Matthew Lindfield Seager

Matthew Lindfield Seager

Changing the Rules of the Gamification

From walking on the spot before bed to reach 10,000 steps in Pedometer++ or going for late night jogs to close my rings I’ve discovered I’m a sucker for gamification… completion metrics especially, but also streaks (and badges to a lesser extent).

While that’s probably not a bad thing if it means I go for an extra walk, the same instincts sometimes cause me to stay up way too late levelling up in free to play games or to neglect useful or more important things in my life to complete a series on Netflix.

Conversely, I haven’t been great at consistency or persistence in my life. I’ve never managed to learn an instrument or a second language because they’re not really things I can accomplish in 6 weeks before I lose interest.

Knowing these two things, I have tried to craft my environment to limit how much I get tricked into doing things I don’t really want to do while simultaneously trying to trick future me into doing things that I want to do in principle but don’t want to do in the moment.

Some of the things I do to protect myself include:

  • pay for games up front, as these games tend not to be ad-supported and usually don’t have exploitative game mechanics
  • delete a game outright if I find it’s taking over my life (because I certainly won’t just decide to play it less)
  • increase the friction to play games by only installing them on my iPad (which I don’t always have with me) or using Screen Time to help make myself aware of how much time I’m spending on them
  • don’t allow push notifications which might tempt me back in to the game or app (in fact, all my notification settings are quite strict, especially on my watch which I wear 23/7)
  • only subscribe to Netflix/Stan/whatever one month a year (and then only during holidays) so it’s not a constant temptation

On the flip side, late last year I started to deliberately try and build positive habits. Some of the approaches I am using include:

  • using the Streaks app to track my progress and encourage consistency (“streaks”)
  • starting with small, easy to accomplish tasks which I have been adding to as they become routine (my first habit was brushing my teeth every day)
  • choosing streak rules that require me to complete the task every day, or close to it, to help normalise the behaviour (e.g. posting to this blog). While I’d rather write an essay every week, I find once a week habits are too easy to break… miss one and there’s a two week gap, miss two and it’s been almost a month. Which flows nicely into my next point…
  • making the bar to complete a task very low so I at least get started. I’m much more likely to get started if the task is “pray for 1 minute” rather than “have a 15 minute quiet time”. Once I start I often do more, but I don’t have to, so the task is achievable, even if I’m exhausted or feeling down. Other examples include “post something to M.b” (280 characters is a lot more manageable than 500 words), “read 1 paragraph” or “do 1 sit up”
  • giving myself permission to not be perfect by allowing a rest day or two in a week to maintain a given streak (e.g. 5 days a week of non-work software development learning/practise)

I’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to consistency and persistence but I think I’m making progress!