SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient - Powered by the Science of Games - Jane McGonigal (2015)

Part 2. How to Be Gameful

Chapter 12. Keeping Score

The art of keeping score isn’t practiced very often in the digital age. Today most games are scored automatically. At the bowling alley, computers tally points. Online Scrabble calculates your word scores for you. Video games track your experience points and level you up without any effort on your part.

But when it comes to getting superbetter, you might want to keep your own customized, personal game score. Keeping your own score is the best way to really internalize the rules of a game—and to get a deeper understanding of your own play.

This has been true of games as long as humans have played them. In fact, my favorite argument in favor of personal scorekeeping was written over one hundred years ago, in a 1914 issue of Baseball Magazine. “The Pleasure and Profit of Keeping Score” was an editorial that strongly encouraged baseball fans to fill out their own scorecards during professional games. Track every run, hit, and error, it argued, in order to better understand, remember, and enjoy the game. Here’s how sportswriter C. P. Stack made his case:

Most spectators watch a great play with an interest, which, however intense, is forgotten in the thriller of the next inning. They leave the grounds with a hazy idea of a rather enjoyable afternoon, whose main features are scarce refreshed by reading press accounts of them some hours later. Keeping score remedies all this. It burns the play into memory. It greatly increases the spectator’s knowledge of the game. . . . And, best of all, it is a pleasure in itself. A few simple rules, practice—and keeping score becomes second nature.1

This recommendation makes just as much sense for the SuperBetter method today as it did for baseball then. By keeping a close record of your own gameful efforts, especially during the first days and weeks of play, you’ll develop a much deeper understanding of the seven gameful rules. And by keeping score during the most important periods of challenge and growth in your life, you’ll better remember exactly what you did to get stronger—making it more likely you’ll do it again in the future.

There are lots of ways to keep score in SuperBetter. You can tally power-ups activated and bad guys battled. You can count quests completed and epic wins achieved. Use these numbers to motivate yourself. Can you set a new record? (Ten power-ups in a single day!) What’s your longest streak? (Thirty days in a row of completing at least one quest!) Keeping a notebook, journal, spreadsheet, or blog is an easy way to track your successes.

Besides these simple tallies, something bigger is at stake. The true measure of a gameful life is your growing resilience—your physical, mental, emotional, and social strengths. So how will you know you’re truly increasing your resilience? In this chapter, I will suggest easy scoring techniques to help you measure the powerful difference that gameful thinking and acting are making in your life—including how to set a new high score that represents your overall gameful skills and newfound resilience in one simple number. The higher your high score, the more likely you are to lead a life that is not just longer but also truer to your dreams—happier, healthier, and braver—and most important, a life with no regrets.

Let’s start with the simplest way to keep track of your SuperBetter progress—a daily score. As one SuperBetter player puts it, “An epic win may be far away, but you can always win the day.” Just aim to get your daily dose of SuperBetter:

3 power-ups + 1 bad guy battle + 1 quest = a daily win

This SuperBetter dose was tested by both the University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and it’s what I recommend to all SuperBetter players. Every day try to activate at least three power-ups. Do battle with at least one bad guy. And complete at least one quest. This is just enough gameful activity to help you develop significant resilience, while still fitting easily into your daily routine.

Some players incorporate their daily dose into their regular to-do list. Just add “Power-up 1, Power-up 2, Power-up 3, Battle, Quest,” and cross each item off as you complete it.

Other players keep a journal of their SuperBetter adventures so they can look back and see just how far they’ve come. If you’d like to try it, the daily dose makes for a perfect structure for journal entries. Every day write down which three power-ups you activated, which bad guy you battled (and which strategy you used), and which quest you completed. The daily dose format makes it quick and easy to keep a compelling record of your gameful journey.

Keeping a daily score can help you build a sense of momentum as you try to rack up daily wins. Can you go for four, five, six, or even seven wins (a perfect score!) in one week?

A daily score can also help you learn something useful about your SuperBetter habits. As one player explained it to me, “I noticed that I never get my daily dose on Sundays. The day slips by, and despite having all this free time, I’ve done nothing to get SuperBetter.” Fortunately, spotting this pattern helped him adopt a new strategy. “I officially declared all Sundays ‘Super-Sundays.’ I make it a special challenge to get my daily dose.”

This is what I recommend for you: Track your daily dose for two weeks. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll always be able to use this scoring method again when you need it—for example, if you’re facing a new challenge, experiencing a time crunch, or just want to renew your commitment to getting superbetter.

