I’ve been playing video games since I was old enough to hold a controller.
Whether it was guiding Mario across the screen to the flag, or taking Link on an exploration of Hyrule, I loved the concept of “what’s next?”
- What’s across that ocean?
- What’s in that cave?
- What’s down that pipe?
- What’s in that treasure chest?
That constant possibility of exploration, increased skill, and a more challenging difficulty kept me wanting more. There was always a new bad guy to defeat, a new location to explore, or new weapon/spell to acquire.
I’ve dedicated the past five years to Nerd Fitness, and the study of this giant video game we call “Life” has taken over my life.
Today, I want to talk about the importance of video games in improving ourselves and show you how exactly to live a leveled up life, even if you’ve never picked up a controller.
Are you stuck?
Stuck. We’ve all been there.
Just going through the motions rather than enjoying each day. Counting down to the weekend, counting down to next year, counting down to some mythical “when things slow down” date in the future (that doesn’t actually exist).
Although fake, I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement when reading this article from the Onion: “Alarming New Adult Trend ‘Plateauing In Your Career And Relationship’ Sweeps Nation.”
I particularly enjoyed this passage:
It’s called “plateauing in your career and relationship,” and it involves adult men and women hitting a wall in their professional and romantic lives and doing absolutely nothing to reinvigorate them, an activity that researchers at University of Chicago’s Department of Comparative Human Development warn may be, while popular, highly dangerous and unhealthy.
Sources confirmed that plateauing in your career and relationship is merely the latest fad to grip adults in recent years, following on the heels of popular trends such as giving up on your dream of writing a novel, having kids because it’s a box to check, and gradually feeling alienated in your own body after steady weight gain.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who read that and thought, “crap, I’ve been there!” or “wow, that sounds like me.”
So, if we’re stuck in this “plateau,” the equivalent of mindlessly drifting rather than actively participating, we oftentimes look for a chance to escape when real life becomes unfulfilling.
I used to be that guy.
Gaming: a chance to escape
I’ve devoted a significant portion of my time to figure out what makes video games so addicting, and if those same mechanics can be applied to the rest of our lives.
Video games succeeded in capturing my attention for three specific reasons:
- A chance to live vicariously through a badass.
- A constant source of improvement and rewards.
- A chance to interact with like minded people.
I loved the Legend of Zelda because I could see myself as Link: a small kid with a wooden sword tasked with exploring this giant scary world and saving the princess (though we all know sometimes princess don’t need saving). There was always something to find, a new place to discover, a new dungeon to crawl through.
I loved Everquest because I got to play as the wizard Morphos Novastorm: Wizards always start out as the weakest, underpowered and vulnerable…but by the time one reached the ‘end’ of the game they were the most powerful. I was weak, underpowered, and vulnerable…and I had the chance to become the most powerful? Booyah! I could meet up with friends, slay dragons, and constantly improve and see that next thing.
I loved Assassin’s Creed because I wanted to become Ezio, the assassin: Constantly earning better weapons, exploring new locations, scaling massive ruins to learn more about ancient stories and prophecies. I couldn’t wait to find out where the story went next.
All of these games, along with the hundreds of others that captivated my attention over the years (Chrono Trigger, Earthbound!, Final Fantasy, God of War, Uncharted, Super Metroid and Metroid Prime, etc.) gave me a ton of entertainment at first, but eventually they started giving me something else that had snuck up on me.
- Escape from another day at school in which I wasn’t challenged, wasn’t captivated, and didn’t progress.
- Escape from another day at my job in which I wasn’t engaged and was in a position that didn’t line up with my strengths.
- Escape from another day in life that wasn’t nearly as exciting as the life lived by my characters in the games I played.
We all do it: whether we’re getting lost in a book, in a movie, or a video game, it’s fun to escape and live life through the eyes of somebody else. We all want a chance to do all of the things we don’t get to do in real life. It’s entertaining and fun to live out life in a fantasy land, and a way to unwind after a long day.
