Book Summary

Super Better By JANE McGONIGAL

Jane has a pretty fascinating degree. It’s a PhD in Performance Psychology, specializing in the psychology of video-gamers. Jane used her extensive knowledge of games and a gameful mindset to overcome a concussion that she suffered in 2009, after hitting her head. She was bedridden and she couldn’t do any of the things that she enjoyed doing. She couldn’t run, she couldn’t read and she couldn’t work.

Her concussion was really getting to her. She was even having the suicidal thoughts she said to herself I’m either going to kill myself or I’m going to turn this into a game. Why a game? Because when you play a game, you adopt a mindset where you turn threat into an opportunity for personal growth. In a game you don’t simply accept your current reality. You’re always looking for strategies to get better.

Jane says that when we play a game we volunteer to be challenged. No one forces us to try to solve a game’s puzzle or to feed another team or reach a certain score because we are fully in control of whether we accept a game’s challenge. We don’t experience anxiety or depression when we play despite the very real possibility of loss or defeat. In a game you’re challenging yourself to learn and improve even if the overall situation still feels overwhelming or objectively out of your control.

Jane applied game principles to not just get better but to get super better. Her goal wasn’t simply to recover but to thrive as a result of the setback and that’s why game principles and a gameful mindset can do. I haven’t suffered from a concussion like Jane but I’ve discovered through reading this book that I can apply the same gameful mindset to my productivity. It’s not just about being productive but to be super productive each and every day.

Here are three steps to a gameful mindset that I’ve adopted after reading Jane’s book.

  1. Commit to an epic quest of self-efficacy.
  2. Activate your power-ups throughout the day
  3. Flush out and face the bad guys.

Much like any hero in a video game, you need to fully commit to a quest. One that moves you motivates you and appeals to your goals and values. The purpose of quests is to increase your self-efficacy (that belief that you have in your capacity to execute and acquire the skills you need to achieve a meaningful result).

In a video game, you typically build up experience points of everything you do to feed a few bad guys five experience points, get to a checkpoint 10 experience points. We can learn to apply this to our day. Wake up and make your bed to experience points, make some breakfast to experience points, go into the office and finish that report you’ve been working on to experience points.

When you see everything you do as an opportunity to gain experience points and if you’re tracking these experience points, say after you do something, you just make a note on your phone and you put a little number beside it, you are more encouraged to take on tough challenges. You look for opportunities to build up self-efficacy- a belief in your ability to get things done.

The more tasks you complete, the more you generate an upward spiral of momentum which gives you the confidence to take on bigger and bigger challenges. Looking for small opportunities to gain experience points helped Jane get through the darkest moments of her concussion. She had her twin sister give her challenges every day they would be small such as simply look out the window and find something interesting. But they were meaningful to her and the fact that they were small was actually helpful.

She says “in fact, the research shows that frequency of success matters more than the size of the success. So it doesn’t matter if your quest is small or easy. In most cases, it helps if it’s small and easy because that increases your chance of success. With each success you achieve, you become more likely to expect success in the future.”

This is why game developers make the early levels of games so easy. It’s important to give players a dose of triumph early on to build their emotional resilience ahead of the challenges to come. Completing a quest requires you to stay resilient. To do so, you need power-ups. This is one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of someone who is living gainfully. It’s the ability to feel better anytime, anyplace, no matter what.

So the idea is to “collect and activate power-ups.” These are the good things that reliably make you feel happier, healthier or stronger. Remember Super Mario? Think of Mario as he goes through the levels to save the princess. Along the way he needs upgrades and mushrooms to get bigger. He needs to discover the special block that will give him an ability to fly or shoot fireballs.

Power-ups are necessary for us to stay in the game and it’s important that we power up all four of our resilience abilities: physical, emotional, social and mental. Jane’s favorite way to boost her physical resilience is to drink a tall glass of water. She says there’s almost nothing it doesn’t help. This ranges from improving ones mood to building muscle; from controlling appetite to increasing energy.

My favorite physical power up is to take cold showers. So in the morning or after a workout when I go into the shower I start off hot and cozy but before I leave the shower, I need to crank the handle all the way to the end and give myself a blast of cold water and it shocks my body which makes me feel more resilient. It gives me a jolt of energy for emotional resilience.

 She likes to sing her lungs out. She says that can trigger the release of endorphins and happy hormones “don’t hold back. You got to really belt it out to get the benefits.”

For my emotional resilience I like to put on some music and just kind of dance even when I’m working. I simply bob my head and tap my feet. If I put on the right song, it allows me to bounce back from any emotional setback.

For social resilience, she likes to do a love spree. She sets a timer and she goes on social media and she tries to leave as many positive comments as she possibly can. For social resilience I like to just work in a cafe being around people and hearing the chatter increases my sense of well-being and eradicate any feelings of loneliness.

Lastly for mental resilience she loves to think of two specific things that she’s looking forward to in the next week, big or small. My favorite mental resilience trick is to meditate. I just to sit down, close my eyes and just monitor my breath.

Activating these power-ups allow me to experience more positive emotions to the day than negative ones. Studies show that people who have a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions perform better. Employees who calculate their own positive emotion ratios between 3:1 and 4:1 are evaluated by other employers as being more creative and effective. Civilians who are exposed to missile attacks who had a baseline positive emotion ratio of 2:1 or higher we’re less vulnerable to anxiety depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lastly we need to flush out and face the bad guys, just like Mario is going through the levels he’s facing these angry Turtles or these little creatures that are trying to get him. Some of the most important bad guys that we need to identify and face throughout the day are internal ones. They’re our inner demons, our bad habits.

Jane has some pretty funny ones in her book. She has one she calls the Lord of impossibility. It’s when she plans to do anything good this voice tells her it’s impossible or you’re not good enough or you don’t have any luck or it’s too difficult. Another bad guy she’s identified is the four devil foods –Pizza, soda marshmallows and hot chocolate. Most of us get tempted by delicious foods like these. You may have a craving for particular unhealthy foods that you need to address and counteract.

That’s the point of flushing out and facing these bad guys. It is about finding the strategies that you need to counteract the negative effects of these bad guys. They’re trying to interrupt your progress. They’re trying to set you back.

We all know how bad guys work in video games through the obstacles that force us to be creative and clever. So don’t run away from the bad guys and don’t try to ignore your bad habits. Get curious about what strategies you can use to overcome these bad habits. Some mornings I can end up staying too long in bed because the sheets are so warm. This is my seductive morning sheets bad guy and to beat this bad guy I need to have strategies in place like having a warm and comfy sweater right next to my bed so I can easily put it on, get out of bed and get productive.

Jane identifies one of her bad guys as the two-headed monster. You know you’re in the clutches of this bad guy when you find yourself making an “I’m too_______ statement like I’m too tired, I’m too depressed, I’m too scared, I’m too slow, I’m too fat, it hurts too much. A strategy that she’s discovered over the years as a counter-act when the two-headed monster says “I’m too tired to cook dinner”, she says “I’m tired but I’m going to cook dinner anyways”.

So a gameful mindset involves finding strategies to beat these bad guys, to find ways to power up throughout the day and to be on a quest of self-efficacy. If you think you’re ready to adopt a gameful mindset here is my challenge to you straight from Jane’s book. Aim to get a daily dose of super better that’s: three power-ups, one bad guy battle and one quest to get your daily win.

Jane says that this dose of super better was tested at both the University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State University and it was enough gainful activity to help develop significant resilience while still fitting easily into a daily routine. Simply take out your to-do list and add your quest the three power-ups you are going to use throughout the day and the one bad guy you’re likely to face.

This book is just plain awesome. I highly recommend it.

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