SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient - Powered by the Science of Games - Jane McGonigal (2015)
Part 3. Adventures
It’s time to put it all together—with three adventures that can help you practice all your new gameful strengths.
An adventure is a set of power-ups, bad guys, and quests designed to help you tackle a particular challenge. The adventures in this section will help you strengthen your most important relationships, energize your body, and discover a secret wealth of time each day to spend on the things that matter most.
I’ve created these adventures for you based on my own areas of expertise, developed through collaborations with the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, the American Heart Association, Nike, the Institute for the Future, the Ardmore Institute of Health, and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.
After you take an adventure or two, you’ll be ready to create your own. It’s easier than you think! Whatever you’re an expert in—or want to become an expert in—can be the basis for an adventure.
SuperBetter players around the world have drawn on their personal experiences and life wisdom to design all kinds of adventures: how to survive the college admissions process, explore different religions, beat insomnia, become a part-time vegetarian, and write your first book, to name just a few.
All you have to do is collect the habits and skills that are important for success—those are your power-ups. Then list the obstacles that might get in someone’s way—those are the bad guys. Finally, come up with one or two weeks’ worth of tiny goals, or daily quests, that will help your players practice getting better at whatever your adventure is about.
It’s especially fun to combine forces and design an adventure with a group. For example, you can collect power-ups, quests, and bad guys at your office, for a custom company adventure. That’s what Zappos, the online apparel retailer, did when more than one hundred of its employees decided to get superbetter together. Teachers have created SuperBetter adventures with their students, navy officers with their direct reports, coaches with their athletes, resident assistants with their college dormitory residents, therapists with their patients, volunteer organizations with their members, ministers with their congregations, neighborhood associations with their neighbors, and even family members before a family reunion.
If you belong to a group, consider creating an adventure together. It can be a truly amazing way to collect the wisdom of your community and to empower and encourage each other.
To show you how it works, here are three adventures I’ve created:
Adventure 1: Love Connection
(Time to complete: 10 quests/10 days)
Researchers can predict how much love you’ll have in your life based on how you do five simple things. Learn what they are, and you’ll master the secrets to happy relationships at work, at home, and in love.
On this adventure, you’ll collect five new power-ups: celebrate like a true ally, deliver a super-powerful thank you, investigate something exciting, flip a lonely thought, and take a “hands over heart” moment. You’ll also learn how to battle these five bad guys: passive congrats, the “it’s too late to thank them now” monster, forgettable small talk, lonely thoughts, and the bully inside.
Adventure 2: Ninja Body Transformation
(Time to complete: 21 quests/21 days)
Sneak up on change like a ninja! This adventure helps you energize, get fit, lose weight, increase your physical strength, and feel healthier—without dieting or stepping on a scale.
On this adventure, you’ll collect ten new power-ups: eat a power food; listen to your power song; practice your power move; connect with the water element, sui; the earth element, chi; the wind element, fu-; the fire element, ka; and the sky element, ku-; practice uzura-gakure, the art of staying still as a stone; and practice tanuki-gakure, or “tree camoflauge.” You’ll also learn how to battle five sneaky bad guys: weighing yourself, counting calories, feeling guilty about what you eat, mentally checking out from your body, and ignoring your ninja powers.
Adventure 3: Time Rich
(Time to complete: 10 quests/10 days)
Want to feel like you have all the time in the world to do the things you love most? That you have more than twenty-four hours in each day? This adventure is for you.
On this adventure, you’ll collect six new power-ups: provoke awe, give someone ten minutes of your time, breathe, give yourself a power boost, and make a free and spontaneous choice. You’ll also learn how to battle three tricky bad guys: time poverty, social jetlag, and mindless, stressful commuting.
Iinvite you to complete one, two, or all three, in any order. Taken together, these three adventures contain just enough quests for you to keep playing SuperBetter for six weeks. That’s an important number, because six weeks is exactly how long participants followed the SuperBetter rules in our clinical trial and our randomized controlled study. In those studies, playing SuperBetter for six weeks resulted in significantly better mood, stronger social support, more optimism, less depression and anxiety, and higher self-confidence. If you complete all three of these adventures—by tackling just one quest a day—you’ll have achieved a full, life-changing dose of the game.