Three power-ups, one battle, and one quest. This is all you need to do to ensure that you’ve done everything you can today to keep getting stronger, happier, braver, and more resilient.

Another easy way to build momentum and get some personal insight is to go for a personal record.

A personal record, or PR for short, is your all-time best result at any given challenge. Athletes and game players of all kinds track their PRs, whether it’s the farthest they’ve ever run, the most assists they’ve made in a single game, the fewest moves it’s taken them to win a chess match, or the fastest time they’ve been able to play through an entire video game from start to finish (also called a “speed run”). Setting PRs like these can inspire you to try harder, be more ambitious, and get more creative. It’s an excellent way to playfully explore the limits of your own potential.

After you’ve gotten the hang of a daily score, I encourage you to try to set a SuperBetter PR or two of your own. Here are some ideas to get you started.

·                Your most powerful hour: How many different power-ups can you activate in a single hour?*

·                Your most powerful day: How many different power-ups can you activate in a single day?

·                Your most epic battle day: What’s the greatest number of bad guys you’ve ever survived in a single day? (It may have been a truly terrible day, but it’s also a measure of just how strong you are to get through it.)

·                Your longest daily win streak: How many days in a row can you get your daily dose of SuperBetter without missing a single day? (Remember, the daily dose is at least three power-ups, one bad guy battle, and one quest!)

These four PRs are the most popular to go for among SuperBetter players. Feel free to invent your own new categories for records.

You can also go for personal records that are more customized to your challenge. For example, if your challenge is to finish your first novel, you might want to set a PR for the most days in a row you’ve written at least one hundred words. If your challenge is to get fit, your PR could be for the most steps taken in a single day (measured with the help of a pedometer!). If your challenge is to conquer anxiety, you could set a PR for the longest you’ve been able to spend time somewhere, or do something, that ordinarily makes you anxious. Look for the little things you can track and measure that will be a real indicator of progress for you. (A personal record also makes for an excellent epic win.)

If these scoring techniques seem too simple to make a significant difference in your life, let me give you an example of how keeping a tally can transform your behavior in surprising and profound ways—an example from my own SuperBetter journey.

A SuperBetter Story: My Story, or 154 Good Days

Back in 2010, six months into life with postconcussion syndrome, I was still struggling with migraine headaches on a daily basis. They were bad enough that I was taking the maximum safe dosage of pain relievers almost every day—sometime three different medications a day. I knew I was getting better in some ways—I could think clearly at last, and I could work for several hours a day. But I was still spending way too many daylight hours resting in bed, nauseated and half-blind from the headaches. I felt far from back to normal.

I didn’t have unrealistic expectations. But I needed to have hope that not every day would feel like a bad day. What would be good enough for me? I decided that if I could have just two good days a week—two days where my headaches were mild enough that I could skip pain relievers completely—I could be happy. I could live with five bad days a week, as long as I knew I could have two good ones.

But at the time, I honestly had no idea how many good days I was having. The days all blurred together into one long lousy week, one terrible month. So on January 1, 2010, I started keeping track. I taped a plain piece of white 8.5"-by-11" paper by my bedside and started a tally. Every night before I went to sleep, if I’d gone medication-free, I gave myself a check mark. My hope was that I would have a hundred check marks by the end of the year.

The next few weeks were hit or miss. The first week I had only one good day, but the next I had two. The third week I didn’t have any good days. But the fourth week I had three!

Just keeping score this way had a very interesting effect on me. Whenever I had a miserable migraine day, instead of slipping into depression and despair, I could look at the growing tally next to my bed and say, “Look at all those good days you’ve had. Statistically speaking, you are going to feel better tomorrow or at the very least the day after. This pain is not forever. Hang in there.” The tally turned into objective evidence that gave me hope for the future.

I also started craving a check mark at the end of the day. I wanted the feeling of pride and accomplishment I got when I added a new notch to the tally. When a migraine hit, instead of reaching for a pill right away, I would lie in the dark for an hour, in hopes that I could still earn a check mark for the day, waiting to see if the headache would pass on its own. And sometimes, to my great surprise, it did! It was a revelation to me. Sometimes the headaches got better on their own. If not for my extra motivation to bump up my score, I’m not sure I ever would have realized that sometimes my migraines actually went away without any pills.

Soon my score was no longer just an objective record of my behavior. It was motivating new, healthier, and more empowered behavior. I practiced the “power breath” (exhale twice as long as you inhale) as a first response to headaches, instead of medication. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. When it did, I felt powerful. But even when I decided I needed pain relievers after all, the result was still positive: I’d waited so long before taking any medicine that I often wound up taking a much lower dosage for the day. This triggered an upward spiral. Not only did I start earning more check marks, and counting more good days, but the medication actually started working better when I took it. (I had been decreasing my tolerance to it by taking it less often.)

