I Increased My Productivity 3x By Turnin ...

I Increased My Productivity 3x By Turning My Life Into a Game

Aug 26, 2022

Make your own daily activities more compelling.


When I was younger I used to play a lot of video games. But as I grew older, they started taking too much time from my other activities. For this reason, I started to gradually reduce the time I spent playing them until I eventually quit.

But recently, I decided to incorporate some more downtime into my schedule. And I gave video games another shot. This is when I remembered just how fun video games can be.

This also got me wondering. What exactly made those games so compelling? And could I somehow apply those game elements to other areas of my own life to make them more desirable?

And this is what I’ve learned!

Most video games are structured in a way so that throughout the game, our brain consistently releases dopamine.

I’m sure you are already aware, but if you don’t know, dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with wanting and desire. It’s the reason why we want to repeat certain behaviors over and over, and why we have the motivation to pursue something.

You could say that dopamine is kind of like a carrot on a stick. Wherever the carrot goes, we want to follow.

Photo by Mark Decile on Unsplash

Video games are really good at constantly dangling this carrot right in front of you. Especially Role-Playing games, where you play a fictional character. These types of games can be particularly addicting because they have what I like to call a “dopamine trail”.

Essentially the game has a lot of different components that consistently trigger the release of dopamine, over and over. This way we don’t get bored, and we want to continue playing.

5 key elements that form this dopamine trail, which you can actually replicate in your own life.

Always have a clear objective

First, you should always have a clear objective to work towards.

Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

However, many of us don’t really know what we’re working towards.

Whether it’s running a marathon, reaching a certain position at work. Having a clear goal gives the purpose of your actions. Otherwise, your efforts just feel meaningless.

In a game, winning the final stage might be the end goal, but the game doesn’t really make you focus on that too much. Instead, it’s broken down into shorter sub-goals that lead up to that big moment.

Whenever we finish something, no matter how normal or small it might seem, we get rewarded with a sense of accomplishment. The more we feel accomplished, the more we want to continue feeling that way.

Essentially, this creates a loop where a tiny bit of success, rewards us with dopamine and motivation to continue, which results in more success.

Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

Sure, we might’ve not won the final stage yet, but we’ve still completed something that’s leading in that direction. And that’s all that matters, since as long as we continue doing that, eventually that big goal will be achieved.

If you want to write a book, for example, your sub-goals might look something like this:

  • Create a chapter outline.

  • Design a book cover.

  • Write 1000 words.

  • Edit 1 page.

All of these can be broken down even further, but I think you get a general idea. The point is to kick-start the achievement loop and do something that will lead you towards the greater objective.

Now, goals are also important because of the second key element that video games have.

Progress is visible

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Games make it very clear that you’re improving by showing you that the experience bar is getting filled up.

However, it never says: “You’re 0.7% on your way to level 100.” That would be demotivating. Instead, it shows you that you’re 70% towards level 2. This visible progress gives you the necessary motivation to continue grinding forward.

It’s very easy to justify playing a little longer, just so you can reach that next level before logging out.

However, progress in real life is usually not that obvious, you must make it visible yourself.

Photo by Thomas Bormans on Unsplash

I found that one of the best ways to do that is by simply tracking your daily activities.

During each day, make sure to take note of all the things you’ve done, that led you towards your goals. If you wrote 500 words for your book, write it down. If you ran 3 miles for your training, write it down. If you studied for 1 hour, write it down. Write it down.

This way you make your progress or lack of it, actually visible somewhere.

You can clearly see if you’re getting closer to your goals or sub-goals. When you see that you’re close to accomplishing one of them. You’ll be more motivated to continue moving forward, just so you can reach that milestone.

Your progress is also important because of the third key element.

Reward for your effort

There is often some sort of prize when you reach a certain level or complete a quest. And these rewards serve as an incentive to complete your tasks.

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Rewards are often one of the best motivators in real life as well, as when you anticipate getting one, your brain makes sure to release a lot of dopamine.

Essentially the reward you receive makes the gameplay better for you, and it makes you want to continue playing. And this is something that a lot of us get wrong.

When we eat healthy for 1 week straight and we go to the gym 5 times during that period, sure, we deserve a reward. But instead of having a reward that rewards us back, we usually do something that hurts the progress we’ve made. We reward ourselves by eating the whole cake while laying on the couch.