ADVENTURE 1. Love Connection
Take this adventure if . . .
· You want more love in your life.
· You’d like to be more confident in social situations.
· You want to strengthen your closest relationships.
· You sometimes feel lonely, and you want to change that.
· You have a big heart, and you want to put it to good use!
This adventure includes:
· 10 quests
· 5 power-ups
· 5 bad guys
How to play:
· Complete one quest a day, until you finish all 10 quests.
LOVE CONNECTION QUEST 1: Love the Good Stuff
You’re on an adventure to increase the love in your life. So let’s start with what scientists have identified as the number-one secret to building strong relationships.
It’s called active constructive responding, or ACR for short. It strengthens all kinds of relationships—not just romantic but also work and family relationships, as well as friendships. Although most people have never heard of this skill, the scientific research behind it is so strong, it’s taught as the number-one most important relationship-building skill everywhere from the U.S. Army (as part of the Master Resilience course created by University of Pennsylvania psychologists) to the halls of the matchmaking site eHarmony .com (where senior research scientists contributed to peer-reviewed studies on the phenomenon).1
So what exactly is ACR? It involves celebrating someone else’s success or good news with genuine enthusiasm and interest. Instead of offering a passive “congratulations” or “way to go” (or worse, actively sabotaging their celebration with a negative reaction!), you actively engage them in a positive conversation about the good news.
Here’s how you do it:
1. Show enthusiasm. This is not the time to be distracted or seem disinterested. Stop what you’re doing and give the person your full attention. Don’t change the subject. Don’t talk about yourself. Don’t undermine their excitement. Try to match their enthusiasm with your own.
2. Ask questions. Draw them out about the news. “Tell me more!” “When will that happen?” “How long have you been waiting to find out?” “What will you do to celebrate?” It doesn’t matter what you ask. What’s important is giving them a chance to keep talking about it so they can relish the moment.
3. Congratulate them and express your happiness for them. It’s a small thing, but be sure to tell them directly that you share their happiness. “I’m so pleased for you.” “I’m so happy for you.” “You deserve this.” “I’m so proud of you.” “This is truly the best news I’ve heard all week.”
4. Relive the experience with them. Keep the conversation going. Success is something to be savored. Ask them to tell you about it in detail. If they’ve received good news, for example, you could ask them questions like “Where were you when you found out?” “What did you say when you heard the news?” “Who did you tell first?” “How did you feel when you found out?” Or if they’re celebrating a success, simply ask them to tell you more about the most important moments. “What were you thinking when you crossed the finish line?” “How did your family react to the news?” Questions like these will put them right back in the happy moment and help them really savor it.
It sounds simple enough, but studies show that nothing contributes more to the long-term strength and success of relationships than whether its participants do ACR. Couples who do it stay married longer. (And new couples who do it fall in love faster.) Coworkers who do it are happier and more collaborative at work. Family members who do it report feeling closer to each other and experience less anxiety and depression. People who develop this skill and practice it regularly have more and stronger friendships.2
Now you know the secret. If you want more love in your life, celebrate others’ good news with the enthusiasm and excitement of a true ally.
LOVE CONNECTION QUEST 2: Savor a Moment
Your quest for today is to try out the new skill you learned yesterday: active constructive responding (ACR).
Ideally, the opportunity to try ACR will arise naturally today. But if no one comes to you, dying to share their good news, go ahead and create an ACR opportunity for yourself. Here’s how:
What to do: Ask someone to tell you about one of their favorite memories. If you’re eating together, ask them to tell you about the best meal they’ve ever had. If you’re taking a walk together, ask them to tell you about the prettiest place they’ve ever been. If you’re in a class together, ask them what they think the best class they’ve ever taken was. If there’s no obvious natural topic for sharing memories, you can even say, “Just for fun, I’ve been asking people about their favorite memories. Do you mind if I ask you a question?” And then ask them about any kind of memory you want!