This gave me more confidence that I was really getting better, and the newfound confidence led me to spend more time out in the world and less in bed. And so the upward spiral continued: the more I was out in the world, the less attention I paid to the migraines. (It turns out that being active and busy reduces pain perception!)2 Less pain perception meant I racked up more good days and a higher score. A higher score meant more confidence and therefore more daily activity. It was a virtuous cycle, all kicked off by the simple act of keeping a tally.

By the end of the year, I had 154 check marks—on average, three good days a week, not two. I set a much higher score than I thought possible. And my high score was reflected in the fact that I felt much more in control of my life.

And that’s when I stopped keeping score. I didn’t need an objective tally anymore to tell me I was getting better. I was confident that my health was strong enough that I could enjoy my life, do important work, and be there for my family.

Ideally, this is how keeping score should work for you, too. It’s not a habit you have to keep up forever. Keep score only until you internalize the sense of progress and accomplishment that you crave. Keep score until you know for sure that you’ve achieved real growth—just as I did.

Now that you’ve got a few basic ways to keep score under your belt, let’s talk about some more creative options.

One of the signature benefits of the SuperBetter method is developing a clearer sense of your personal strengths and capabilities. Hopefully, you already feel more in touch with your heroic qualities just by getting this far.

As you go forward, you may discover that friends and family are also able to see your strengths growing—in fact, they may be able to see it more clearly than you can! Particularly during times of extreme stress, you may need an outside perspective on what you’re doing right. (This is especially true if you have a tendency to be humble, or if you often experience self-doubt.) That’s why I suggest that you consider enlisting your allies in helping you track your heroic strengths.

I call it leveling up with allies, and here’s how it works.

First, remember the list of top five heroic strengths that you identified in Quest 36? Whatever’s on that list—whether it’s love of learning, spirituality, creativity, fairness, or zest for adventure—that’s what you’re going to try to level up. In video games, leveling up means increasing your character strengths point by point until you reach specific score milestones. These milestones typically come with new powers and opportunities.

Next, if you haven’t shared your strengths list with anyone yet, do that now—because you’re going to need someone to award you strengths points! Pick at least one trusted ally, and share your top five strengths with them.

From here on out, your scoring job is over. You only need to focus on using your strengths as much as possible in daily life. It’s your ally’s mission now to look for opportunities to award you strengths points.

Let me give you an example. When I was Jane the Concussion Slayer, my husband and I kept a notebook with a list of my top five strengths—including creativity, love of learning, and determination. At the end of each night, when we would check in about the day, he would pull out the notebook and give me points for my achievements, like this:

·                +5 creativity, for making a YouTube video explaining why you’re designing a game to heal from a concussion

·                +10 love of learning, for using your fifteen minutes of clearheaded thinking today to find a scientific paper about how to heal from postconcussion syndrome

·                +20 determination, for making it to the doctor’s appointment even though you felt dizzy

The actual points didn’t really matter so much; they could have been +500 or +.00001 for all I cared. What really helped was being seen as strong, instead of weak, by someone I cared about. And let’s face it, it feels good to be celebrated by others.

As Jess, thirty-one, a marketing director who played SuperBetter through several hospital stays and surgeries, put it:

Getting points from my allies totally boosted my feeling of accomplishment. I would get really frustrated and downtrodden over having eleven million doctors’ appointments every week. I felt like I was going nowhere. The points system helped me to see just how every appointment, every hour spent at work, even every load of laundry was an accomplishment for which I should be proud. I couldn’t view my own situation objectively. Having someone step in and say, “Man, that was really awesome, and I think you should win +10 Courage for that” gave me a better perspective on my achievements.

Make sure you pick an ally who will have lots of chances to spot you showing off your strengths—whether it’s because they live with you or see you every day or talk to you frequently.

Although you might feel a little embarrassed about asking someone to give you this kind of explicit positive feedback (and you wouldn’t be alone!), consider this: when we surveyed SuperBetter allies about which activities they most enjoyed doing for their heroes, they rated “Giving +1 achievements” as their second-favorite activity. (The top-rated activity was sending general messages of encouragement and support.) Remember, people who care about you are hungry for concrete things they can do to help and support you. By asking them to give you strengths points, you’re giving them the chance to do something that feels good and makes a difference. It’s win-win.

