in Cognitive Wisdom, Prism of Life

Why does it feel so good conquering each level of any game?

In fact, it feels so good, you just keep playing the game even after innumerable failures. Very few people finish Angry Birds or Candy Crush, but still, they all have a great time playing.

Is it possible to replicate the addictive nature of games, when it comes to sticking through our resolutions?

Yes, it is, as long as we are willing to replicate basic principles embedded in games.


All good games have three principles in common :

1: They all are difficult & easy at the same time.
2: They have inbuilt challenges & rewards for crossing stages.
3: They provide Feedback for improvement.

All good games make us very positive about our chances if we just keep pegging at it for long enough. This “justifiable optimism” makes difficult things fun.

80 percent of the time we are failing at various levels of games. In fact, roughly four times out of five, gamers don’t complete the mission, run out of time, don’t solve the puzzle, lose the fight, or fail to improve their score.

Which makes us wonder —  do gamers actually enjoy failing?

As it turns out when we’re playing a well-designed game having a fair chance of winning, failure, in fact, becomes a stepping stone to reach the Winning Post. So, it doesn’t disappoint us. It makes us happy in a very particular way— excited, persistent and optimistic all at the same time.

Games engage you with challenges. You are rarely bored or overwhelmed by its challenges —  as good games manage to keep a perfect balance of hard but not too hard, easy but never too easy —  and as you improve, it just nudges the level of difficulty a bit.

As a result, you are always stretching your abilities just enough to keep yourself hooked.

While playing any games, the feedback you get is something very spontaneous. You always know where you stand in a game, how you’re doing, and what you need to do to perform better.

Harvard professor, Teresa Amabile found, “Our research inside companies revealed that the best way to motivate people, day in and day out, is by facilitating progress — even small wins.”

Even though the reward, games provide is often nothing more than a cute badge or a simple animation, but those silly little things keep you motivated enough to play along.

Because we all know, once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.


However, in reality, we are always in a hurry to declare most of our resolutions without appreciating the underlying dynamics of intervening levels.

As a new year resolution, you might declare that you’re going to “learn to play the violin.” You take a lesson or two, buy a cheap violin with all enthusiasm and start fiddling with simple chords for a few weeks.

Then life gets busy, and five years down the line you find the same violin gathering dust in one corner of your basement. You muster some courage to take up the violin again.

And the cycle keeps repeating itself.

Is there a way to break this cycle?

Yes, there is, only if you can make this endeavor into a gaming strategy where you have clearly charted out a path to reach your goal.

PRIMARY LEVEL: Commit to one violin lesson per week, and practice 20 minutes per day for at least three months.

SECONDARY LEVEL: Relearn how to read sheet music and complete Celtic Fiddle Tunes by Craig Duncan.

INTERMEDIATE LEVEL: Learn to play “Concerning Hobbits” from The Fellowship of the Ring on the violin.

SMART LEVEL: Sit and play the fiddle for 30 minutes with other musicians.

ADVANCE LEVEL: Learn to play “Promontory” from The Last of the Mohicans on the violin.

DESTINATION: Sit and play the fiddle for 30 minutes in a pub in Ireland.

You have taken an ambiguous goal —  learning to play the violin and defined an appealing destination —  playing in an Irish pub.

Not only that, you invented five milestones en route to the destination, each worthy of celebration.

Note that, as with a game, if you stopped the quest after Level 3, you would still have several moments of pride to remember. It would have been a fun ride, like quitting after 30 levels of Candy Crush.


The framework within which this strategy can give you exponential result is by being —


Be very clear about what you want to achieve. Consider breaking the goal into smaller steps.


How will you know when you have achieved your goal? What will you be doing at that time? What will others notice you doing? What will be different? What will you have started or been doing regularly? What will you have stopped or been doing less of?


Is this achievable with the resources I have? Are there any other resources you need before you can, or to help you, achieve your goal? How can you access these resources? What problems might you have? What can you do to minimize those problems?


Ensure your goals are not too high. Don’t set yourself up to fail! Consider setting smaller goals on your way to the big one. It’s imperative to celebrate your small successes. If you don’t achieve what you set out to, then ask what you could do differently, what would make it more likely to succeed next time?


Set a reasonable time limit to achieve your goal.

1 week, 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years?
You can revisit time limits for smaller steps.


Let’s examine if this strategy could be used for achieving another goal of yours?

For example, many of us aspire to learn another language. But “learning French” can be as ambiguous a goal as hoping to catch mosquitoes in a dark room. There’s no plan and no intermediate levels.


But once you make it into a more exciting journey by gaming the entire goal —  the result would take care of itself.

PRIMARY LEVEL: Order a meal in French.

SECONDARY LEVEL: Have a simple conversation in French with a receptionist.

INTERMEDIATE LEVEL: Glance at a French newspaper and understand at least one headline.

SMART LEVEL: Follow the action in French movies.

ADVANCE LEVEL: Read a kindergarten-level book in French. And be able to tell a small story in French.

DESTINATION: Be able to have full, normal conversations in French with Monica who works in Finance.


Compare that plan with the typical way we think about pursuing the goal of learning a new language.


PRIMARY LEVEL: Try to squeeze in a French study session.

SECONDARY LEVEL: Reschedule to squeeze in a French study session.

INTERMEDIATE LEVEL: Struggling to find time for French study session.

SMART LEVEL: Forgetting to squeeze in a French study session.

ADVANCE LEVEL: Hardly any recollection of having a prior commitment to study French.

DESTINATION: Someday, will eventually “Know” French.

Which of those plans sound like more fun? Which are you more likely to return to, if you’re forced to take a break?


Similarly, if your resolution is to lose 10 pounds within 2 months, then your ultimate destination should not be “losing 10 pounds,” it should be something intrinsically motivating, such as “Fitting into your favorite jeans (without suffocating yourself).”

Suddenly, your weight-loss mission starts looking more like a playful quest, with frequent victories along the way, and less like a daily weigh-in on the bathroom scale.

Therefore, to make anything more fun, you can use a game frame perspective to “level up” in other areas of your life as well.


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