Once they’ve started talking, actively celebrate their memory with them, like a true ally. Remember to use all four ACR techniques: (1) show enthusiasm, (2) ask questions, (3) offer your congratulations and express your happiness for them, and (4) relive the experience with them.
Tip: When you’re helping someone savor a favorite memory, steps 1, 2, and 4 should be very easy to do. But a memory may not necessarily be congratulations worthy, so for step 3, you can simply say something like: “That sounds like such an amazing experience.” “You must be so thrilled that you had the chance to do that.” “That memory must bring you a lot of happiness.”
Bonus mission: Your conversation partner may return the favor and ask you about your favorite memory. If they do, pay attention to how they respond to your story. Do they actively and constructively respond to you? If so, notice how much fun you have savoring the memory, and how good it feels to have so much interest shown in your story. Or if they respond passively, take notice of the difference in the energy and warmth of the conversation. Whenever you don’t quite get the same generous and active response you’re looking for, it’s a great reminder to be sure to give it to others every chance you get.
LOVE CONNECTION QUEST 3: Love the Gratitude
Scientists have known for a long time that practicing gratitude makes people happier and healthier. It reduces stress, improves sleep, and even boosts immune function.3 But they have only recently discovered that one form of gratitude is especially powerful—not just feeling grateful (or counting your blessings) but actively expressing gratitude to others.
Every time you express gratitude to others, it amplifies the positive emotion you feel. And it not only feels good in the moment: a powerful thank-you changes the way you see the world for the next twenty-four hours—making you more likely to see the good in anyone else you encounter, and increasing your optimism, hope, and compassion.4
A powerful thank-you also inspires and changes the person who receives your gratitude. Research shows that when you recognize the good in someone else, they become just a little more likely to do good again. That means that every time you thank someone, you make them just a little bit more of the best version of themselves.5
But not every thank-you delivers these powerful benefits! Sending someone a one-word “thanks!” by text message might boost your social connection a little bit, but if you really want to do good with your gratitude, you need to learn a special kind of thank-you.
The three-part “superpowerful thank-you” was created by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a psychology professor at Stanford University, and an expert in the science of gratitude (as well as my twin sister and my first SuperBetter ally).6 Here’s how to do it:
1. Find the benefit. What good came to you because of this person? Be specific!
2. Acknowledge the effort. What might have been hard for them?
3. Spot the strength. What good do you see in the person you’re thanking?
(And always start and end with “thank you.”)
Here’s what it looks like in action:
“Thank you for sending me those suggestions for new workout songs. They helped me get motivated today when I thought I was too exhausted to exercise.” (That’s the benefit.)
“You have so much to think about! It’s really sweet of you to remember that I’ve been trying to work out more when you have so much else on your mind.” (That’s the effort.)
“You’re so good at cheering everyone else on and helping us achieve our goals. You really make it seem as if you care as much about our success as you do your own.” (That’s the strength.)
And another example:
“Thank you for keeping our secret (about being pregnant!). It meant so much to us to be able to tell the rest of the family in person. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces.” (That’s the benefit.)
“I know it’s not easy to keep such a big secret.” (That’s the effort.)
“I really respect how much honor and integrity you showed by keeping your promise.” (That’s the strength.)
Do you think you have the hang of it? To lock it in, and complete this quest, repeat this out loud five times right now: Find the benefit, acknowledge the effort, spot the strength.
That’s all it takes to give a life-changing thank-you.
LOVE CONNECTION QUEST 4: Unleash Your First Superpowerful Thank-You
Now that you know how to deliver a superpowerful thank-you, it’s time to put those skills to good use. Pick someone—anyone—and thank them today.
Make sure you follow the three steps: (1) find the benefit, (2) acknowledge the effort, and (3) spot the strength!
Tip: Most people find it easier to practice this skill in writing first—so you have time to really think about what you want to say. As an added bonus, if it’s in writing, the recipient of your superpowerful thank-you will be able to reread it and really savor it!
