you cannot not do.
This series is written by Erik van Mechelen, based on the Octalysis framework by Yu-kai Chou.
A reminder about Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment
I like how simply Yu-kai puts CD2 in his book:
This is the Core Drive where people are driven by a sense of growth towards a goal and accomplishing it.
He also uses an example from the early days of social media to describe how bells and whistles weren’t working as people expected. Points, badges, and leaderboards were the vanity metrics of online publishing:
What most people didn’t recognize then was that social media is much deeper than simply possessing and posting on profile accounts. That’s just the outer shell of its influence and impact. We now know today that great social media campaigns focus on how to create value for the audience by sharing information that is insightful and engaging; has a personal voice; engages and sincerely interacts with each potential customer; and much, much more.
In essence, the beauty of social media was in how you designed and implemented a campaign, not in the bells and whistles you’ve used. It was the informal and formal dialogue you had with your community that ultimately taps into the platform’s unique possibilities.
There’s quite a bit more to consider, especially when considering how to use CD2 in a lifestyle design, but first let’s look at what not to do from a real-life example…my own.
The vanity metrics of writing
“Write everyday” is advice many writers will give new writers. If you’re not writing, how can you be improving. Writing frequently is surely a viable (if not the best) path to being a great writer.
This is good advice up to a point.
I followed this advice and kept word-count goals. I felt pretty good about my streaks of weeks and months of writing every day.
But nothing really happened. I wasn’t getting that much better at writing just by typing. I sought advice.
Then I realized it depends on what you mean by writing.
Because the next piece of advice that hit home was this:
All writing is rewriting.
In order to rewrite something, you must have written something. I slowly started to understand that speed of writing mattered so much less than my ability to write well and then pick apart what I’d written to improve it even more.
I felt foolish for writing 10,000 or even 15,000 words in a single day (and being proud of it). Once, I wrote 17,000 words in one day and thought I was some sort of writing god.
But typing does not equal being a better writer or a better storyteller, two aspects of being a great novelist.
Kids don’t care either
In the last post in this series about Epic Meaning & Calling, I wrote about my experience doing Reading Partners.
In the classroom, there is a list of names and star stickers for each time a student returns with their take-home book.
One of my students has a single star. Only one. By the way, he got it because everyone gets a sticker to start the year. He has never brought a book back. I have some guesses as to why, but lets at least say this:
The star stickers, no matter how shiny, are less motivating than however else he is using the book.
Adding CD2 into your life
Development and accomplishment is easy to understand because it easily fits into narratives and stories we tell ourselves and others throughout the day.
Your spouse is taking off in the morning and asks, what is on your list today? Then you list off some projects you’ll tackle. At day’s end, you’ll talk about what you did or didn’t do. The story of your day. You might even attach significance or mood to whether you accomplished these tasks.
Someone who obsesses over the accomplishment piece is likely an Achiever (in the Player Type model) and might be overly concerned with accomplishment. This is usually the person who makes the occasional or frequent mistake of “being busy” instead of doing things that matter.
Yu-kai echoes this in his book:
However, just because you see progress towards something does not mean you feel accomplished.
The key to Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment is to make sure users are overcoming challenges they can be proud of.
Jane McGonigal, renowned game designer and PhD in Performance Studies, defines games as “unnecessary obstacles that we volunteer to tackle.”
McGonigal points out that the challenge and limitation is what makes a game fun. For example, if golf were just a game with a goal without any limitations, then every play would just pick up the ball and put it into the hole. Everyone would score high, and everyone beyond the “putting a round peg through a round hole” game will probably not be very engaged.
Actually using CD2 effectively
I previously wrote about Moti, which is basically an environmental cue robot. Their core concept is to use the robot as an environmental cue to trigger CD2-related behaviors, such as beginning a yoga session or picking up the guitar to practice. Becuase the robot lives on, say, your living room coffee table, and verbally reminds you of these things (and gives rewarding murmurs) it also serves as an environmental cue just by being there in the room.
This example of environmental cues got me thinking about routines.
It is no secret that routines matter a lot to actually getting things done. This is true in lifestyle design as well. Try typing “morning routing” or “evening routine” into a search engine and you will have no trouble getting advice.
The key is to start from first principles for YOU. What are one or two things that would make your lifestyle better, for YOU?
My girlfriend and I use Wunderlist to track our household chores and nice-to-haves around the apartment. It’s fun because we can take care of things for each other regardless of who added them to the list.
(I previously wrote about designing a chores app over here.)