Now for practicalities. You can collect points from your allies verbally, by email, or by text message. If you’re sharing your SuperBetter journey publicly, you can collect them from readers or viewers in comments on your photos, videos, blog posts, or other social media. (Hope you’re not shy about people telling you how amazing you are in front of others!)

If you want to keep a formal score, you can choose to add up the points in a notebook or on a spreadsheet. Or you can simply treat each +1 as a high five and not bother with any math. (This is what nearly half of all players do.) If you do add the points up over time, give yourself a reward when you reach major milestones, like +50 curiosity or +100 courage.

Leveling up points does not have to be complex or even a particularly formal practice. Here’s what I suggest: Ask at least one ally to give you strengths points over the course of one or two weeks. After that, take a more informal approach. Plus-ones can become a shorthand you use to congratulate and encourage each other. Don’t feel limited to the twenty-four signature character strengths; you can recognize any positive quality you want. And feel free to give allies their own +1s, whenever they’re being strong for you or facing their own challenges! You’ll find that looking for strengths in others is a remarkably rewarding way to show them love or understand them even better.

There’s one more kind of score you may want to keep track of: your results on a measurement tool called an inventory.

An inventory is a survey that has been designed to measure a specific psychological trait or experience, such as optimism, anxiety, courage, depression, or life satisfaction. Inventories are typically subject to rigorous scientific testing, to ensure that they effectively measure what they claim to be measuring.

Throughout this book, you have taken informal versions of scientifically validated inventories to measure your own psychological strengths, such as your ability to adopt a challenge mindset in the face of stress (Chapter 5) and your willingness to take committed action toward your goals (Chapter 8). Similar inventories were used by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to determine the effects of playing SuperBetter. Through these inventories, the researchers determined that playing SuperBetter for six weeks significantly decreases depression and anxiety and significantly increases self-efficacy and life satisfaction.

As you tackle your challenges gamefully and build up your strengths, you may wish to have access to some of these same powerful measurement tools. Typically, the most rigorously tested inventories are not easily available outside scientific journals. However, to help you get access to these important resources, I’ve gathered up all the inventories that will be most potentially useful to you on your SuperBetter journey—and I’ve made them freely available at

Some of these inventories include:

·                The Optimism Test

·                The Meaning in Life Questionnaire

·                The Gratitude Survey

·                The Close Relationships Questionnaire

·                The Silver Linings Questionnaire

·                The Health-Related Quality of Life Questionnaire

·                The Reasons for Living Inventory

These five inventories were used by the UP and OSU researchers to study SuperBetter’s effects:

·                The Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale

·                The Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale

·                The New General Self-Efficacy Scale

·                The Satisfaction with Life Scale

·                The Measure of Perceived Social Support

You can decide for yourself which traits or experiences you want to track over time as you play. If you’re experiencing a particular problem, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD, the inventories that measure their specific symptoms can help you more objectively see if and how you’re improving. If you’re trying to increase character strengths, such as curiosity or grit, you’ll be able to demonstrate concrete growth by taking the relevant inventories periodically through your journey.

There is one special inventory that I encourage everyone to take: the Gameful Strengths Inventory, or GSI. It’s a custom inventory that I designed, with the assistance of science advisers at UC Berkeley and Stanford University, specifically to measure the benefits associated with adopting a gameful mindset: increased creativity, optimism, courage, hope, determination, social connection, and self-efficacy.

You’ve read about these gameful strengths throughout this book—and completed quests to develop them. They make you resilient in the face of any challenge and can help you unlock the benefits of post-ecstatic or post-traumatic growth.

If you want to check in on the development of your gameful strengths, this inventory can help. Take it periodically—once a month is plenty. You may want to take it whenever you achieve an epic win or choose a new challenge, to set a new baseline score. (You’ll find a downloadable and printable copy of the GSI at, and I encourage you to save a copy each time you complete it so you can look back at your specific score changes.)

Whenever you take the GSI, you’ll get a score that not only reveals changes in your mindset; it will also tell you exactly which gameful rules you will want to devote more time and attention to in the future, if you want to experience more benefits and growth.

Taking the GSI for the first time is your final quest for this part of the book. Ready? (And congratulations on getting this far!)


QUEST 45: How Gameful Are You?

What to do: Answer each question on a scale of 0–5 points. Give yourself 0 points for “No way!” (you completely disagree with the statement), 5 points for “Heck, yeah!” (you completely, wholeheartedly agree with it), and points in between if you agree a little bit, somewhat, or a lot.

