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Living Your Life Without Regrets: Gamifying Health and Well-being

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Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

In this talk Jane McGonigal discusses the game she designed, Superbetter, and how it could increase your life expectancy and improve your health and well-being. These are not the usual attributes you imagine being able to get from a game. Using a wealth of scientific research that proves how to increase happiness and build resilience, she challenges you to a personal gaming mission: to live your life well.

Not everyone wants to play computer games, and there's an increasing tide of negativity about how video games can be bad for you. We're telling our children they'll become obese if they play too computer games too long, or they'll become aggressive if they play violent games. Many adults view gaming as a waste of time, when they could be achieving other goals. The polemic about gaming is driving these two very different attitudes towards gaming: those who are pro-gaming and those who are anti-gaming.

But McGonigal's video isn't really about gaming. It uses game strategies to guide behaviors and thinking to change the way you respond to negatives in your life and build more positives. This talk highlights some important therapeutic strategies for psychologists. One of the key strategies I teach my clients I work with is to reduce suffering through acceptance. Acceptance is a core skill in both Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Research on these mindfulness-based therapies indicates they are effective in treating a variety of mental health issues (Hoffman, Sawyer & Fang, 2010), such as depression, suicidality, eating disorders, relationship issues and personality disorders. Acceptance is an important skill for everyone to develop; it's not just for those who have a mental health diagnosis.

The philosophy behind using acceptance comes from the idea that it's not possible to control everything in life. Life isn't easy and often bad things happen that can't be changed immediately, but to focus on the negatives means that you also miss out on the positives. To reduce suffering in life you need to accept the situations that can't be controlled, tolerate the pain that brings you, and avoid doing things that could make it worse. If there was no choice to change the situation, would you rather have pain or suffering?

PAIN + NON-ACCEPTANCE = SUFFERING, however PAIN + ACCEPTANCE = PAIN

Trying to fight against the things we don't like or don't want doesn't resolve the situation, and this stops us from achieving our goals. The skill is in coping with the pain that comes with life to be positive in spite of the negativity. -- Danya Braunstein

As McGonigal described when she was bedridden, she continued to experience the pain of her severe concussion. However she was able to tolerate being unable to do the things she enjoyed and also reduce thoughts of suicide by playing her Superbetter game. Acceptance doesn't mean liking or wanting the situation, but it's about tolerating the reality of the situation that cannot be changed. If McGonigal didn't accept her situation she may have refused to stay in bed and exposed herself to triggers which would have prevented her brain injury from healing. Trying to fight against the things we don't like or don't want doesn't resolve the situation, and this stops us from achieving our goals. The skill is in coping with the pain that comes with life to be positive in spite of the negativity. Doing this actually makes it easier to achieve your goal.

Being able to cope with difficult life situations build resilience, if people are able to better manage their problems in life they have more capacity for increasing positivity. McGonigal's tips for increasing positives are possible when people are able to manage the difficult situations in life. Acceptance is the first step in being able to make a commitment to positive goals and finding the motivation to improve physical, mental, emotional and social resilience. Gaming strategies such as those proposed by McGonigal encourage engagement with these key areas by making the process 'fun' by setting goals, involving others in overcoming challenges and increasing positive behaviors. For those who are involved with gaming, this way of thinking about life's difficulties is effective for motivating positive change. However, those who don't find games engaging may want to frame this in a way that is more effective for them. The skills are the same whether you make it into a game or find another motivator.

To life live well there is a simple rule: do what works, and accept what doesn't until you're able to change it. Identify what is important to you and do more of that thing every day, for example following your dreams, or spending time with friends and family. Follow this rule and you may find you live your whole life positively and without regrets. If you do this it won't matter how long you live because you'll be enjoying each day in the present moment.

The opinion and advice here are not a substitute for personalized medical treatment for those experiencing clinical mental health concerns.

References:

Hoffman, S.G., Sawyer, A.T., & Fang, A. (2010). The Empirical Status of the "New Wave" of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Volume 33, Issue 3, Pages 701-710 doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2010.04.006. Retrieved 4th September, 2013.

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