Question: ever played World of Warcraft? If you have, you know first-hand about the gravitational pull that game can exert in your daily life. If you haven’t, chances are very likely you know someone in your social circle who has. In any case, it’s a publicly known fact that people who get sucked into that game aren’t strangers to five-hour minimum sessions.
Maybe the reason why you tried out FocusMe was that you wanted to escape that gravitational pull and get busy doing some more productive activities. It sure isn’t easy quitting this game, and a lot of people most definitely need help doing it.
But what if we turn the whole idea of gaming addiction on its head? What if we were to use the concepts that are embedded into MMORPGs, those elements that make them so addictive, and turn them into productivity tools?
Imagine, instead of spending five hours a day glued to your screen doing a raid, you spending five hours a day studying, or learning a new skill. I believe that if you implement the right strategies, it’s perfectly doable to turn yourself into a productivity-addict.
If you want to make this happen, you need to take some lessons from your favorite role-playing games and apply them to your daily life.
Here are some ideas on how to go about it…
Gain some XP and level up…
One of the aspects that makes RPG’s so addictive and fun is the way you become stronger. Killing monsters and completing quests in World of Warcraft nets you experience points. Get enough of those, and you level up, which means you become stronger, get better stats, new spells and abilities and just become a better version of yourself. You usually also get a victory fanfare music.
All of this is super rewarding to your brain, and it’s one of the key drivers that make us want to play more.
Now, getting a stronger Fireball spell isn’t going to do you much good in real life. Until some martial arts master invents a real-life Kamehameha Wave, shooting energy out of your hands isn’t really a thing outside of Imaginationland.
But there are so many different real-life abilities that we can level up.
For example, take something like language learning.
Want to learn French? Taking French classes is an okay way to go about it, but outside of exams and the occasional diploma, these don’t really have a way of saying, ‘you just levelled up’ and became better. Usually, there’s just a gradual, unquantifiable improvement of abilities, but there’s never a real reward after each class and you can’t also put numbers on them.
On the other hand, you’ve got an app like Duolingo, which applies the ‘gamification’ approach. After each successful lesson, you get XP points and there are also different levels you can reach per subject. In my opinion, this is one of the key elements which makes this app such a successful language learning tool.
You can hit level 3 in Hungarian, one of the most notoriously hard languages in the world, and actually have fun doing it
Still, an app like Duolingo has its limits. One problem is that it doesn’t give you the ability to practice conversation, which is still the most effective way to really learn a language fast.
In that case, you’re going to have to create your own levelling-up system.
The Skyrim Way of learning skills…
In most RPG’s, levelling up means killing monsters and completing quests. In those kinds of games, killing enough people, for some bizarre reason, also makes you better at picking locks and hacking computers. I don’t advise taking that approach, since it doesn’t really work like that in real life, and I don’t want any blood on my hands either.
Then you’ve got your games like Skyrim where you have to practice a certain ability to get better at it. Want to become a better swordfighter? Hit things with a sword a lot. Want to become a better weaponsmith? Smith more weapons. Want to become a silver-tongued smooth talker? Talk to everyone you meet along the way.
This is the approach we’re going to take. (But still, refrain from learning killing-related skills, please)
To this end, all you really need is a spreadsheet and a quantifiable activity, linked to a certain skill, that you can award XP and levels to.
In my case, what I did was set aside time for conversations with native speakers through Skype. One hour of conversation netted me one experience point. One hundred experience points take me to level 2.
This is what I call a quantifiable goal. While using quantifiable goals has its limits, and merely ‘doing’ an activity doesn’t automatically ensure mastery of it, up to a certain point having more hours of conversation behind your belt has a pretty decent correlation with acquiring a higher skill level in the language you’re trying to learn.
All it takes for you to keep track of your stats is a Google Spreadsheet or an Excel file
The cool thing about this is that it’s not limited to just learning languages. You can set quantifiable goals for about everything and turn those into experience points and levels. You can then turn this into a motivational technique, wherein the more hours put into it, the higher your skill level is.