1. I’m optimistic about my future.

2. I frequently look for new things to learn or new experiences to try.

3. Every challenge I face is an opportunity to learn or to grow.

4. I can think of at least one thing I could do in the next hour to feel happy, strong, or productive.

5. I do what matters most to me, even if it’s hard, painful, or scary.

6. I can do things in a new way. I’m not limited to the way things have always been done.

7. I have faith in my ability to accomplish whatever I set my heart to.

8. I feel grateful to many different people.

9. This week I was able to overcome an obstacle.

10. Setbacks don’t discourage me.

11. I feel a strong bond with other people who are going through the same challenge I face or who have already been through it.

12. When I face a problem, I can usually find a way to solve it.

13. I can think of at least one goal I would like to accomplish tomorrow.

14. If I’m not sure whether I can do something successfully, I feel motivated to try and find out.

15. I have something specific to look forward to.

16. If I don’t like how I feel, I can change it.

17. I often lose track of time, because I get so immersed in an activity I enjoy.

18. I enjoy coming up with new, creative strategies.

19. I can think of at least one other person who really wants me to succeed.

20. I have the courage to face life and whatever challenges and complications it brings.

Scoring: Add up your points for a gameful score that should fall somewhere between 0 and 100. Keep reading to find out what your score means!

Your Gameful Strengths Inventory score is a way for you to compare how your mindset is changing from time to time. There’s no score that means “gameful enough” or “not gameful enough.” Instead of focusing on the specific number, focus on whether your number goes up or down over time—and keep trying to set a new high score.

If your score goes up, it means you’re able to draw on your natural, gameful strengths more effectively than in the past. You should feel a sense of confidence in your growing gameful abilities, and satisfaction that you’ve successfully cultivated such powerful ways of thinking.

If your score goes down, it means your gameful strengths may need a bit of bolstering or just reawakening. If so, there are two things you can do to reengage a gameful mindset.

First, make it a point to spend more time in the next few weeks playing games. This is the fastest and surest way to boost your gameful strengths—just play. It sounds obvious, but it is a too-often-overlooked strategy. Why? Because we’re culturally biased to think about games as “time wasters” instead of “strength builders.” Basketball, sudoku, Super MarioSettlers of Catan, crossword puzzles, The Sims, hide-and-seek, bridge—really, any game at all will do. If you normally spend no time at all playing games, spend thirty minutes this week playing. If you normally spend ten hours a week playing games, play with a bit more purpose this week: play something that is particularly challenging, and if possible, spend more time on multiplayer games.

If you want to be even more strategic about upping your score, you have a second option. Identify the questions that you have the lowest scores for, or any questions that you scored lower on this time than the last time you took the inventory. Then use this information as a reminder to practice the gameful rules that will help you exactly where you need it most. Here’s how:

If you have a lower score for question 3 or 12: Your challenge mindset needs strengthening. Revisit the quests and advice in Chapter 5.

If you have a lower score for question 4, 16, or 17: Focus on collecting and activating new power-ups over the next week (Chapter 6).

If you have a lower score for question 6, 9, 10, 12, or 18: Take a look at your list of bad guys, and spend time this week coming up with and testing as many new strategies and battle plans as you can (Chapter 7).

If you have a lower score for question 2, 5, or 13: Focus on completing quests this week (Chapter 8)—as many as you can!

If you have a lower score for question 8, 11, or 19: Make an effort this week to connect with at least one ally or to recruit a new one (Chapter 9).

If you have a lower score for question 7 or 20: It’s a good time to pay extra attention to your secret identity (Chapter 10). Try using your strengths in a new way this week, or telling a new heroic story about yourself.

If you have a lower score for question 1, 14, or 15: Spend some time thinking about your epic win this week (Chapter 11). If the win you’re aiming for doesn’t feel realistic anymore, come up with a new one. Or if it just doesn’t inspire and energize you right now, replace it with one that does.

Finally, just for fun and a bit of extra motivation, I want to leave you with a few mini-games—timed ways of keeping score, competitively and cooperatively, with friends, family, and other SuperBetter allies.

When I was designing interactive experiences for the Nike Digital Sport team, mini-games were a core component of our motivational strategy. How could we keep competitive athletes inspired during training, week after week, season after season? How could we inspire someone with an already hectic schedule to squeeze in an extra thirty minutes of life-changing physical activity in the evening, so they were more likely to achieve their health and fitness goals? Personal records helped a great deal, but of all the strategies we tested, mini-games sparked the biggest surge in activity and effort. There’s just something about making a challenge social that brings out the best in us.

