December 31, 2013, 9:03 PM — New Year’s Eve: Parties, too much champagne, confetti, and resolutions. The parties are easy (even if the morning after isn’t). Even making the resolutions is easy. But succeeding at them isn’t. If it was, you would not have to put the same resolutions on your list every year. But I think that video games can teach us a lesson here. They manage to make large numbers of people want to succeed at something often rather absurd. (Kill a bunch of non-existent bad guys while collecting items that don’t exist in the real world.) They do this by cleverly teasing our brain’s desires, rewarding us at just the right time, motivating us with dopamine, and breaking a large and difficult task into a series of easier and measurable ones that get rewarded. We play, we get rewarded, we persist, and eventually we succeed. How about if we apply that same reasoning to resolutions? If you want to over think it a bit, listen to Tom Chatfield’s Ted talk on how games are perfectly tuned to dole out rewards that engage the brain and keep us questing for more and how that strategy can be applied to everyday life.
New Year’s resolutions seem like a risk-free way to test this theory before applying it to work or other real-life missions. So instead of promising that in 2014, “I’m going to lose 20 pounds, get a new job, and write a novel.” Break each resolution into a series of tasks that can be measured and rewarded. Involve other players. In short, design a game around making your resolution a reality. At the very least it will be more interesting than simply failing. There is probably an infinite number of ways to do this. But I plan to use HabitForge.com – an online tool that starts with the premise that it takes 28 days to form a habit and measures and rewards success until you succeed for that length of time – to manage rewarding the small measurable tasks.