January 30th, 2015

Ready for battle

HabitRPG

I've been meaning to write a fuller post about HabitRPG for ages, but after enthusing about Giveit100.com and then quietly abandoning it after a few short weeks, I thought I'd wait to write about Habit until I was sure it was something I was going to genuinely find beneficial in the long term. Well, I've used it for over 10 months, have reached level 106 and recently used the Orb of Rebirth to start all over again, so I think it's time I posted…

When I was young, improving yourself was all about the New Year Resolutions. Lose weight, give up smoking, take more exercise, that sort of thing. It was traditional to make them on the 1st January and it was also traditional that round about now, at the end of the month, they were already being broken. More recently, people have got wise to the fact that resolutions don't work, so now Goals are all the rage. There are countless blog posts and articles about how to set goals that follow the SMART guidelines (SMART standing for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound). There's a typical one here. The problem with both the rather vague resolutions and the more specific goals is that both are unattainable unless you make changes in your daily life to incorporate the necessary steps to achieve your aims. And that's where it gets hard.

Willpower alone is not going to work. You may have re-cast your vague aim of "get fitter" into a suitable goal such as "Complete a 5k run by the end of June". You may have carefully set up a training schedule that will build up amount of running you will do each week. But how are you going to motivate yourself to actually put those trainers on, step outside the door and run? To do that, you have to change your current behaviour by incorporating new activities that weren't previously part of your life.

We don’t like to think of ourselves as being ruled by our habits, but to a large extent we are. However, we can turn this to good effect. Years ago, when we were Youth Hostel Wardens, we took on a young assistant. He fitted in well and flung himself into the job. It was nearly a year later that he admitted that he used to be a heavy smoker before he joined us. We were astonished. We'd never seen him smoke and he'd shown no signs of withdrawal and had never mentioned having cravings for a cigarette. This might seem surprising, but this article explains what was going on. In his old job (a trainee fashion photographer) Pete was in a high stress situation with deadlines to meet and everyone around him was smoking. When he came to work for us he was suddenly in a no-smoking environment. None of us smoked so none of the old triggers were there. He wasn't constantly being reminded of cigarettes and so found it much easier to quit.

Now you may be asking, what has all this to do with HabitRPG? I'll come to that in a minute.

Habit is best described as a gamified productivity app. The obvious appeal is that you can get gold and xp for ticking stuff off your To-Do list. Logically, being able to earn some virtual gold to buy a virtual pixelly sword or click off a task and have some food drop so you can feed a virtual pixelly creature shouldn't have much effect. But I find that it can just tip the balance between saying, "Oh, I can't be bothered, I'll do it tomorrow," and actually taking the few minutes necessary to get the task done, especially if I've nearly vanquished a boss or can nearly afford a new piece of equipment.

HabitRPG avatars

Having set Dailies has also helped me get into a routine with basic housework. For too many years I fell for the Creative People Are Messy myth. There was also the problem that I would get wrapped up in work or (let's face it) just wasting time online reading the internet and wouldn't think about mundane stuff like sweeping the kitchen floor or dusting the bedroom until it was time to make dinner, by which time it was too late and the day had slipped away. By setting tasks as Habit Dailies, I don't forget any more and it's surprising how little time many tasks take as long as you do them regularly and don't let the mess build up. For example I've discovered I can sweep the kitchen floor in the time it takes my pot of tea to brew.

But to return to Pete and the way he gave up smoking, for me one of the most valuable aspects of Habit is the community. I assumed (wrongly) when I started using the site that I'd be one of the oldest users. It is true that young people predominate, but there are plenty of older people, some, like me, heading for retirement. Whatever your age or your interest, the user base is large enough that you can find like-minded people who are also working on ways to improve their lives. The online community and the Guilds and Parties are what separates Habit from other gamified productivity apps. The Habit Guilds are basically chat rooms dedicated to different topics, so there's one for most interests and if there isn't, you can always create one! I particularly like the Short-Term Accountability Guild, where we post about our tiny victories (like cleaning the bathroom or decluttering a cupboard) and we know if we do, we'll get some encouraging +1's. I also find that seeing other people post about what they've been doing makes me feel more like tackling my own tasks.

If you want to change your life, it won't happen by magic. It has to be done day by day, one step at a time. The best approach is to do it gradually or you will be relying on willpower, which for most people isn't enough. In my favourite Habit guild we've created an environment (albeit an online one) that is conducive to sticking to our goals, it's an environment that helps us to do the little things we need to do every day to keep us on track towards our larger goals.

HabitRPG task screen
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