LOVE CONNECTION QUEST 5: Love What’s Exciting
Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener is the world’s leading practitioner of strengths coaching, a form of counseling that helps people recognize and utilize their own positive strengths. Although he often uses formal surveys, or inventories, with clients (like the ones you encountered in Chapter 12), he also recommends a more unusual method for spotting someone’s signature strengths. It’s called conversational strengths-spotting.7 Here’s how it works:
The next time you’re catching up with someone, or when you’re chatting with someone you don’t know very well yet, ask them about something exciting. Like this:
· “So, what are you really excited about these days?”
· “What are you most looking forward to doing in the next few weeks?”
· “What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done lately?”
Your goal, in listening to their response, is to identify a positive strength in their reply. For example, if the person mentions a new class they’re taking, it shows off their curiosity. If they talk about seeing a grandchild, it shows the ability to love and be loved. If they’re really excited about an upcoming sports game or a new movie, that’s actually a sign of zest, enthusiasm, and energy. Whatever it is they’re excited about or looking forward to, draw them out on the topic with follow-up questions until you can successfully identify at least one signature strength in their reply. (“Tell me more about that” or “What about it are you looking forward to?” do the trick just fine.)
Identifying a strength in someone else is always a win, because it means you’re getting to know them better. But you’ll make an even stronger connection if you reflect the strength back to them. It’s easier than you might think. All it takes is a simple comment like “You really do have a lot of courage” or “I’ve always admired your love of learning” or “You have a greater appreciation of beauty than anyone else I know” or “Your enthusiasm is really contagious!” Don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally at first. Like all new habits, it may take a few tries to feel comfortable.
The fastest way to see how this technique works is to try it on yourself. How would you answer any of these strengths-spotting questions? Try it now, and look for the strength in your own reply.
LOVE CONNECTION QUEST 6: Practice Your Strengths-Spotting Questions
It’s time to take your new strengths-spotting skill for a test drive.
What to do: Pick someone you’ll see in the next twenty-four hours, and plan to strike up a quick conversation around one of these topics: “So, what are you really excited about these days?” or “What are you most looking forward to doing in the next few weeks?” or “What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done lately?” Then carry out your plan.
This quest is complete when you’ve identified and reflected back at least one signature strength!
Tip: This skill works best face to face, so don’t try to pull it off over text message!
LOVE CONNECTION QUEST 7: Love Against Loneliness
Loneliness is one of the most common negative emotions in the world. Research shows that as many as 80 percent of people under eighteen, and 40 percent of adults over sixty-five, report being lonely at least sometimes. And for adults in their middle years, loneliness is as common as one in four.8
Loneliness is not the same as simply being alone. Many people can be relatively isolated from others and still be quite happy. Paradoxically, others can be surrounded by people constantly, yet still feel lonely. The true measure of loneliness is a sense of distress and dissatisfaction with the quality of your relationships. When you feel lonely, it means you are looking for a deeper, more satisfying connection with others.9
So what’s the cure for loneliness? Recently, scientists analyzed the results from forty years’ worth of loneliness research. They looked at more than fifty different studies of different methods to reduce the negative emotion, and the results were quite surprising. The three techniques that psychologists most commonly suggested for reducing loneliness—increasing opportunities for social interaction, improving communication skills, and seeking counseling or joining support groups—were helpful, but not that helpful. The one truly helpful intervention was this: Change your own negative expectations.10
It turns out that when people feel lonely, they typically exhibit negative thought patterns. They’re extrasensitive to potential negative feedback or criticism from others. They tend to focus on what went wrong instead of what went right. This leaves them feeling dissatisfied with, or hurt by, their social interactions. No matter what happened, they find a way to feel bad about it.
This kind of negative thinking creates a vicious cycle. It makes a lonely person less likely to participate or reach out to others. And when they do interact with others, they expect the worst—which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, fueled by their sensitivity to negative social information, like criticism or disagreement.
If you want to feel less lonely, the best thing you can do is flip your lonely thoughts. Instead of taking them at face value, challenge them. Ask yourself, How do I know that’s true? Can I find any evidence to the contrary? Is there any way to positively reframe this experience? Remember those cognitive reappraisal techniques you learned in Chapter 5 (the challenge mindset) and Chapter 7 (battling the bad guys)—those are exactly the skills you’re using when you flip a lonely thought!