Let me give you a few more examples:
If you’re in college: studying 20 pages of your course gives you 1 experience point. 50 XP gets you to the next level. The higher your level by the time your exam, the better your grades are likely going to be. Level 100 gets you to PhD levels of knowledge.
If you want to write a book: 500 words = 1 XP. The more you write, the higher your level is going to be, which equates to better writing skills. Alternatively, you can also use 1 hour of editing to equal 1 XP. Level 100 and you’re Ernest Hemingway.
Exercise: One hour of exercise = one experience point. More exercise correlates with a better physical shape. Be careful not to overdo it though, and get enough rest if you’re getting tired. Level 100 = Olympic level
Learning guitar: practising one hour = one XP. 100 XP to level up. Once you get to level 100 you’re the new Slash. (Level 3 is Justin Bieber)
I think you get the picture. Whatever it is you want to become better at or whatever you want to achieve, you can motivate yourself by turning it into a real-life RPG.
It doesn’t always have to be ‘Lockpicking’ or ‘Archery’.
Complete epic quests and reward yourself with phat loot
While gaining XP and levels is pretty rewarding on its own, there are ways to kick things up a notch. You can do this by setting challenges for yourself to complete. To stay within the realm of World of Warcraft, we’re not going to call these ‘challenges’. We’re going to be way cooler than that and just call them quests.
Unfortunately, there are no dragons to slay or princesses to save (I seriously advise you not to take on Eastern European sex-trafficking rings as if you’re Liam Neeson in Taken. That will not end well for you.)
Our quests aren’t going to be quite as exciting as the above, true, but they’ll be fun and challenging none the less.
Learning French? Here’s a mighty quest for you, noble chevalier. Read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo entirely. That’s almost 2000 pages of classic French literature. (watching the musical doesn’t count)
A guitar-learning quest might be to master Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin. If you’re a decent level and you can find a few party members, why not perform a gig in the local rock rally? A truly mighty adventure filled with glory and riches would then be to record an album.
A good example of a proper writing quest is publishing your first novel or even just a short story on your blog.
If you’re in college, graduating summa cum laude can become your fire-spitting red dragon to overcome.
Let’s talk about that phat loot now. Sure, a quest can be rewarding on its own by completing it. For one, you’ll feel the intrinsic reward of successfully performing the task. That by itself is the most powerful driver. But the quest can also come with its own reward. Someone might actually want to buy a ticket for your concert or buy a copy of your book. A third possible option is to simply add additional rewards, just for fun.
“Go do the dishes, noble knight, and I shall reward thee with a sword that does 3 percent more damage”
Like, if you publish a short story on your blog, buy yourself a new TV or some new clothes.
I would watch out with coupling too much material rewards with quests however, because those have the tendency to kill internal motivation. Nevertheless, giving yourself a pat on the back once in a while probably won’t hurt all that much. If you couple your rewards to the nature of your quests, all the better. Think rewarding yourself with a visit to Paris when reaching level 10 in French. Or a new $1000 guitar once you’ve mastered a particularly difficult song.
Rewards are also pretty important if you want to build habits, so if you’re finding it difficult to keep doing something consistently, adding a small reward for each experience point you gain is a good way to internalize the activity and make it habitual.
Which class will you play as?
In the end, the stats we want to level up and the quests we embark on will define who we become in life. You can play life as a bard (that’s the RPG version of ‘rockstar’), as a thief (not that I’m advising that you embark on a criminal career), a monk (start MMA and daily meditation), or maybe something more down-to-earth like a polyglot, a writer, a business owner, a scholar, an athlete,…
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of classes to choose from, and you can probably create your own class if you’re creative enough.
True to RPG fashion, I’m also leaving open the possibility of multi-classing. Although it’s best to keep a focus and not try to do too much at once, there are some people who have mastered multiple classes, like Brian May, the guitarist of Queen, who is both a
rockstar bard and an astrophysicist space mage.
Whatever path you’ll choose to take, may your life be an epic adventure.