To help you get a surge in your gameful efforts when you need it most, I’ve created seven social mini-games you can try. Whether you play them competitively or cooperatively, they’ll not only give you a motivational lift—they’ll also help you discover new ways to get stronger, even after you’re already a total pro at getting superbetter.


If you have a competitive spirit, you might find it fun to compare your gameful efforts against one or more friends. Here are a few ways to bring on the competition.

First Power-up of the Day

Whoever power-ups first, wins. Send a message by text, email, or social media to claim your victory. (Include a photo of the power-up as proof!) This mini-game is more fun when you go for best of three days, best of five days, or even best of thirty days! You decide if staying up until 12:01 a.m. counts, or if you want the competition to start at sunrise.

The Quest Race

Whoever completes a list of quests first, wins. Here’s how it works: Each player must contribute one quest to the race. If there are four players, you’ll be racing to complete four quests total. Before the start, all players must agree that all quests are reasonable; it’s no fair creating a quest to run 10 miles or donate $100 to charity if you are the only person in the group who can realistically do that! Once you have your quest list, it’s ready, set—go! The first person to successfully complete all the quests wins. Photo and video proof is encouraged. This mini-game gets more fun the more players you invite to compete.

Battle Report

Pick a common bad guy that you share. This week you’ll all pay special attention to battling this bad guy. Come up with as many different strategies as you can. Creativity counts! At the end of the week, compare your lists of strategies. Each player gets one point for every strategy he or she comes up with that isn’t on anyone else’s list! The player with the most points wins. Bonus: At the end of the week, you’ll all have a heap of strategies to try against one of your most annoying bad guys!

SuperBetter Survivor

You can try this challenge by yourself, but it’s more fun with a friend or two. Here’s how it works: On day one, you activate at least one power-up. On day two, you activate two different power-ups. On day three, three different power-ups . . . and so on, increasing your goal by one more every day. If you don’t hit your daily goal, you’re out of the challenge. The last survivor standing wins!

Tip: With any of these competitions, you’ll want to challenge someone who is already playing SuperBetter, whether it’s someone you know in daily life or someone you meet online. You might also consider challenging an ally or two, even if they’re not trying to get SuperBetter themselves. After a day of activating power-ups and completing quests with you, who knows? They might be inspired to choose their own challenge—and go for their own epic win!


Perhaps you’d rather join forces than compete. If so, you can keep a multiplayer score that emphasizes teamwork. Here are a few cooperative high scores you can try to achieve.

The Dirty Dozen Mission

Together, you must successfully battle a total of at least twelve different bad guys this week. (You might battle five and your partner seven; or if there are three of you, you could battle four bad guys each. You get the idea.) Let each other know every time you log a successful battle. If you reach a dozen before the week runs out, mission accomplished!

The Power 100 Mission

Together, your team must try to activate one hundred different power-ups. Set a target time: If there are two of you, it might take you thirty days. If there are ten of you, you can try to do it in a week. Try to hit one hundred before time runs out—and keep a shared list of power-ups to make sure you don’t count the same power-up twice! Bonus: At the end of this mini-game, you’ll have a custom list of one hundred power-ups that you can use in the future—and share with others, if you choose!

Team Streak

How many days in a row can your team of two or more get your daily dose of SuperBetter? (That’s at least three power-ups, one bad guy battle, and one quest a day.) The more people you team up with, the harder it is to keep a streak going—but the more people you’ll have cheering you on and encouraging you to win the day! You can turn this into a team-based competition, too: each team tries to outlast all the others by keeping their streak alive the longest.

As you can see, you have myriad ways to set a new high score. But if there’s anything more satisfying than setting a new high score, it’s this: keeping the game going.

The philosopher and religious studies professor James Carse once wrote that there are two kinds of games: finite and infinite.3 A finite game is played for the purpose of finding out who wins. An infinite game is played for the purpose of keeping the play going as long as possible.

Chess, soccer, League of Legends matches, mah-jongg, political elections—these are all finite games. They drive inexorably to someone’s victory and therefore an end to the game.

SuperBetter, on the other hand, is an infinite game. The better you play it, the longer you have to play.

Every time you complete a quest, battle a bad guy, or activate a power-up, you’re increasing your resilience—and therefore increasing your statistical life expectancy. I call this bonus life, and it’s inspired by the experience of earning extra lives in a video game.

If you’ve ever played a classic video game, you know how this works. Players start with a predetermined number of lives, or chances to win the game. Run out of lives, and it’s game over. But achieve smaller goals and play consistently, and you can extend the duration of your game. Get ten thousand points in Pac-Man, and you earn an extra life. Collect one hundred gold coins in Super Mario, and they’re worth an extra life. Many modern games have adapted this mechanism in new ways. For example, if you ask your friends for help in Candy Crush Saga, you can earn countless extra lives.

