Change your habits for the better by tying them into challenges in a role playing game. Level up for doing things you know you should and lose hit points for indulging in habits you know you need to give up. If you love role playing games – and traditional to-do lists aren’t working for you – HabitRPG is highly recommended.
Whether’s its grinding through boring Chocobo races to unlock Knights of The Round or delivering masks to obscure corners of Hyrule to earn a freaking bottle, video games make tasks that would otherwise be mundane interesting. The trick: offering rewards. Leveling up and upgrading equipment feels good in a way that few games can describe to non-gamers.
At the same time most of us spend time doing things we wished we didn’t – browsing the Internet instead of working, for example. And most of us also don’t do things we wish we did – working out, for example, or practicing a musical instrument.
The HabitRPG app tries to capture the wonderfully addictive quality of video games in a way that encourages you to improve your habits. It’s not magic – it only works if you’re honest. But if you can stick to its system you’ll be glad you did.
How It Works
To get started head to HabitRPG.com. You’ll need an account, so create one. When you do you’ll see that the interface consists of experience and HP bars, at the top, and four columns below: Habits, Daily, To Dos and Rewards.
The basic concept is simple: Do good things and you’ll level up and earn money for rewards. Do bad things and you’ll take damage, lowering your HP score and possibly killing your character. Points lost and gained happen in the first three columns, which all encourage you do to different sorts of things.
The “Habit” column, for example, is simply a list of habits. Reward yourself for doing good things; punish yourself for doing bad. The system adjusts according to how well you’re doing, so the more you engage in a bad habit the more damage doing so will cause; inversely, the more you engage in good behavior the less it will help you level up. The idea is to subtly train you to stay the course, and to punish you for stopping.
This brings us to an interesting point: this game only works if you’re honest with yourself. If you’re not the sort of person who is willing to record your own mistakes, this probably isn’t for you.
The “Daily” column consists of things you want to do every day. Whether it’s practicing another language, writing a journal entry or exercising, this is the place to put things you know you should be doing every day but always manage to forget.
Fail to complete a daily and your character will take damage. Again, the effects of these daily tasks adjusts to you: if you usually manage one forgetting a day, it won’t do much damage, but neglect it daily and the damage will get worse and worse. On the positive side neglected dailies are worth more experience, encouraging you to tackle them.
Finally we have “tasks”, which is essentially a to-do list. Begin each day by filling in the tasks you need to accomplish and check them off throughout the day. You’ll get experience and gold every time you do, and man: does it feel good.
Tasks you take too long to complete will slowly turn red, meaning they are worth more experience and gold if you can complete them. This is intended to encourage you to do your neglected tasks – and it works better than any mere to-do list ever could.
Curious how well you’re doing? You can check out a chart of your progress for any habit or daily, showing you days you’ve done well and days you’ve done poorly. You can also chart your overall progress:
Check back regularly and you’ll learn about yourself – and hopefully be able to improve.
In the fourth column we have rewards, the real reason HabitRPG works as well as it does. In this column you can offer yourself rewards for a set price. You could offer yourself a half hour of television during the work day, for example – whatever you think will motivate you to earn more gold.
There are also in-game rewards. You can upgrade your weapons to earn more experience and gold each time you do well or upgrade your armor to take less damage when you do poorly. Doing both will come in handy, because as in most role playing games each level takes longer to achieve than the level before it. Upgrading your equipment regularly helps you keep pace.
But wait…there’s more. A Chrome extension that connects to HabitRPG will automatically do damage to your character when you waste time on unproductive sites.
Set some web sites to damage your character for lingering and some to help. You can set the time of day you’re supposed to be working, so don’t worry about not being able to browse in your free time.
Seeing that your character is taking damage because you don’t want to close Reddit can really motivate you to change your habits, so installing this is a good idea if time sink sites are a problem for you. Go ahead and download the extension from the Chrome Web Store.
You can check out Productivity Owl if you like this concept but aren’t interested in HabitRPG – it’s similar and far more customizable.
I’ve been consistently using this for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve got to say: it’s working. I’m not sure why imaginary experience points and gold motivate me to do tasks I earn actual money for, but they do. Maybe it will work for you.
If you wish your life was more like a role playing game you could try to start turned-based fights in the street, but I don’t recommend it. Other people rarely respect the turn-based sort of fight you’re trying to start. So this is probably the best tool out there for the job.
HabitRPG is an open source project, meaning you can download it yourself and run it on your own computer – assuming you know your way around a web server. The developer is actively looking for contributions – a recently completed Kickstarter campaign went a long way – so donate if you can.
HabitRPG is not the only way to gamify your life. James pointed out gamification tools to make your life better, including a similar (iPhone only) tool to HabitRPG: Epic Win. He also pointed out tactics for making your new years resolutions stick, so check that out if your resolutions have all gone sour.
What do you think of HabitRPG, and apps like it? Are they useful motivation or a time-wasting distraction among many? I know what I think, but want to hear what you do, so let’s discuss this below.