When losing weight it can be hard to stay motivated and focused. This is because dieting goes against our instincts, we can find it boring and stressful, it interferes with our social lives, and the results take a long time to show. So we can't just rely on the intrinsic goodness of weight loss to motivate us. Instead, we need to create our own motivation to keep us going through the hard times. Enter gamification.
Gamification is the principle that by turning something into a game we make it fun for its own sake, and forget that what we are doing goes against our instincts or interests. Think, for example, of little mobile games that you can download or play on social media. Creating a new pixelated pumpkin will not better your life in any way, but you will work towards it, desire it, and feel disappointed if you do not succeed. This is because the right game strategies override the instinctive and rational parts of our brains and focus us on weird little details like…
1: Small, frequent rewards.
In gamification, small, frequent rewards work as motivation because humans do not think well in the long term. When we think of our future selves, we use the parts of our brains reserved for other people. Which means we cannot think about all the rewards our future selves will get for an action, because they're not us. Instead, we offer ourselves small, frequent rewards for staying on track and meeting mini-goals, which motivates our present selves to work hard.
We can apply this to weight loss by making a list of assorted non-diet-related rewards and giving one to ourselves for meeting a goal. Jogging for 30 minutes? 30 minutes of your favorite show. Lost 2lbs? Time to get some new nail polish.
2: Intermittent rewards.
Another key to successful rewarding in gamification is not to give too much, too little, or too consistently. You know how some games will give you random amounts of points, rather than a set volume? This is designed to keep you playing. By being rewarded inconsistently we learn that there are variables at play which we do not understand, and our natural curiosity will keep us playing.
We can apply this to weight loss by writing our rewards on little strips of paper, folding them, and drawing them from a hat or a jar when we need a reward. This way the payout of rewards will be random, making us more likely to “gamble” with our fitness and diet, until we get the reward we want.
3: Working for it.
In gamification we are never allowed something without working for it, however simple and menial the work is. This gives us a sense that the thing we have attained must be valuable, simply due to the hours of work we have invested. It also teaches us that the activity we performed to get our reward is good, because after it we get rewarded.
Naturally, we are working for our bodies when we diet. But we can up the ante by not allowing ourselves anything without completing a fitness task. It has to be something simple, repetitive, and menial, such as doing a pushup before getting a snack, or only being allowed to eat healthy foods whilst watching TV. This habit will slowly rewire our brain into liking our weight loss activities.
Finally, in gamification we see a constant stream of validation. Other characters and pop up chat boxes will tell us that we have done our jobs well. We will get awards for completing many of the same type of task, and badges, medals, or stickers to show what we have achieved in the game. This sense of approval and validation will motivate us to keep returning to the game.
We apply this to weight loss by keeping a support group and a star chart. Our support group, whether it is friends, classmates, or a forum, will tell us how well we are doing and make us feel good. And our star chart will work as a sort of medal collection to let us know we are succeeding. By ensuring we receive praise for what we are doing, we make ourselves more likely to stick to it, not to avoid disappointing others, but to make them proud.