Earning more time to play and pursue your goals in real life isn’t quite as exact a science as earning it in video games. But as a metaphor, it can give you incredibly valuable insight into what you can do today to give yourself the best chance for a long and happy life.

There are lots of ways to track your progress and add up your bonus life, thanks to the growing field of resilience research. Scientists is this field use the same methods and longevity models as actuaries, the professionals who depend on complex mathematical and statistical methods to calculate risks and policy prices for life insurance companies. However, in the case of resilience research, the scientists are looking for the daily habits that extend life rather than shorten it. I’ve reviewed hundreds of scientific papers on the relationship between the four types of resilience—physical, mental, emotional, and social—and longevity, and here’s what I’ve learned:

·                Every minute of leisure time physical activity that you do, whether it’s walking around the block, doing push-ups, or dancing around your living room, adds seven minutes to your life expectancy, according to a study of more than 650,000 people.4 This means you can add seven minutes to your life right this second just by powering up your physical resilience for a single minute. (So consider standing up while you read the next page in this book!)

·                Spending more time with your friends and family increases your life expectancy as much as quitting smoking, losing weight, lowering your cholesterol, or decreasing your blood pressure, according to a study of just under 17,000 individuals.5 That means increasing the amount of positive daily social interaction you get is worth up to three bonus hours of life every day you give and receive social support. (So consider sending a positive message to one of your allies right this second!)

·                Optimism and self-efficacy, which you build up every time you achieve an epic win or complete a quest, are not only associated with longer life—they also predict how much you’ll thrive, and how long you can ward off cognitive decline as you age. Based on the increased self-efficacy documented among SuperBetter players by the University of Pennsylvania researchers, this means if you spend the next six weeks working toward an epic win, you are potentially gaining five days of a happy and healthy life. (So take ten seconds right now to visualize your next epic win!)

·                Even if you never increase your physical or social resilience, seeking out more positive emotions every day alone can add a full decade to your life. One major study collected seventy-five years’ worth of data and found that women who felt a wider range of positive emotions (from gratitude to amusement to hope to pride) in their twenties and thirties went on to live 10.7 years longer. (The different emotions felt were tracked in journals the women kept throughout early adulthood.)6 Numerous other studies have confirmed this benefit: every positive emotion you feel, even if it lasts only a fleeting moment, is associated with a longer life.7 (So treat yourself to a quick power-up tonight, no matter how tired or busy you are.)

Remember, when it comes to bonus life, we’re talking about statistical probabilities based on data gathered from tracking hundreds of thousands of people over decades in more than a thousand peer-reviewed scientific studies. That’s a lot of evidence, but it’s not a guarantee. So please don’t take any of the time bonuses too literally! Bonus life is a playful framework for thinking about how the small choices you make today add up to big changes over the course of your life. You can be confident that every time you complete another quest in this book—and every time you follow one of the seven SuperBetter rules in your life—you are heading in the right direction, to a happier, healthier, longer, and more accomplished life. How much longer? When you add up the benefits of all four types of resilience, the research suggests you can live up to ten years longer.

A full decade of bonus life. Just imagine the dreams you can chase, and the happiness you can create, with ten extra years.

Whether being gameful ultimately gives you an extra year or an extra decade of bonus life, it’s going to start changing your life immediately. Your extra resilience will increase your creativity, your courage, your curiosity, and your determination right now. You will have the strengths you need to experiment and challenge yourself more, to set higher goals for yourself, and to make more time for your family and all the things that matter most to you.

That’s where spending your bonus life comes in. To benefit the most from your extra life, you can’t treat it as a bonus you’ll cash out when you’re ninety-nine years old. You have to spend it today. If you wait years or decades to spend your bonus minutes, hours, or days, you’ll have lost the opportunity to spend them when they can change the entire rest of your life for the better. We started this book talking about the most common regrets that people have on their deathbeds. Living gamefully means spending your bonus life long before you have the chance to develop any regrets.

This is why my very last recommendation to you is this: Do a few gameful calculations, and figure out just how much bonus life you’ve earned recently. It doesn’t have to be exact. If you spent an hour playing SuperBetter, give yourself seven minutes. If you spent a week, give yourself three hours. If it’s been six weeks and you’ve achieved an epic win, give yourself five days. Then mark this amount of time somewhere on your calendar, and plan to spend it on something that will fuel your dreams.

