You might not consider yourself a gamer, but there’s no denying the growing influence of video games in modern culture. 65% of American adults play video games; 3 in 4 households are home to at least one gamer.
With all that time spent gaming, it shouldn’t be surprising that people are drawing numerous insights from video games. The concept of ‘gamification’ has been applied in many areas where human behavior can be improved.
This includes our efforts to achieve better health. Many health and fitness apps are using gamification concepts to encourage users to take positive actions in this regard. But even without technology, you can use gamification concepts to help reinforce your choices for a healthier lifestyle.
Framing your choices
Video games span a vast range of titles and genres, but whether you’re playing a first-person shooter, RPG, puzzle or simulator, you’re in control of many decisions. The course of action you take, how you solve a given challenge, or even details like the appearance of your avatar, all drive up the fun factor. And this sense of autonomy increases a game’s ability to engage its players.
Of course, extra decision-making can be an unwanted mental burden. But it depends on the context. Research has shown that the ability to choose can almost triple the rate of participation in health and wellness programs. However, this optimum effect was achieved when patients were given the choice to opt out, rather than opt in.
How you frame that choice matters. If you want to commit to a healthy diet, don’t make it an opt-in, all-or-nothing type of decision. Instead, set a baseline for proper nutrition, and allow yourself the option to “opt out” by snacking once or twice a day, for instance. You’re giving yourself autonomy, but you’re also enforcing a minimum acceptable standard of healthy behavior.
Personalizing the challenge
Individual variations can make it more or less challenging to adopt a particular form of exercise. An overweight 30-year old might not have much trouble picking up a jogging or hiking routine out of nowhere. But that’s a big ask of a senior who’s been accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle.
Similar variations exist when it comes to nutrition, and they can be far more insidious. For instance, many people live in so-called “food deserts”. When you don’t live anywhere near a place that sells affordable fresh produce, attempting to follow a healthy diet is far more difficult. You’re not just trying to curb your cravings, but also overcome issues of logistics and accessibility.
In these situations, another aspect of gamification can come in handy. The ability to customize your goals, track your progress, and develop your own narrative will help give you satisfaction and a sense of steady improvement.
Be honest with yourself; recognize the relative difficulty of your challenge in terms of becoming healthy. Focus on making a habit of small daily improvements, as well as taking note of your progress in a journal or app. Appreciate your own efforts and consistency. In the long term, having a steady upward trajectory will get you closer to your goals than attempting to take on unrealistic challenges.
Share in the rewards
Tying your motivation to external factors isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, social reinforcement is a major component of the reward mechanism in modern video games. However, you get to choose the manner of the reward. Is there a difference between someone who wants to sharpen up their appearance and someone who posts pictures of their six-pack on social media?
Whether it’s wearing a nicely-fitting suit and tie for men, or luxury necklaces with a matching top for women, we use fashion to signal our lifestyle. And choosing to be healthy is a lifestyle commitment. Don’t feel guilty about being pleased when someone compliments you for slimming down.
Appearances can be superficial, but they boost your self-esteem. Allow yourself to be rewarded in your social interactions. But don’t go overboard or flaunt it. The social component of video games encourages cooperation and collaboration; if you indulge in showing off, you might be putting off others.
Improving your health is its own reward; you feel better about yourself and are less likely to get sick or injured as you age. And you can be open to other rewards that come your way, such as increased social status. But when you get further along your journey, use your knowledge and experience to help others achieve their goals. In the long term, sharing is the best form of rewarding yourself.