Getting Rejected (And Building Confidence) Through Gamification

From Jason: Today we’ve got a guest post with Jonathan Gurrera, on some of the crazy behavior change tactics he used to power through rejection therapy.

He’s an account strategist at Google, a gig he earned after investing dozens of hours of preparation through a system of gamification that he created for himself. It’s fair to say that he’s pretty obsessed with engineering his behavior. But as I’ve said, winning isn’t normal, and I think there’s a lot to learn from Jonathan’s approach to behavior change.

So enjoy and here’s Jonathan:

My experience with rejection (and how it benefits you)

One of my first encounters with The Art of Ass Kicking was reading about Jason’s experiences with Rejection Therapy. The idea of Rejection Therapy resonated with me for one reason, and one reason alone: rejection scares the living crap out of me. Nevertheless, handling rejection is such an important life skill, I didn’t feel it was an option to allow myself to be affected so strongly by it.

While all rejections are less than pleasant, I tend to let rejection control me most in social realm – especially when it comes to introducing myself to strangers or asking girls out. Quite aware of this, I’ve recently decided it was time to be more proactive with this area of my life. But rather than use a brute force strategy (i.e. pound shots when I’m not feeling social at a party), I wanted to create a system that subtly, but consistently guided me to take positive actions, even with the risk of rejection present.

My weapon of choice for creating this system was gamification, the application of game mechanics to systems where they may not have otherwise existed. Although I was new to the use of gamification for rejection therapy, I’m no stranger to using gamification to get things done, build habits, and achieve epic wins. In this post, I’ll be focusing on the use of gamification for systematically overcoming rejection. I’m still in the midst of this long-term experiment, so I’ll be sharing my progress thus far, with the hope that you can use these techniques in your own life. Continue reading…

The Six Fundamental Elements of Effective Behavior Change

Six Fundamentals of Effective Behavior Change

I’ve read a ton of material about creating positive behavior change — but the “curse of knowledge” means that sometimes it’s harder to impart that knowledge to others. I often get caught up in describing a specific paper or study, when you really need is just a tactic that really works.

Well I’ve boiled that down for you today – with this presentation based on my Skillshare class. These are the six fundamental elements of effective behavior change and if you follow them, I know you’ll see a lot more success in your efforts to work out more, eat healthier, be more mindful, wake up earlier or whatever it is you’re trying to do.

And if you’re interested in learning more, or you missed out on my Skillshare class, then check out this GiveGetWin partnership I’m doing with Sebastian Marshall. You get 60 minutes with me and help support a great cause.

The presentation and more info on GGW after the jump. Continue reading…

Using Variable Rewards to Drive Behavior Change

Easily distracted by shiny objects

Sound familiar to anyone?

There’s something thrilling about newness and uncertainty. Whether it’s watching a gripping Christopher Nolan film, starting the next level in a game or going on a first date, we can be easily captivated by what we don’t know.

The human species possesses a disposition towards novelty – and tens of thousands of years ago, that drove us to explore new lands, try new foods and see what happened when we struck two rocks together.

But just as our craving for sweets, salts and fats were valuable in the Paleolithic era, when such foods were scarce, but are now warped in the age of carmel-drizzled kettle corn, our novelty-seeking tendencies can lead us astray.

Variable rewards are a particularly powerful “hook” for the brain. Casinos and many games use frequent but hard-to-predict rewards to keep their players coming back for more.

In this post, I want to talk about how variable rewards work and how we can use them to drive positive behavior change for ourselves.

The science behind variable rewards

Variable rewards are when you positively reinforce a behavior at an non-fixed (ie less predictable) schedule. By varying when you deliver the reward for a certain behavior and how big that reward is, you can quickly reinforce that behavior and make it very strong and resistant to extinction (aka it becomes a habit or routine).

This finding is born out of the research conducted on animals, for instance: teaching a rat to press a lever. Researchers found that when compared to a fixed schedule (eg: a piece of cheese every other lever presses), mixing up the schedule (eg: two rewards in a row after one press, then a single reward after three presses, etc) was more effective even when the overall reward ratio was 1 to 2.

How Variable Rewards Work - Jason Shen

Quick chart I whipped up to explain the difference between fixed ratio and variable ratio rewards.

Why does this work?

The answer has to do with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that’s tightly linked with desire and habit. Getting a reward increases dopamine levels in your brain, which motivates you to do the thing which got you the reward (rats with missing dopamine receptors struggle to build habits). Continue reading…

Three Studies Find Ways to Get an Extra Boost of Willpower & Self-Control

Our ability to use self-control may be one of the most important things we can develop in ourselves. I’ve written before about how willpower is not enough and that developing habits is an important skill for sustaining the right behaviors.

But there’s more to the story.

In preparing to teach a course about willpower and behavior change, I uncovered new research revealing ways we can get an extra boost of self-control when we are running low. Here are some of the findings:

Choosing to exert self-control is less depleting than being forced to exert it

Mark Muraven, a Professor at the University at Albany, asked participants to resist eating a batch of cookies and tested them on an activity that required willpower both before and after resisting the cookies. Afterward, he asked participants their motivations for resisting the cookies and also examined their performance on the willpower test.

