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Using Gamification Best Practices to Achieve Personal Goals

Using Gamification Best Practices to Achieve Personal Goals

Joseph Cole


By Joseph Cole, Digital Strategy, Bunchball, @joefcole

It’s now February 2013; do you remember your New Year’s resolution? Did you even make one? Well, here are some of the most common:

1.      Improve my general health
2.      Get out of debt
3.      Learn something new
4.      Spend more time with my family

We make a lot of New Year's resolutions. Unfortunately, most of the time we fail. According to research by Psychologist Richard Wesiman, most people fail 88% of the time . Looking at the list above, there is a very high probability you’ve given yourself a set of similar goals, and based on the stats, you’ve probably had limited success.

Using good old common sense, here are few reasons why we have limited success:

1.      We procrastinate and lose motivation
2.      We create too many goals
3.      Our goals are too lofty and not very specific
4.      We are creatures of habit…

So what’s the point?  Simply put, we crave immediate gratification, but we don’t always do what’s required to achieve the desired result. The problem is resolutions and long-term goals don’t always offer immediate gratification.

Our brains are like muscles, to get better, they need to be trained. Even the best-trained muscles have practical limitations and, similarly, our brains have their own limitations. The part of the brain, which manages willpower, New Year’s resolutions and long-term goals is the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain is also responsible for keeping us focused, managing our short-term memory and abstract thinking. This part of the brain already has an extensive list of chores and when you add in a multitude of goals and resolutions, our brain reaches a cognitive overload. For example, how easy is it to forget your diet when your tired or stressed? Speaking from personal experience, it’s so hard for me to resist a delicious red velvet cupcake after a stressful day at work vs. after a yoga class.

Despite our best intentions, it’s easy to understand why it is so easy to fail. The fact is, we’re human; it is more about biology than pure willpower. Believe it or not, there are Gamification best practices that I think are quite applicable at driving long-term goals and resolution successes. For some context, I work in the world of driving engagement and creating programs that encourage behavior change, here is that list of self-help best practices:

1.      It’s the fun factor. Motivation is at its highest when something is new. Get started when things a fresh. Write down the goal and create a mission that determines the course you take to get to your goal. Missions are fun!  

2.      The brain is a pattern-busting machine. When it sees something new it tries to de-code the pattern. Solving patterns is interesting. But when the brain solves a pattern it quickly gets bored. It’s a cause and effect relationship: when you’re bored you lose motivation, when you lose motivation you disengage from the mission (say hello to another failed resolution). Using this self-awareness, change up your routine and create new missions. Find new ways to get you closer to your goal. Group missions are very helpful for this, so try to work together in a team to achieve a goal.

3.      Reduce the overload. Do you ever find it hard to choose what to eat on a menu when there are too many options to choose from? We stall when there is too much choice.  The pre-frontal cortex can’t handle multiple goals at once and we’re more successful when we see progress. Reduce the number of goals and break your goals into component parts. This will help you see the progress you’ve made towards achieving your goal. And, progress towards achievement is inherently motivating.

4.      Missions must be specific. I personally dislike ambiguity. Naturally, by reducing the number of goals, breaking your goals down into component parts we’re able to see the potential progress, and we’re able to get specific. Like an employee performance plan, creating missions that are specific can help you measure your success against a set of criteria. It’s all about improvement, right?

5.      Create new habits. In addition to seeing progress, when you break a goal down into its component parts you can identify the behaviors. A new habit can be formed when you reward the desired behavior. It’s operant conditioning. On that note, points and badges are sometimes good.

These Gamification techniques can just as effectively be applied to virtually any audience you might be working with. This can include employees, partners, customers, patients and students, because they all struggle with these same cognitive challenges.

Stay tuned for my next post on Gamification and Healthcare. In the meantime, re-tweet my post and share any helpful insights you have!


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