Saturday, August 25, 2012


Today, I get to tell you about something awesome. Several awesome things, in fact.

About a year ago, I saw a random story somewhere (I've searched everywhere and can't find it. You'll just have to trust me on this) about gaming and how scientists were designing video games to allow gamers to assist them in solving some of the puzzles they face in their research.

Sounds crazy? Check THIS out. And THIS. And THIS. And THIS.

Those are all websites that allow you (yes, YOU) to play video games that address actual medical, social, and environmental problems, with the theory that gamers will approach the problems with a completely different-- and incredibly valuable-- set of strategic and problem-solving skills and goals than scientists, and possibly help unravel some of the greatest mysteries and most urgent problems of our time.

Think about that for a minute. 

And then think about this: last year, gamers were invited to play a game called FoldIt (you can see it in that first "THIS" link above), which AIDS researchers developed to try to decipher the protein structure of an AIDS-related virus, which had baffled scientists for 15 years.

The gamers figured it out in 10 days.

Before I move on to my main point, let me take a moment to flail and scream over this.

H-O-L-Y S-H-I-T!!!!!!!!!

This is the kind of thing that makes me love the world and everyone in it. There's plenty of crazy, horrific, vile, destructive stuff going on everywhere, all the time, enough to make you paralyzed with fear and sorrow and dread for the future or worse, and yet...

And yet...

There are people out there coming up with things like this. Revolutionary ways of looking at old problems. Games that save lives. Ways for people to contribute to breathtaking discoveries and world-changing developments without leaving their living rooms (or their mother's basements). 

Connection. Engagement. Contribution. Discovery. Life. We all matter. We're in this together. Everyone of us has the power to make a difference.

If you're not staggered by this, you're not paying attention.

Anyway. So I saw that story and sent it off to a friend of mine who works in video game design and might be interested in such things (!!!), and that was that.

Until a few months later, when I happened upon a TED talk by Jane McGonigal, which I listened to only because I remembered that article I'd seen and how inspiring it was. This whole topic really struck me, for some reason-- the utter cleverness of it, the awesome fusion of skill and opportunity, the open-mindedness and creativity that lead to such an idea. 

I'm not even a gamer, myself-- I'm not really sure why I was so extraordinarily affected by this thing, but I was. It stuck with me. It made an impression.

So about a month ago, I was driving home from my session with Dr. Oz, and I turned on the radio, which was set to NPR. I had tuned in in the middle of an interview with Jane McGonigal, who I remembered instantly from the TED talk, so I left it on to hear what she had to say.

OMG, you guys. The serendipity, she keeps on coming. Remember when I said that sometimes I felt like things just kept clicking into place with this recovery, like the path keeps falling into my path, like I was living proof that when the student is ready, the teacher emerges?

Well. That's still in full swing.

Jane McGonigal was talking about how, in 2009, a year before her now-famous TED talk, she suffered a mild traumatic brain injury that left her bedridden and more hopeless than she'd ever been in her life. She'd been suffering for about a month when she decided to employ something that had helped her through other challenges in the past (like the depression that struck while she was writing her dissertation) (seriously, go check out that link and read the rules of Cookie Rolling): 

She turned her recovery into a game.

This eventually lead not only to her recovery, but to a whole new application of her gaming theories:

SuperBetter is a game that allows you to customize your objectives, resources, challenges, allies, and rewards to help you achieve something important to you.

Most obviously, it can be used to help you recover from illness, injury, addiction, or depression. It can also be used for weight loss, exercise, school, and other short- and long-term life goals. I saw someone there the other day using it to prepare herself and her husband for having a child.

Here's what they have to say about themselves:

SuperBetter is a tool created by game designers and backed by science to help build personal resilience: the ability to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of difficult challenges. Resilience has a powerful effect on health -- by boosting physical and emotional well-being. Resilience also helps you achieve your life goals -- by strengthening your social support and increasing your stamina, willpower and focus. Every aspect of the game is designed to harness the power of positive emotions and social connection for live, feel, and act better.
When I got home, I went straight to and started setting up my own "quest," as they call it. Because as soon as I saw it, I knew it would be helpful. I think it could be helpful to anyone with a goal. And I'll tell you why in a moment.

But first, here's their diagram to show you how SuperBetter works:

I borrowed this without permission, but I'm hoping they won't mind. This model was created by the fine folks at, to whom all credit, praise, and holy-crapedness must be attributed.

Some of the basic steps in the game: You set a goal and name it (you get to give yourself a superhero name, too, if you want). You identify obstacles, resources, milestones, rewards. You complete tasks that break down the quest into small steps that increase your strength, confidence, achievement, and connection to others. 

And you begin, however improbably, to move forward. And get better.

Now, here's the kicker:

As many of you know, before I had my daughters and decided to stay at home with them for as long as I could, I had a career as an executive-style coach for students at the beginning of their academic programs. 

The idea behind coaching for students is that it enables them to become more engaged, motivated, supported, and effective in achieving their goals, so that more people who attempt it will eventually graduate from college.

It was a very rewarding job. I was good at it. And what I did, essentially, was this:

Help people set goals and name them. Identify obstacles, resources, milestones, and rewards along the way. Break larger tasks down into smaller, more achievable ones. And remind them of their strengths, boost their confidence, join them in celebrating their achievements, and facilitate the connections to others that would help them further.

This is why SuperBetter spoke to me. This is why I'm recommending it so strongly to you, whoever you are, whatever you've got on your plate.

If you let it, if you're willing to truly engage, this stuff works. It works. IT WORKS. I've seen it work. I've coached hundreds of people through steps nearly identical to the ones described above, and I've seen the results, time and again.

It works.

These are hardly new concepts. You may have heard of SMART goals, a concept initially developed for business management but equally effective for personal use. This is a new and improved version of that, made accessible, motivating, and fun so that achievement is more likely (a SMART goal in and of itself!).

So. I've begun my own SuperBetter quest to see how it enhances this journey of mine. I will report on my experience from time to time-- I'm sure it will get me thinking in new and unexpected ways, which always gives me good ideas for future blog posts.

And I challenge you to go take a look at yourself. Check out the tools they provide for brainstorming your own quests. We've all got things we want to achieve, and we can all use more support, more motivation, and more opportunities for success along the way.

What's more, we all deserve that. Even you.

Even me.

I am not affiliated with Jane McGonigal or in any way, in case you're wondering. This endorsement is just coming straight from me as an unpaid enthusiast for things that are awesome.

Oh, and also! Speaking of awesome! Let's all help save the world, and go play some games at:

Shall we?

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