He bucketed the reasons into autonomous ones (e.g. “It was important to me not to eat them” or”It is fun to challenge myself not to eat them”) and external (e.g. “I wanted the experimenter to like me” or “I would feel guilty if I ate them”). In looking at the results (emphasis added)

“As compared to their baseline performance, participants who avoided eating the cookies for more autonomous performed better at the second measure relative to participants who did not eat for more extrinsic reasons. Mood, arousal, and demographic factors were not related to self-control performance and feelings of autonomy. Overall, it appears that feeling compelled to exert self-control may deplete more strength than having more freedom when exerting self-control.” [Muraven, Journal of Research in Personality, 2008]

So next time you’re faced with something that requires willpower, whether it’s staying late to finish a project or turning down that second slice of birthday cake, find a personally compelling reason to exert willpower, rather than placing the reason to something external. Continue reading…

Learn How to Pick Up 30+ New Daily Habits With Bevan Barton (KAI #1)

You thought my 30 rejection therapy challenge was crazy – wait till you hear Bevan Barton’s story. About a month ago I met Bevan at the SF Blogger Club Meetup – it was a community development and sales prospecting opportunity for us but for Bevan, it was a chance to hit one of his daily habits – going to a social event. Turns out he’s basically trying to adopt 30 new habits at any given time – a journey he’s chronicling at on his site: http://lifeismywife.com

I had to learn more and share his story with readers of this site so we’ve put together this interview. Incidentally, I think this is going to kick off a series of interviews I call “Kick Ass Interviews” or KAI’s, where essentially I’ll be interviewing people who I think kick ass. Pretty straightforward right? Let’s get started…

JS: Hey Bevan, thanks for agreeing to the interview. Can you tell our readers who you are and what your site is about?

BB: I’m a pretty regular guy who tackles big challenges. I’ve been an ultramarathon cyclist, a world traveler, and a web entrepreneur.  I grew up in the Bay Area in California and graduated from Middlebury College as a Computer Science major last spring.

My blog is about my experiments in personal growth. Right now I’m picking up a new daily habit every day for sixty days, and rehearsing each habit for at least thirty consecutive days. I have over fifty daily habits now, and many of the older ones have become unconscious parts of my daily routine.

My goal is to make continual improvement an unconscious part of my life.  Specifically, I want to acquire the habit of acquiring new habits (I call this the meta-habit). After my sixty-day trial, my natural inclination should be to continue adding habits when I see opportunities for personal growth.

JS: That’s amazing. I love personal development and habit creation, but you are just taking it to a whole new level. Props. What made you decide to take on this 30 day challenge thing?

BB: I wanted adventure! I had recently moved home from college and saw this as a fun and productive challenge.

JS: Fair enough. What are some of hardest parts about doing this?

BB: The hardest part was committing to the challenge. I started my blog to keep me honest; writing that first blog post was really tough, because I knew I’d have to follow through.

Some individual habits have been pretty difficult to stick with. Some of the harder ones were waking up at 7am, meditating every morning, writing 1000 words per day, becoming a vegan pescatarian, and getting a phone number every day from someone I could date.

JS: Yeah those habits sound like they would be hard for anyone to take on, much less simultaneously. Would you recommend that people try this? Why or why not?

BB: It depends on your goal. My goal is to cultivate a mindset of constant improvement, and I think my challenge is a worthwhile exercise toward that end. If I wanted to change my lifestyle in a short amount of time, my one-habit-per-day challenge might be overkill. Instead, I’d focus on acquiring a fixed set of habits.

My focus is on developing my drive to improve, rather than on acquiring the habits themselves. My lifestyle has gotten better as a result of my new daily routines, but those benefits are incidental to my primary goal of developing a mindset of constant improvement. I don’t care much about the individual habits or how they affect my life; they’re more like exercises than ends in themselves.

This challenge would have been much easier had I stuck to easy habits that didn’t take up a lot of time.  Some of my easier habits include tracking my sleep, wearing sunscreen, and taking a fish oil supplement. Replicating my experiment with easier habits like those would be more attainable for people with tight schedules.

JS: That’s interesting that you say it’s not about the the habit itself or even the habit making your life better. Why is developing a mindset of continuous improvement important to you?

BB: It’s tons of fun to always be leaning just beyond my edge. Constantly stepping out of my comfort zone is a great adventure. For me, constant improvement is the process of leading a fulfilling life.

However, it’s easy to lose sight of how rewarding personal growth is; it can be tempting to stagnate when you’re comfortable. This challenge will develop my drive to improve and desensitize me to the requisite growing pains.

Focusing on growth is important because there’s everything to gain: good habits, relationships, money, etc…  All of those things can also be lost, however, and probably will be at some point. With a growth-oriented mindset, such setbacks aren’t as important, because you’re attracting those things into your life regularly. Also, with a mindset of constant improvement, it doesn’t really matter how you’re doing at any moment. Tomorrow, your life will be a little bit better.

I actually think everyone has a natural inclination to improve themselves; I’m just working mine like a muscle.

JS: Last question. Can you share some tips with our readers on developing new habits?

BB: I’m going to do a big write-up on that subject after my challenge officially ends (in one week!), but one thing I’ve learned is that I’m more likely to follow habits that have well-defined triggers. A trigger is an event, environment, or time of day that is associated with a given habit.

For example, getting out of bed in the morning triggers my meditation habit: I strongly associate waking up with meditating, so I no longer have to remind myself to meditate every morning. Another habit with a good trigger is repeating a person’s name twice after meeting them (which helps me remember their name). The trigger in that case is the introduction. Soon, all introductions will trigger my name-repeating habit unconsciously. My habit of doing vocal exercises in the car also has a good trigger- getting in the car.

Habits without triggers are harder to follow, especially if you’re starting a lot of habits at once. I sometimes forget about my habit of using Twitter every day, because there’s no event, time of day, or environment that I strongly associate with that habit yet.

Lots of habits don’t have natural triggers, but it’s easy to make artificial ones. I like to do that by scheduling my habits relative to each other, so that the completion of one habit triggers another. There are other ways to create artificial triggers too- for example, walking through a doorway could trigger the habit of correcting your posture. Stuff like that may seem silly, but it works!

——–

Well that’s all the space we have here. I hope you found the interview valuable! You should DEFINITELY check out Bevan’s website at http://lifeismywife.com

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