According to research, changing your negative thoughts is four times as effective as any other method for curing loneliness. You’ll have a chance to practice this skill in the next quest. For now, take a minute to consider whether you have a tendency to focus on the negative with others. See if you can identify a lonely thought that frequently pops into your mind—like “I don’t fit in”; “I always embarrass myself when I try to be funny”; “I never have anything interesting to say”; or “They were probably looking down on me.” Give it a moment’s thought, and then congratulate yourself—this quest is a lot to wrap your mind around!
LOVE CONNECTION QUEST 8: Flip Three Lonely Thoughts
Now that you know how important it is to flip your lonely thoughts, let’s practice. Here are three negative thoughts that you might have after a social encounter. What could you think or say to yourself to counteract each one? (Remember your strategies for flipping a lonely thought: challenge your assumptions, look for disconfirming evidence, and reframe your perceptions!)
1. “I didn’t have anything in common with the people I met tonight.”
2. “No one was interested in what I had to say.”
3. “Everyone was having such a good time except for me.”
See what you can come up with on your own—then skip to the footnote on page 362 for a few more suggestions.*
Tip: Even if you’ve never had one of these thoughts, practice flipping them now—it’s a skill that will serve you well if you ever suffer a lonely thought in the future.
* Here are some ways you might flip those lonely thoughts: 1. “That’s not true. We must have something in common, even if it’s just that we all know [X] or we’re all interested in [Y] or we all live nearby.” Or: “Well, I did meet that one guy who knew a lot about [Z], which I’d like to know more about.” Or: “Maybe that just makes me a more interesting person to have around, since I’m so unique in this group.” 2. “I can’t really know that for sure. Nobody walked away when we were talking, so for all I know they were interested!” Or: “Maybe I didn’t seem interested in what they had to say. I could ask more questions next time.” Or: “Perhaps they didn’t seem interested in what I had to say because it was really important to them to say what was on their minds tonight. I was a good listener, so that’s something.” 3. “It might have looked that way to me, but I’m probably not the only one who was having a bad day. I just didn’t notice who else was feeling out of it.” Or “Well, to be fair, even though it wasn’t a great night overall, I did enjoy myself when . . .”
LOVE CONNECTION QUEST 9: Love Yourself
“Self-compassion means treating yourself with the same type of kind, caring support and understanding that you would show to anyone you cared about.” So says Dr. Kristin Neff, one of the world’s leading experts on the subject. And according to her research, self-kindness is just as important as the love you show others. Not only does it lead to less depression, more optimism, greater happiness, and more life satisfaction, it also makes people kinder, more giving, and more supportive of their relationship partners. In other words, love yourself, and you will better love others.11
So what does it take to develop self-compassion? There are three steps.
1. Notice when you’re suffering. Are you stressed? Are you in pain? Are you disappointed? Don’t brush it off. Take a moment and acknowledge it.
2. Let yourself feel a desire to ease that suffering, just as you would try to ease the suffering of any friend or loved one. If this is hard for you—if your tendency is to be harsh with yourself or self-critical—imagine a beloved friend, family member, or even a cherished pet experiencing the same distress. How would you treat them?
3. Recognize that you’re not alone in your suffering. It’s part of the shared human experience that connects you to others.
It’s not always easy to be kind to yourself when you’re under extreme stress, or in pain, or failing to meet your own expectations. So what should you do?
What to do: Researchers have investigated many different ways people can tap into self-compassion, quickly, when they need it most. Here’s the technique that experts recommend as one of the fastest and easiest ways to show yourself kindness:
“Place both hands on your heart as a reminder to be kind to yourself. Feel the warmth of your hands, and take three deep, relaxing breaths.”12
It’s called taking a hands over heart moment. To complete this quest, try it now for at least fifteen seconds. Do it again throughout the rest of today, whenever you need to give yourself a moment of kindness.
LOVE CONNECTION QUEST 10: Say What You Need to Hear
You can double the power of the “hands over heart” moment if you add just one more thing.
When your hands are in position, ask yourself: What do I need to hear right now to express kindness to myself? See what phrase pops into your mind as the answer to this question. Let this be your self-kindness mantra for the day.