And there’s NOTHING wrong with that…unless it starts taking over.
If we’re not careful, we often use these games and books and movies as an escape to replace leveling up our real lives. The dead end job, the unfulfilling relationship, and the lack of excitement in our activities outside of the computer screen are all “okay” because soon enough we can plug back in and forget…like permanently living in the Matrix.
I’ve found that us nerds tend to have very addicting personalities, and video games have been designed to push every one of our ‘this makes me happy” buttons (pun intended) so that we want to keep playing more and more. We get sucked in and don’t even realize it.
Until I started working on Nerd Fitness, that was me.
Since then, I have adjusted how I view games, books, and movies. Rather than using them as an escape, I use them as inspiration and education, along with entertainment.
These sources for escape can ALSO be some of the best motivational tools at your disposal if you look at them with the correct mindset.
Inspiration for the win
When playing a game like Everquest, World of Warcraft, Clash of Clans, or any game where you get a chance to play with other people, you’ll inevitably encounter people who are higher levels than you.
While you’re out there in a tunic and wooden sword killing rats to get to Level 2, they are kicking ass on an armored horse with glowing armor and a flaming sword.
These players usually have six titles and named something like “Lord Ravenshield Demonslayer Orc-Destroyer The Powerful.”
How do you react when you see this guy? You look at him and say “WHOA! I didn’t know you could get that stuff! That’s amazing. I now know what I have to work towards.”
You google his equipment and horse to find out how he got that stuff, and then you get back to work killing rats…because you know each rat gets you closer to that armored horse and flaming sword.
Compare this to real life: We see somebody who owns a nicer car than us or takes a crazy vacation, and what do we think? Rather than taking the “Whoa! I didn’t know that was possible! how can I do the same?” The attitude generally is:
“Must be nice. He’s lucky/has better opportunities/must have rich parents. If only I didn’t have _______ and only if I could _______ then I could be like him. But I don’t have those things so screw that guy.”
Why should life be any different!?
Some people get to play life on easy, some people get power-leveled, some people have bought their character’s attributes. It sucks, but that’s what happens.
It might not be your fault where you are today, but it’s your personal responsibility to work on fixing it. Nobody else can do that for you….but that also means you don’t have to wait for anybody else’s permission to get started.
So here’s what we can do in real life: identify the badasses who are higher levels than you, who already are what you want to become. Then learn from them!
There’s no shame in asking for advice and seeking guidance. That’s one of the BEST ways to help improve: Would you believe that I just hired a fitness coach to help take me to the next level?
- Find somebody who has a job that you want? Take them out for coffee or beers and learn from them.
- Know somebody who used to be skinny but packed on size and muscle? Rather than complain that you don’t have the time to do the same, find out what they ate and how they trained.
- See somebody who lost 130 pounds? Email them! Find out how they did it! Take the same steps!
- See a friend post photos of a place you always wanted to visit? Find out exactly how much the trip cost, and start saving TODAY. Stop saying “must be nice” and start saying “I’m going to go there. Just saved my first dollar.”
What game do you want to be playing?
What happens when you play a game and then no longer enjoy playing it? What happens when you reach the “Game Complete” screen?
You stop playing it, and move onto another one that excites you! Or, when you find a game that you really enjoy, you work to get better and better at it.
In real life, we do something different:
We spend as much time as possible at a job we dislike or that doesn’t utilize our talents, to spend money on things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t really enjoy spending time with.
That’s like spending 40 hours a week playing a video game that we don’t enjoy, just to impress those around us that aren’t having any fun either.
What we have is a case of mixed up priorities.
Try this instead: start at the end and work our way backwards: what kind of “game” do we WANT to be playing? What are the things that are important to us?
I wanted to play an exciting adventure game, so I dumped all of my time, energy, and focus in to building my life like an adventure game.
When I gave my talk at TEDx about my life as a game, I received plenty of comments from the internet peanut gallery wondering if my “rich parents paid for the trip” and that it “must be nice to shirk all responsibilities.”
