SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal Book Review

SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal Book Review

Jane McGonigal is a psychologist and researcher into the science of games. She has widely viewed TED Talks and is an entertaining podcast guest.

While there is plenty of data on “gamification” – ie, nudging human behavior with game elements – there has been little research into how playing games affect human psychology and health.

That’s what this book is all about – taking the latest research and looking at early lessons on how playing games can make us better people.

What I Liked

The research was fascinating to read.

The lessons were very practical.

She mixed in other lessons from psychology, so there was context for lessons.

The writing was conversational with nice call-outs.

What I Did Not Like

The meat of the book only makes up about 40 pages – the rest is background or stories. In fact, you really don’t have to read the last 1/3rd of the book.

The background and lead up has repetitive sections.

Some lessons seemed to verge on hyperbole, but I wasn’t sure.

What I Learned

Body language has real effects on the direction of conversation. Try holding your palms up rather than arms crossed when listening to a new idea.

There are 5 five things that career hospice workers hear from patients –

  1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  2. I wish I had stayed in touch with friends.
  3. I wish I had let myself be happier.
  4. I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self.
  5. I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams, instead of what other expected of me.

There is an opposite of “post traumatic stress” – it’s post traumatic growth. Just as games have been proven to reduce post traumatic stress, they can also be used to create post traumatic growth.

Sometimes you can achieve post traumatic growth without the trauma with post ecstatic growth – which comes from achieving a ridiculously challenging life goal such as becoming a parent, finishing a marathon, writing a book, quitting an addiction, starting a business or making a spiritual journey.

Games can be used in a post-ecstatic way to stimulate growth.

There are 7 ways of thinking that stimulate growth / reduce stress –

  1. Adopt a challenge mindset
  2. Seek out whatever makes you stronger and happier
  3. Strive for psychological flexibility
  4. Take committed action
  5. Cultivate connectedness
  6. Find a heroic story
  7. Learn the benefit of skill finding

You can translate those 7 ways of thinking into 7 rules for becoming SuperBetter –

  1. Challenge yourself
  2. Collect and activate power-ups
  3. Find and battle bad guys
  4. Seek out and complete quests
  5. Recruit allies
  6. Adopt a secret identity
  7. Go for an epic win

You can make challenges in your life a game AND/OR you can use games to cultivate these ways of thinking.

Games help you focus – think about how you become immersed in a game. If you are consciously practicing that skill – it can help you focus and concentrate on other things.

Instead of asking people “how’s you day going?” – ask them “on a scale from 1 to 10, how’s your day going?” – after they answer, ask them “how can I move it to [next number higher]?”

Use games to increase specific attributes in your life. For example, research has shown that playing games in order to increase motivation, do help increase your general level of motivation. But you have to play the game for that specific attribute. It’s like practicing a specific skill in any other discipline.

Play games with purpose rather than as a distraction or escape. Even if you are solely playing them as a distraction, change your perspective from distraction to “shifting focus rapidly” or some other positive skill.

Playing games for escapism is a dangerous thing – and is what leads to stereotypically “bad” game behavior.

If you have an avid gamer in your life that you worry about, rather than setting rules – ask questions like,

  • What are you most proud of achieving in this game so far? How did you accomplish that? What strengths or skills did it take?
  • What makes this game hard? What are your strategies for winning? How did you come up with those strategies?
  • How long have you been trying to complete this level/mission? Where do you find the motivation to not give up?
  • What do you think this game makes you good at? Is there another part of your everyday life where you could apply the same skill or talent to solve a problem?
  • Can I play with you?

While you can’t change your body’s physical sensations – you can change how your body interprets the sensations. Anxiety is the same as excitement.

Get better at things rather than from things. Get better at being brave rather than from being anxious.

Adopt strategy goals rather than outcome or do-your-best goals. For example, suppose you’re in a race. Instead of saying “I will finish in 4 hours,” which sets you up for failure or “I will do my best,” which doesn’t challenge you – set a goal like “I will run my practice pace for 13 miles, then run 1 mile per hour faster for the remaining course.

Focus on inputs and strategy not outputs or outcomes.

Three questions that can lead to post-ecstatic growth –

  1. What would I do if anxiety and fear weren’t holding me back?
  2. What have been the most energizing and inspiring moments in my life so far?
  3. What do I want to be remembered for after I’ve lived a long, full life?

Overall – it’s a great book with practical, research-based lessons. Definitely recommended.

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