Designing a reading routine
A personal example:
One sure-fire way to ensure I read fiction is to read in-progress work from peers. In 2016 I created a writing feedback community for speculative fiction writers. We share short stories and give feedback.
I now take part of two mornings per week to give detailed feedback. It’s impossible to do so without having read the short story or novella or section of the novel they posted.
I love reading, but I don’t always jump to do this work. So I’ve simply put it on my calendar for two mornings a week.
For my larger reading goals, I use Goodreads. Between Audible, Scribd, the Kindle app, and print volumes on my bookshelf, I read a lot. Some would count this as work, and sometimes it is, but my reading time is often between two and four hours per day. If you read the first article in this series, you’ll find for a variety of reasons that reading fits into my epic meaning & calling in storytelling.
Even though I would read even if no one cared what I read and no one was watching, Goodreads is a simple solution to help me track what I read. It gives me progress bars and reading goals which I can update daily or weekly. This has proved a good bonus to my desire to read by making it even more enjoyable to read and complete books and gain knowledge from them.
To-do lists or to-done lists?
Our bodies do things without our attention. Our physiology and our emotions and even ideas that arise are automatic.
Then we respond.
This is easy to understand. But what do you do with this reality? How can you harness this understanding to get better moment to moment experience and long-term results?
I’ve never done well with to-do lists. They either spiral out of control like a massive brainstorm (braindump) or I get part way through the list and don’t see the reason in doing the second half, either for lack of motivation or because the second half of the list seems insignificant.
For me, writing down what I did is powerful, and more powerful than what I aim to do.
It helps me avoid thinking:
Look at all this stuff I didn’t do.
Instead, I give myself permission to be “unfocused” for three minutes to do a mini blog post about a “random” topic. That random topic could lead to a new follower or a business deal. Actually, a “random” blog post on Article Bunny was how I met Jun Loayza and eventually how I met Yu-kai Chou. If I’d stuck to my to-do list I wouldn’t have taken the 4 hours to take the opportunity as my dad likes to say “when the iron was hot”.
Consider rewards, extrinsic, and intrinsic
From Nir Eyal we know we can put ourselves through trigger, action, reward (variable), investment cycles. If you’re trying to add habits or institute new morning routines, this CAN work.
Also consider B. J. Fogg’s model: behavior = motivation + action + trigger.
The type of reward you give yourself matters. Will the reward make you feel good in the long-run? This is something to watch. To see if your behavior is changing for the better.
You can also implement negative rewards, which can work in the short-term as experiments.
My experience is I prefer to shoot for positives than avoid negatives. But life is usually a bit of both.
Extrinsic vs intrinsic for CD2
Yu-kai usually describes CD2 as extrinsic-focused, but I want to mention something about the intrinsic side of it as I view the framework.
Let’s take a day where I have physically moved backwards in my novel-writing. I’ve noticed some big problems in a scene sequence and will have to remove a character. I’m actually going to have to do more work before the scene sequence is “done” again. This process removes the accomplishment that I might have had the previous day, ie completing that scene sequence. However, there is some intrinsic development of noticing that problem, because my UNDERSTANDING of storytelling has increased. This is not a tangible understanding…it is only my subjective view about my own understanding of a very untangible thing. In this way, I can feel GREAT about moving backwards on a goal so long as it is balanced by the intrinsic development reward. I’m a better storyteller because of that breakthrough, so will write better stories and story parts and scene sequences from here forward.
A note on encouraing others (and father-son relationships)
A different example:
My dad in retirement sails more and plays golf more. His golf score doesn’t always improve. It moves like the stock market or a rollercoaster, rising and falling. He complains about this because it doesn’t feel like he’s getting the CD2 when his score is worse than the day prior.
I usually start by pointing to his trend, which is downward and a good thing in golf.
But even IF his score trend was worse, could it be that his swing has improved? Tiger Woods famously changed his coach and swing, but it took another 2 years for him to get back to his typical scores in tournaments. But the swing itself was objectively better for his overall game.
Embrace the journey
Enjoying the downs as well as the ups is key, I think. It’s hard to have one thing without the contrast of the other. But actually enjoying the down parts can give you even greater gains. Instead of frustration, we can enjoy the downs and get value from them to make the ups even better when they come.
Watch out for vanity metrics or vanity CD2.
Look for the intrinsic even with CD2, and think holistically about your lifestyle design. What small behavior or routine or habit can you try to build which will help everything else? (Yes, that’s a Halo Effect.)