Struggling to Reach Your Goals? Try Adding Some Gamification.

Agata Krzysztofik
Feb 5, 2018 · 7 min read

Since I can remember, I was always a gamer. As a kid, I could spend hours playing board games like Scrabble, Talisman: The Magical Quest Game or Monopoly.

When I was 8 years old I got a Game Boy — the legendary handheld game console from Nintendo. This is also when I was introduced to one of my all-time favorite games: Super Mario Land.

It wasn’t easy to be Mario, move up the levels and defeat the “bosses” found at the end of each of the “worlds”. It took me weeks of practice and determination to complete the whole game, but I did it. At the same time, I wasn’t motivated enough to put the same effort into practicing playing a cello, and gave up after 1 year of attending a music school.

Why learning to play cello can’t be more like playing Super Mario?

Both were challenging, but while playing Super Mario felt fun, cello felt more like a hard work to me. Why?

Jane McGonigal, explains this in her book “ Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.”. All games share four traits: a goal, rules, feedback system, and voluntary participation, which make them rewarding in ways that much of the “real” activities are not. Playing cello wasn’t very rewarding and I didn’t have a clearly specified goal that I wanted to achieve. I also wasn’t convinced that I was good at it so I felt like I was doing it rather for my parents than for myself. In contrast, the console game was goal-oriented, consistent at rewarding and providing me with an instant feedback when I did something right, and I played it because it was a way for me to spend time with my brother.

This could have been different if either my cello teacher or my parents would have added some “gamification” elements to my learning experience.Through gamification — applying the game principles and game elements to our day-to-day life, we can make it easier to achieve personal growth and face challenges.

The concept of gamification has gained so much popularity in the recent year, that if I was a kid right now, I would probably be able to make playing a cello way more fun (especially that I do regret right now giving up on it so easily).

Gamification helps to tackle tough problems with more creativity and determination

Search trends show a high-demand for gamifying day-to-day experiences

When you do an online search you will be able to find a “gamified” way of tackling anything from learning math, improving focus to dealing with depression.

“When we play a game, we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimism, and we’re more likely to reach out to others for help.” — says Jane McGonigal, who has proven it through the SuperBetter game project, that has helped nearly half a million people to adopt a new habit, learn or improve a new skill, pursue a dream or overcome a life challenge.

It definitely does work for me. I use gamification to keep myself motivated at work (by setting quarterly objectives and key results), to improve my lifestyle (I participated more than 3 times in the Whole Life Challenge), and to acquire new skills or nurture the existing ones (I use Duolingo to learn languages and completed “The Artist’s Way Workbook” to boost my creativity and writing skills). When setting up a time-based goal for myself I usually try to add some gamification elements because I know that this will help me to stay on track and not give up.

Luckily, there are many existing tools available online that make goal achievement more fun. Below you will find a few ideas how gamification can help YOU tackle some of the challenges that you might be facing.

Personal development and growth

Gamification is widely used in education. By making the process of learning into a game we don’t even realize that we are studying or working towards improving our skills because we are having fun while doing it. There are many different apps and web pages that will help you to learn to code, master a foreign language or simply improve your productivity. Here a few examples:

  • Codeschool: Adds gamification to learning coding from Python to JavaScript in the browser. Completing courses rewards you with badges, points, and achievements. Through the collaboration with Open Badges, your achievements can be viewed by a larger audience.
  • Duolingo: Want to learn a new language or refresh your French from the high school? Duolingo makes learning a language addictive and fun by allowing you to earn points and level up.
  • Habitica: Is a to-do tool that will help you to improve your overall productivity by turning completing tasks into a game. When you check off a task, you’re rewarded with experience points and gold in order to keep you motivated to achieve your goals.
  • Write or Die: The app helps you develop a daily writing habit. There are three modes you can play with: Reward, Consequence, and Stimulus. As part of the consequence mode, your work will be deleted if you don’t meet the word count goal you set up for yourself within a given period of time.

Healthier and happier lifestyle

If you are struggling to motivate yourself to lose weight, eat healthier, become more consistent at exercising or to find some time to relax, you might want to try one of the following apps or websites. All of them incorporate elements of a game in order to make it easier and more engaging for you to optimize your lifestyle:

  • Whole Life Challenge: Is a 6-week online game that helps you to develop 7 daily habits: nutrition, exercise, mobilize, sleep, hydrate, well-being and reflect. You can play it by yourself or on a team with friends or co-workers. Each day you earn points for the healthy steps you take or lose points if you don’t stick to the rules. It has personally helped me to decrease my sugar consumption and become more consistent at exercising.
  • Insight Timer: A free meditation app with over 3.4 million users. It provides you with detailed stats and milestones for tracking your daily practice which motivate you to meditate on a daily basis. Once you complete your meditation session, you can see who else was meditating with you at the same time and allows you to connect with them.
  • Waterlogged: Staying hydrated helps you to maximize your physical performance, improve your digestion and skin tone, and makes you feel more energized. Unfortunately, we often don’t drink as much water as we should. Waterlogged helps with this by allowing you to set reminders for yourself at scheduled or at random intervals to get something to drink and keeps track of meeting your daily water drinking goals.
  • Lose it!: Takes advantage of relevant game mechanics to help you lose weight. You input information for the app to define your metabolism, set up a personal weight-loss goal for yourself and then the app calculates a custom program for you. The app allows you to share your progress with others so that you can improve your self-discipline and get additional support from your peers
  • Zombies, Run!: Fans of “The Walking Dead” tv show (like for example my husband) will love this app that turns running into a fun, action-packed adventure game with zombies. Every run is a mission where you’re the hero of the zombie apocalypse.

Fighting bad habits

Outside of helping you to adopt new habits or improve your lifestyle, gamificiation proves to be also beneficial when fighting bad habits such as spending too much money, dealing with addictions like smoking or having a bad posture while working in front of a computer.

  • Long Game: If you are struggling with your personal finances and would like to make saving money easier, you might want to try Long Game. Long Game turns money management into a fun game. You can set personal goals and choose missions (like for example saving for a trip) and get rewards for achieving these goals.
  • SuperBetter: Want to quit a bad habit like smoking or eating too much sugar? SuperBetter, is an online social game that will help you with that by creating an engaging gaming experience encouraging you to stick to your goals.
  • Nekozo: Majority of us spend hours working in front of the computer without paying much attention to our posture. Nekozo is a cute app with cats that uses your laptop’s camera to keep an eye on your posture while you work. It warns you when you start slouching.
  • Forest: Are you spending too much time on your phone or on social media? Forest improves your productivity by helping you to stay focused. Every 30 minutes of focused time allows you to grow a virtual tree and earn gold coins. You can cash-in the coins for different kinds of trees and for 2,500 gold coins you can help Trees for the Future organization plant real trees around the world.

Creating your own game

Beyond all the existing tools, you can easily make your day-to-day life more interesting by turning the challenges you face into a game. At the end of the day all you need is a clear goal, some sort of a point system, a reward that you can aim towards (can be something really small), and preferably a group of people (family members, friends or coworkers) that will join your game to help to keep you accountable. This way you can even make boring household chores feel like a fun thing to do.

So what are you waiting for? Game on!


Do you know other apps or websites that use gamification to help in accomplishing goals or optimizing life? Please share them in comments.

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