Jane McGonigal

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Last Highlighted
May 5, 2021 11:56 PM (CDT)
Last Synced
June 8, 2023 1:12 PM (CDT)

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Being gameful means bringing the psychological strengths you naturally display when you play games—such as optimism, creativity, courage, and determination—to your real life.

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The game was that simple: adopt a secret identity, recruit allies, battle the bad guys, and activate power-ups. But even with a game so simple, within just a couple days of starting to play, that fog of depression and anxiety went away. It just vanished. It felt like a miracle to me. It wasn’t a miracle cure for the headaches or the cognitive symptoms—they lasted more than a year, and it was the hardest year of my life by far. But even when I still had the symptoms, even while I was still in pain, I stopped suffering.

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way I would have believed it was possible. When I was recovered enough to do research, I dove into the scientific literature. And here’s what I learned: some people get stronger and happier after a traumatic event. And that’s what was happening to us. The game was helping us experience what scientists call post-traumatic growth, which is not something we usually hear about.

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people with post-traumatic growth say: 1. My priorities have changed. I’m not afraid to do what makes me happy. 2. I feel closer to my friends and family. 3. I understand myself better. I know who I really am now. 4. I have a new sense of meaning and purpose in my life. 5. I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams.

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Remarkably, the top five regrets of the dying are essentially the exact opposite of the top five experiences of post-traumatic growth. With post-traumatic growth, we find the strength and courage to do the things that make us happy, and to understand and express our true selves. We prioritize relationships and meaningful work that inspires us.

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Extreme personal challenge—if we respond in the right way—unlocks our ability to lead a life truer to our dreams and free of regrets.

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It turns out that there are seven ways of thinking and acting that contribute to post-traumatic and post-ecstatic growth. And they are all ways that we commonly think and act when we play games.

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These seven rules to live by make up the SuperBetter method, and they are the heart of this book: 1. Challenge yourself. 2. Collect and activate power-ups. 3. Find and battle the bad guys. 4. Seek out and complete

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quests. 5. Recruit your allies. 6. Adopt a secret identity. 7. Go for an epic win.

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And on your final adventure, you’ll discover what it means to be “Time Rich”—the feeling that you have abundant free time to spend on all the things that matter most to you. Getting time rich is an excellent way to build your emotional and mental resilience.

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A review of studies from the past thirty years shows that self-distancing works equally well whether you’re thinking about the past, the present, or the future. The past: People who practice self-distancing experience less anxiety and distress when they recall painful memories or traumatic experiences.8 The present: Self-distancing enhances willpower.9 If you face a temptation, you’ll be better able to exert self-control if you take a moment to think about the situation from a third-person point of view. Instead of asking yourself, Do I want that candy bar?, ask yourself, Does Jane want that candy bar? It sounds like an absurdly simple trick, but it works.

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Self-distancing has another benefit in the present: it leads to greater engagement in constructive problem solving—which means getting less wrapped up in thoughts and being better able to focus on taking helpful action.10 The future: Self-distancing makes you more likely to adopt a challenge mindset, instead of a threat mindset, when you face new obstacles.

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Here are the exact instructions that the Stanford researchers used in their studies, so you can replicate the effect: “Awe is a response to things perceived as vast and overwhelming that alters the way you understand the world. Write about a personal experience that made you feel this way.” You don’t have to write a long essay! A few sentences will work just fine.

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to ten hours after you naturally

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doing anything for the first time changes how your brain processes the passing minutes and hours. Specifically, it slows time down.

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Here’s why: the more predictable and familiar an experience is to you, the less work your brain has to do to understand it. If you’ve seen it before or done it before, your brain can take a shortcut, drawing on its previous learning to process what’s happening.

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What to do: Do one thing you normally do every day differently. Brush your teeth with your nondominant hand. (That is, if you’re right-handed, brush your teeth with your left hand.) Or walk backward from your bedroom to the kitchen, instead of forward.

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Perhaps the easiest way to start feeling more time rich, especially when you’re under pressure, is to take long, slow breaths for five minutes.

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On the other hand, other forms of travel—especially walking and bicycling—promote reduced stress and feelings of self-efficacy. They increase mindfulness, or active and compassionate attention paid to our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. Increased self-efficacy and mindfulness are associated with increased time affluence.

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About the Science

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