Believe it or not, it was actually less expensive for me to travel and go on adventures than it was for me to stay in Atlanta with a regular paying job.
How did I do it? I identified the game I wanted to play, and then I built my entire life around that game.
I cut mercilessly things from my life that didn’t line up with my adventure. I sacrificed and saved. I picked up crappy odd jobs (I once spent two nights from midnight to 4 AM painting the sound stage floor for this music video, to pay rent). I said no to a lot of opportunities.
I did all of this so that I could go all in on the RIGHT opportunities, and spend my money on the RIGHT things.
For example, I dumped 100+ hours into mastering the “cheat codes” on how to travel cheaply. I learned to cook more so that I could save money on meals.
I started with the end goal (an Adventure Game), reverse-engineered my life around those things, and went to work every day to get closer to that goal. I’m not special; I’m no different than anybody else, I just had a vision for what I wanted and was content with small progress towards that vision.
Decide the type of game you want to play, and be specific:
- What does your day look like?
- Where does that life take place?
- What are you spending your time and energy on?
Then, start slowly eliminating things from your life that don’t line up with your new goals, adding in things that take you one step closer, no matter how small that step is.
You can do this.
Get excited about getting better.
Think about old school games we used to play:
- Donkey Kong
- Super Mario
Did you know there is an entire section of the gaming community dedicated to see who can beat certain games the fastest?
Whether it’s beating Super Mario Bros. in less than five minutes (!?) or beating The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time in less than twenty minutes (!?!?!?), these gamers have dedicated themselves to beating the same game over and over and over again. Their happiness and enjoyment of the game comes not from beating the game, but from finding ways to get better.
They have fallen in love with the concept of getting better… becoming better…being the best. They aren’t content with chasing new things every three seconds and never finishing them, but rather truly mastering one or two things.
The same goes for playing UBER hard games: gamers have no problem failing repeatedly on the difficult bosses or challenging levels, because each attempt is an opportunity to learn more and get closer to mastery.
How can you apply this to your life?
By taking interest in honing your craft and getting better.
Take one of my personal heroes and yodas: Ramit Sethi – When asked about the worst possible career advice is, he commented: “When people tell you to ‘follow your passion.”
Ramit Sethi – Follow Your Passion?
“Oftentimes,” Ramit points out, “We do something, we get really good at it, and then we become passionate about it. It’s a totally different approach from waiting for your passion for decades, without knowing whether it’s something you can succeed at or make a living from.”
Ramit recommends starting by studying what it means to be a top performer at the jobs and companies that excite you most. Once you’ve targeted those companies and roles, it’s time to narrow the field. “A lot of us get paralyzed by having too many options. We keep a ton of doors open thinking that, for example, you don’t want to get stuck in your current job forever.”
Cal Newport, a professor at Georgetown University, feels the same way. In his book So Good they Can’t Ignore You, Cal argues that developing skills and honing your craft is a more worthwhile use of your time than trying to chase your passion (or waiting around for you to ‘discover’ that passion!).
Give it a shot: instead of following your passion – or worse, waiting around getting mad at yourself because you haven’t figured out how to make money from your passion yet – identify the skills that you enjoy spending time on improving. Think about skills that challenge you, that make you feel alive, and then work to get better at those skills.
I’ll be honest with you, I never in a million years would have guessed that “fitness writing” would become something I truly enjoyed. If you asked me five years ago that I would love writing about health, wellness, and fitness (and Star Wars and the Hobbit and Doug) I would have laughed in your face.
It turns out, these things BECAME my passion because I enjoyed getting better at them. I loved finding new ways to connect with people, new analogies to hit home. I’ve fallen in love with watching the Rebellion grow.
Things are no different with health and fitness: oftentimes we think to ourselves “I need to get healthy,” and then give up after a week because we’re not having any fun.
Sure, it’s important to pick a form of exercise that is fun to you, but what if you’re looking at this whole thing the wrong way?