Which, if you think about it, isn’t a smart move.

Imagine completing a quest in the game, and instead of gaining a level, you get penalized and your stats get worse. It doesn’t happen.

Yet, in real life, we often do just that.

We manage to save $500, and what do we do? We reward ourselves with a brand new phone, which we don’t really need, or something of that nature. Instead, we should invest that money into an asset that will reward us back. That will allow us to make, and save even more money in the future.

Photo by Visual Stories || Micheile on Unsplash

Or for another example, if you like running like me, you could reward your consistency with new running shoes.

That kind of reward makes the runs easier and it reinforces the habit. So think about your own life situation and find a reward that rewards you back, or at least make sure it doesn’t sabotage your progress like it usually does.

This brings me to the fourth key game element.

Variety and novelty

Our brains love variety, and as long as an activity has something novel to stimulate us, it remains attractive and satisfying.

Imagine if instead of experiencing something new in the game, you’d have to repeat the same level over and over. Most of us wouldn’t find it fun. We would get bored of doing the same thing pretty quickly, and we would want to quit. And it’s the same in our daily lives.

If we want to stick to something long-term, it helps if we can incorporate something new into the activity.

If you have a job, think back on the first day you spent there. The job probably didn’t feel boring, instead, it was most likely interesting. There were so many new people to meet and a lot of things to learn.

However 1 year later, once all that novelty has faded, the job probably became boring and dull. That’s because it became routine, and now there’s nothing new to experience.

It’s like repeating the same level in a game, for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. You don’t really have anything to look forward to, since you already know what to expect.

Photo by Siavash Ghanbari on Unsplash

I encourage having some sort of a routine in your life, it’s also good if you have some variation within that routine.

So if you usually do the same work all the time, see if it’s possible to take on a different project, to switch it up a little bit. Preferably something that you’re not fully familiar with, so the challenge is novel.

Now while you might not be able to have a direct impact on the way you do things at your job, you can always incorporate some new aspects that are still related to it, which you do have control over.

Like befriending someone at the office, who you don’t normally interact. Maybe reorganizing your desk. Or just go to a different restaurant to eat your lunch.

Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

You can also spice up your workout routine, by trying out a new exercise. Or if you’re still studying for school, try to find a different study location. Just look for a way to make your days slightly different.

It doesn’t have to be a massive change. Nor does it have to be permanent. The point is to just have a new experience every once in a while.

Consistent challenge

The human brain loves working on, and overcoming obstacles. But the difficulty has to match your current skill level, otherwise, you won’t enjoy them, nor will you want to do them.

In other words, the challenge must be neither too hard, nor too easy.

In a game, When you start at level 1, you don’t go fighting the biggest boss right away. You would get defeated every time, as it would be too difficult for your skill level.

And because it would be too hard, you wouldn’t want to continue playing. This is why games set you up against easier challenges first. Those that you’re able to actually overcome.

But once you get better at the game, the difficulty also ramps up. Otherwise, if you were to improve, but the challenge stayed the same, you wouldn’t want to continue playing.

There’s no fun if you’re able to just effortlessly demolish everything in your way. You would quickly get bored because the game would be too easy.

The challenge has to feel at least semi-difficult so that when you overcome it, you can actually feel proud about it and get rewarded by that sweet, sweet dopamine.

But in real life, we are only rarely faced with optimal challenges. Instead most of the time, we’re either overwhelmed or bored by them. If something feels overwhelming, and you can’t bring yourself to do it, chances are that it’s above your current skill level. You need to take a step back and start slow, at the beginning.

Break that big task, down into more manageable pieces. Then you should tackle those pieces individually, and focus on the easiest one first. This helps bring the difficulty down and get the momentum going at the same time.

If something feels too easy, you must increase the challenge.

So try to match the difficulty to your skill level. You will find that whenever you’re able to do so, you’ll be more engaged, and the activity will be more compelling.

Now it also has to be noted that video games apply all those elements at an extremely rapid rate. Making the release of dopamine very frequent. Frequent in fact, that our daily activities aren’t actually able to match it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t replicate the dopamine trail.

Make sure to apply those 5 elements to the areas of your life, that you find most important. This will allow you to take control of the carrot and you’ll be able to do, whatever you set out to do.

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As always, thanks for reading. And I hope this made you better than yesterday.

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