Sara and I stopped by our not-so-local Apple store today while driving down to Colorado Springs. While there, I was ogling the new Macbook Pros with their Retina displays. My current Mac laptop is only two years old, but it felt much older while in the store.
While thinking about when I purchased my laptop, I also remembered how excited I was to try out my first game on my new, fast, computer. Sara had gotten me The Sims 3 for my birthday.
In case you don’t know the concept of The Sims, it’s rather simple. You create a totally customizable character, known as your Sim. And then you control the life of your Sim. You can make them handsome and dashing, or an unattractive slob. You can make them a nerdy super-genius, or a flirtatious Casanova. They can live in a trashy home and never work, or they can climb the corporate ladder and own the best house in the neighborhood.
So the video game is a game all about real life?
And it’s incredibly addictive.
When I began, I did what I think most people do. I made a Sim that was strikingly similar to me. Just a bit better. He was the me I wanted to be. Better physique, but not a bodybuilder. Bigger pocketbook, but not a rich snob.
And he was a successful novelist.
I tell ya, I made my Sim crank out books like it was nobody’s business! He wrote science fiction, fantasy, and even thrillers. He crossed genres and made more money with each book. Every day, he’d come home from work, eat with his family, and then go upstairs and write until bed.
I need to clarify something here. In the game, various tasks take time to be completed. While a Sim is working on something, a progress bar appears above their head (see the above picture). The bar takes varying amounts of time to fill up, depending on the task.
So to write a book, my Sim would sit as his computer, typing, and a progress bar would gradually fill up each night.
Somewhere past the tenth book, I had an epiphany: Why am I spending my real life, watching a fictional character do what I want to be doing in my real life?
I knew that in order to write a book, it would take daily discipline. After all, that’s why I made my Sim dutifully head upstairs to his home office every night. The book wouldn’t get written otherwise. Yet for some reason, I didn’t do the same thing in my own life. For some reason, I preferred watching a video game version of myself achieve more than the real me.
Upon this realization, I quit the game. I haven’t played it since. Instead of leveling up a fictitious me, I wanted to level up the real me.
It was fascinating to me that the game developers could get me to spend hours of my free time in the world of the Sims, doing what I wanted to actually do in real life. They had found a way to motivate me.
As I thought more about this, I discovered how powerful the progress bar in the game was. I could see the skills of my Sim improve as I watched the progress bar above his head fill up. My efforts had an instant impact and the progress was measurable.
The challenge is that real life doesn’t have progress bars.
Eating healthy food, exercising regularly, or bumbling around with MailChimp to discover a better way to email my blog posts to subscribers doesn’t show me an instantaneous, measurable result. It takes much more discipline to work on something when you don’t notice any results.
So I’ve wondered, “Is there a way to create progress bars in real life?”
How can I measure my goals, even if it’s totally superficial and arbitrary, in order to motivate myself?
I’ve found that measuring my progress can help keep me motivated for long-term tasks. It helps me see that I’m coming closer to my goals. That tiny success motivates me to keep going. Here are some example of how I do this.
- Number my blog posts and podcast episodes so I see how many I’ve written.
- View blog and podcast stats to see the growth.
- Weigh myself every morning to (hopefully) see my weight go down.
- Look at the progress bar at the bottom of my Kindle books.
- Check out the word count on my novel.
- Make checkboxes for my to-do list each week.
These may seem like trivial things, but measuring our progress can help motivate us for tasks that don’t have instant gratification.
What can you measure to help you accomplish your goals? What challenges might this sort of measuring produce?