Gamification and Manipulation

I enjoy walking. I like to walk for the sake of it, as a way of getting from a to b, as a way of keeping fit, as a way of clearing my head, as a way of coming up with ideas.

My relationship with walking was shifted to another level by my friend John Hudson. Towards the end of 2014 John invited me and a few friends to take part in a Runners Week challenge, which I vaguely recall involved a commitment to running at least a mile a day for 30 days. I opted to walk instead of run, and I enjoyed this new found frequency so much, I kept going once the 30 days was done. Carole then got me a Fitbit for Christmas that same year, and on I went. I’m reliably informed that I’ve walked almost 6,500 miles since the beginning of 2015.

A few months after I started using the device, I noticed I was becoming hung up on achieving a daily target of 10,000 steps, and receiving a welcoming Fitbit buzzzz for doing so. If I was short of steps towards the end of the day, I could be found walking round and around the kitchen table. This way I could keep continuous streaks going, and earn badges, and… oh dear. I realised I was forgetting all those things I enjoy about walking, in favour of ‘earning’ of all things, a digital badge. Not even a real badge, what a chump!

Maybe 2015 was my year for this sort of thing, as I also got stuck in what became a rather dull, daily meditation chase the streak, chase the badge rut too. I shook off both of these compulsions, and got back to practicing for the sake of it.

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Fast forward to 2018, and a few weeks ago I accepted another Fitbit challenge, then another, then another. Once again, I found myself enjoying a sense of competition and shared motivation at the beginning of this new cycle, I even won three straight first places in some workweek hustles – woohoo!

Then, one morning last week, I was heading out to collect the car from where I’d left it the previous night about a mile and a half from home. It was a cold day and there were a few hints of light rain in the air. I ended up going right past the car, and enduring a much longer walk as the weather rapidly deteriorated. About half way around Beddington Park it dawned on my increasingly wet, cold, miserable self that at least in 2015 I’d had the good sense to stay indoors and clock up the miles in the kitchen! And so it was, that after 40 consecutive days of at least 10,000 steps a day (totalling 273 miles – we can’t forget those eh?!), I stepped off this latest human hamster wheel.

Maybe I’m just not very good at this stuff, but it strikes me that if I am not careful, when I’m subjected to gamification, I’m distracted from the important stuff, and I end up chasing the game. I worry about how gamification manipulates and affects us when we’re working and learning. Don’t get me wrong, I love to play, but I prefer to do it for its own sake. How about you?

Go Your Own Way

Must resist temptation to link to Fleetwood Mac video…

Meditation - 300 Days Straight

On Monday this week, I hit a meditative milestone when I completed my 300th consecutive day of checking in to the Headspace app. Choosing to turn up and practice something every day for 300 days straight has proved to be a fascinating experiment, I’m learning loads about myself and others in relation to presence, honesty, kindness, distraction and more.

A few months ago I came to a decision that I would check in and meditate every day for a full year – 365 days straight. This remains my intention, and from now on I’ll be going it alone. Headspace has been incredibly useful for me – the app helped me find my way into the initially uncomfortable silence meditation brings, and it encouraged me to keep going. The idea of an extending continuous streak of daily practice is motivating, and the occasional gift of free membership to pass to others helps too.

The frequent slow downloads and the clunky desktop app are much less useful though. As I sit waiting 25 minutes plus for a session to download, I contemplate – not so much about meditation in itself, more about the way I’m doing it. Or maybe having it done to me?

Things are changing. I’ve gone from finding the voice of the narrator welcoming and encouraging, to something mildly irritating and patronising. The idea of logging a continuous streak has shifted from something motivating to something obligatory. I feel like I’m being gamed – and these feelings are getting in the way of my practice.

I believed that one day not too far into the future, I would be sharing with you (slightly smugly perhaps?), a 365 days badge, and this is no longer the case. I made it to 300 – I’m having a fascinating journey and for it to continue usefully and enjoyably, I need to go my own way from now. Thanks Headspace – it’s been fun.