Rather than lamenting the fact that you have to “work out today,” why not look at your workout as an opportunity to get better?
Strength training changed for me when I stopped looking at it like torture and instead fell in love with the concept of picking up more weight each and every week. I was leveling up my real life character, and the ache from my muscles the next morning let me know that I was getting stronger, tougher.
What if instead you identify the “game” or “skill” that challenges you to be better, and get excited about that?
- Can you become a faster runner? Track your progress and see if you can cut your mile time down to 8 minutes, then 7:45, then 7:30…
- Can you get stronger? Your workout isn’t a form of punishment, it’s a chance for you to learn what the Iron has taught you.
- Can you become more nimble? Video tape yourself doing a yoga session, and compare your progress from a previous month.
- Can you get better at handstands? Spend 5 minutes every day getting better until you’re holding a 15 second handstand without any support.
The same goes for failure! When if you fail at something (or suck very badly at a new skill), instead of saying “I am a miserable failure,” realize that failure is a crucial step in the path for success.
Learning from failure is what allows you to succeed! Don’t be afraid to suck at the Game of Life.
Join the best group you can.
Think of the last time you played a multiplayer game: do you want to be in the group with players who are all worse than you, constantly complaining when things go poorly?
Or, do you want to be in the guild of uber tanks and powerful wizards?
Think about how much more exciting is it when you join a group of higher level people that you are learning from:
- You get to see new zones that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
- You kill dragons that you would have never been able to slay.
- You level faster than you would have leveled if you went questing alone.
If this is universally accepted behavior in games (looking to join the best), why do we allow ourselves to get stuck in crappy groups in real life? You know the type: negative nancies who constantly complain and drag us down when we are trying to climb up!
I have absolutely found this statement to be true: ”You are the combination of the 5 people you associate the most with.”
Do you surround yourself with high quality people that are stronger, smarter, more positive, and push you to be a better person?
Do you spend time regularly with people who are better than you, and can give you advice on how to progress?
Choose your group wisely. Spend more time with winners and less time with duds. Strive to elevate your game and help those higher than you.
We have a finite amount of “game time” in life, and who we choose to spend that time with is damn important.
Speaking of groups, I have a group of about 23,000 that would love to powerlevel you
How to Level up every day.
The quest for a leveled up life is a never-ending one.
While I’ve written a primer on how to level up in the game of life, it’s only just a start. I want you to be better. Collectively, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion is getting better, stronger, smarter, happier. Here are some ways that you can do the same.
Wherever you choose to start, in 2014 I challenge you to level up your life, every single day.
Join me: Start a journal (or google document) that you add to every night that asks the question: “How did you level up today?”
- Lift one more pound at the gym?
- Do one more push-up?
- Help somebody else live a better life?
- Save one dollar towards an adventure you’ve been waiting to have?
- Take a step closer to the job you want?
- Improve at the job you have?
It can be the teeniest, tiniest, incremental change, but it needs to be an improvement over the day before.
Today begins a new 6-week challenge in the Nerd Fitness Rebellion. We’d love for you to join us and challenge yourself to get better every day.
We are leveling up in 2014. Game on!
I want you to answer a question for me: what is one SPECIFIC thing you are doing to make your life better TODAY?
Me: I’m researching violin teachers in the Nashville area, because I want to learn to play the violin. I’m going to suck horribly for months and months, and I can’t wait to get started.
Your turn. GO!
PS: We’re off to a rockin’ start in 2014 with the Nerd Fitness Academy! We now with over 2200 students, and we’re excited to see so many new Rebels investing in themselves and leveling up their lives. I hope you’ll join us. Come on in…the water’s warm!
Photo Sources: Wooly Matt: NES Controller, QQ Li: Death Valley, Rob Boudon: King of Kong, Jess Loughborough: Evening Jump, Andrew Becraft: Avengers, Henry Stern: He’s Sneaky, Jose Maria Cuellar: Escape from Wonderland, Neil Howard, Trislander Sunset, JD Hancock: Who wants to play video games