Here are some ideas:
· I accept myself as I am.
· I am strong today.
· I forgive myself.
· Whatever happens, I will be okay.
· I did everything I could today.
· Just for today, I don’t need to change or fix anything.
Congratulations! You’ve completed all ten Love Connection quests.
So what’s next? By taking this adventure, you’ve learned five powerful new skills (see the list below.) Activate these power-ups anytime you want to increase the love in your life. You’ve also identified five new bad guys (rounded up for you below). Keep battling them with the strategies you learned on this adventure!
Your Love Connection Power-ups
CELEBRATE LIKE A TRUE ALLY
Use your active constructive responding skills (Love Connection Quest 1) to celebrate someone else’s good news, or to help them savor a great experience. Remember the four ways to do it: (1) show enthusiasm, (2) ask questions, (3) congratulate them, and (4) relive the experience with them.
DELIVER A SUPERPOWERFUL THANK-YOU
Don’t just feel grateful. Share your gratitude! Remember the three key steps (Love Connection Quest 3): (1) find the benefit, (2) acknowledge the effort, and (3) spot the strength.
INVESTIGATE SOMETHING EXCITING
Ask someone one of your secret questions from Love Connection Quest 5: “What are you excited about these days?” or “What’s something you’re looking forward to in the next few weeks?” Try to spot the signature character strength they reveal in their answer—and let them know that you see it!
FLIP A LONELY THOUGHT
If you’ve spotted a lonely thought, good job—now flip it! Think of at least one positive aspect to your social encounter (no matter how small or seemingly trivial). Whenever your mind starts obsessing over the lonely thought, bring your attention back to the positive one instead. The more you activate this power-up (learned in Love Connection Quest 7), the more you’ll change how your brain reacts to social situations—helping you worry less, relate better, and create stronger connections with others.
TAKE A “HANDS OVER HEART” MOMENT
Take a moment to be kind to yourself, and to feel your own strength. Place your hands over your heart, and breathe deeply for thirty seconds (learned in Love Connection Quest 9).
Your Love Connection Bad Guys
“Congrats.” “That’s cool.” “Good for you.” Is this the extent of your reaction to someone else’s good news? If so, you’re caught in the clutches of this relationship-killing bad guy. A passive congrats sucks the life out of someone else’s positive emotion. Whatever you do, avoid this bad guy—and activate your Celebrate Like an Ally power-up instead.
THE “IT’S TOO LATE TO THANK THEM NOW” MONSTER
This bad guy tries to talk you out of saying thanks to someone because “too much time has passed.” It tells you a big fat lie: “It’s too late to thank them now!” But that’s not true. It’s never too late to show gratitude. Not even if a month, a year, or a decade has passed. Combat this bad guy by delivering a three-part Superpowerful Thank-You.
FORGETTABLE SMALL TALK
It’s hard to make a memorable social connection when you’re chatting about the weather, food, or celebrity gossip. If you find yourself talking to someone you’d like to know better, or someone you care about but haven’t seen in a while, don’t get trapped in forgettable small talk. Instead, make a memorable and meaningful connection by drawing out their strengths. Use your Investigate Something Exciting power-up!
“She didn’t seem to like me very much.” “I can’t believe I said something so stupid.” “They seemed so bored by what I was talking about.” “I made a terrible first impression.” “Nobody even cared that I was there.” If you’re hearing any of these lonely thoughts after a social encounter, you may be caught up in a self-defeating cycle of negative perception. No matter how much time you spend with others, you’ll still feel lonely—unless you defeat these bad guys! Try the Flip a Lonely Thought power-up to put them in their place.
THE BULLY INSIDE
When you’re under stress, this bad guy takes full advantage of it. It’s the voice inside your head that says “You can’t do this.” “It’s all your fault.” “If only you’d done [X], this wouldn’t be happening.” “You’re not strong enough.” “You’ll let them down.” Don’t let this bully get to you. Stand up to it by showing yourself the support and kindness you deserve. Your “Hands over Heart Moment” power-up will do just the trick.