Spend seven minutes doing something for a loved one. Devote three hours to learning something new. Plan a five-day dream vacation or stay-cation (stay-at-home vacation); sign up for a five-day fitness boot camp; or set aside five Saturdays to work on a memoir or novel.

Use this playful method of tracking as a way to give yourself permission to do what matters most, today. The biggest benefit of getting stronger, happier, and braver is finding the courage and means to live a life truer to your dreams right now—no matter what obstacles you face along the way.

If you spend your bonus life right away, you will recognize the signs of post-ecstatic and post-traumatic growth in your own life—the five potential positive changes that allow you to lead a life free of regret.

1. Stronger: You have a newfound sense of personal strength and resilience.

2. Closer: You enjoy more intimate relationships with loved ones, and more compassion for others.

3. Clearer: You’ve changed or strengthened your priorities about what is important in life. You have a willingness to spend more time on the things that matter most.

4. Braver: You feel empowered to pursue new dreams, change your life plan, and take advantage of new opportunities.

5. Greater: You have a stronger sense of purpose, a changed philosophy of life, renewed spirituality, or deeper wisdom.

Pay special attention to each of these areas of potential growth. Some of the changes may happen quickly; others may unfold more slowly over time. Periodically ask yourself, Have I changed in any of these ways since facing my challenge? Do I feel stronger, closer, clearer, braver, or greater?

When I look back at my own SuperBetter journey as Jane the Concussion Slayer, I do see growth in myself in all five areas. I know I’m stronger because after facing and recovering from suicidal thoughts, I have not had a single day of even mild depression since. I believe something has permanently shifted in how I process failure, disappointment, and adversity. (And I better understand now how play can help me change my brain chemistry when I need it most.) I’m closer, because I not only feel gratitude to the friends and family who helped me through my darkest hour; I also have a level of deep empathy I’d never felt before, a personal connection with, and a desire to help, all others who have experienced their own difficult concussion or traumatic brain injury. I know I’m clearer because I now say no when people ask me to spend time and energy on things that don’t fit my life priorities. In fact, I am the queen of saying no, whereas before my injury, I found it nearly impossible. I’m braver, because surviving my recovery gave me confidence in my resilience. It helped me find the courage to do life-changing things that seemed too scary or overwhelming before—like fighting my infertility to start a family with my husband and finally becoming a mom. And I know that I’m greater now because I have a new and more meaningful purpose in my work, which is to help others experience the same kind of transformative growth.

If you are living by the seven gameful rules, you too are getting stronger, closer, clearer, braver, and greater.

You have improved your ability to control your attention and therefore your thoughts and feelings. You have developed the power to turn anyone into a potential ally and to strengthen your existing relationships. You have tapped into your natural capacity to motivate yourself and supercharge your heroic qualities, like willpower, compassion, and determination.

You know now how to play with purpose, so you can bring your gameful strengths to real-life obstacles. You have gotten better at challenge and adversity, so you can get better through challenge and adversity.

You have without a doubt proven that you are stronger than you knew. You are surrounded by allies. And you are definitely the hero of your own story.

Just remember:

1. Challenge yourself.

2. Collect and activate power-ups.

3. Find and battle the bad guys.

4. Seek out and complete quests.

5. Recruit your allies.

6. Adopt a secret identity.

7. Go for an epic win.

Skills Unlocked: How (and Why) to Keep Score

·                Keeping your own score is the best way to really internalize the seven gameful rules—and get a deeper understanding of your own play.

·                Try to win the day. You win every time you get your daily dose of SuperBetter: three power-ups, one bad guy battle, and one quest.

·                Go for personal records—for example, the most power-ups you can activate in a single hour.

·                Keep a tally of behavior you’re trying to increase, and set a target goal for how many times you’ll do it.

·                Level up your heroic strengths by inviting allies to award you points and achievements whenever you use your signature strengths.

·                Take inventory of your growing strengths and other psychological changes, by completing the surveys at Be sure to take the Gameful Strengths Inventory (GSI) once a month to track your increasing skills and abilities.

·                Earn a multiplayer score with competitive or cooperative mini-games. Tap the motivational power of social play, and find new creative ways to get SuperBetter.

·                Earn bonus timeup to three and a half hours a day—by practicing habits that increase your emotional, physical, social, and mental resilience. More important, spend your bonus time as soon as you earn it, on your top priorities and most urgent dreams.

·                Track your post-ecstatic and post-traumatic growth by looking for five major benefits: you are becoming a stronger, closer, clearer, braver, and greater person because of the challenges you’ve tackled and the obstacles you’ve faced.