How Zombie Dragons Will Make You Better

Posted by   Annette on    March 25, 2016

My current majesty.Y’know what self-improvement has been missing all these years?

Zombie dragons.

And oceanic armor. And mana points. And health bars. Basically, what self-improvement has been lacking is Habitica.

Habitica, simply put, is an MMORPG that turns the contents of your real world into a -- well -- World of Warcraft. It takes all your tasks (habits, dailies, and to-dos) and manifests them as what they really are: a bunch of little monsters you have to conquer in order to get awesome. The better you are at conquering them, the more you progress within the context of the game. If they conquer you, it shows you in a very geek-accessible way how much you’re backsliding.

I tried to explain my near-fanatical Habitica obsession to someone recently. I’m not sure I properly made my point.

“Yeah, but there aren’t any rules,” he insisted. “You can just make things up and win the game. ‘Make tea.’ ‘Make more tea.’ ‘Make tea again.’”

Yeah, sure. You could do that. But it wouldn’t be *fun*. And let me tell you: making it hard for yourself is fun. It’s very fun.

Habitica works. And it does so because it uses the four horsemen of the bad-habitpocalyse to align your best self against the forces of what you know, deep down, is your tendency to be lazy.

1. Instant Gratification

When you sign up, you feed Habitica a list of the quotidian habits you want to encourage, the tasks you want to be sure you complete on specified days of the week, and the contents of your to-do list.

When you check one of these off the list, Habitica immediately rewards you with exp points, mana and gold. As those experience points stack up, you level up. You get stronger. Your stats increase. You start unlocking features. Your avatar gets really cool-looking. (“LOOK! I am riding a MANTIS SHRIMP! Mwahahahaha.”)

Even the widdlest successes that you’re eager to bag (flossing, much?) toss you an immediate reward. The result? They’re no longer meh-whatever-maybe-tomorrows. You start doing them.

My favorite feature, however, is the way Habitica encourages the breaking down of everything you do into simple, achievable steps. You get more rewards for every to-do-list item you turn into a checklist. From “do the dry cleaning” (1. Collect; 2. Drop off; 3. Pick up) to a work project that spans a couple dozen checklist items, Habitica incentivizes you to actively organize your attack of the things you need to get done. Pure gold.

2. Consequences

You feed Habitica bad habits, too -- the ones that need to die. Whenever you indulge in one of these (or fail to complete one of your daily tasks), your health bar starts to retreat. Once it drops to a certain point, you lose some of the progress you've made in the game.

The little health bar is kinda magical. It gives you a visual indication when you’re not doing the little things that keep you feeling “together,” even if they’re small enough to escape your notice during a busy day. Usually, it inspires you to find the few minutes you need to get them checked off. This sweeps away little bad habits before they accrue, and breaks procrastination cycles before they wreak real-world havoc.

3. Accountability

Not everybody thrives on outside accountability -- but most people do. Like: a lot.

Like any MMORPG, the Habitica game has a community you can plug into. The Habitica “guild” system helps you hook up with players that have similar interests (and obstacles). If you want to bring your own, you can.

Once you’re connected, you hold each other accountable by competing and collaborating. You dig into “battles” as a group, and it’s motivating. For instance: if you blow off the gym on a day you say you’re going to go, the monster you’re fighting within Habitica hurts everybody. Ouch.

If you like to roll solo, you can totally do that too.

4. Convenience

Habitica lives in the same places your old, oh-so-ignorable to-do list used to: across every single one of your devices. It’s at your hungry little fingertips. All the time.

This, suffice it to say, is really powerful stuff. I'll offer myself up as an example. Since I’ve started using Habitica a handful of months ago, I’ve:

  • Increased my hours on the yoga mat by a factor of two, in the process adding asanas to my practice that I never thought I’d get myself into.

  • Organized several overwhelmingly long-tail work projects along very clearly navigable roadmaps.

  • Significantly advanced the way I study languages. Now I study three languages, daily, in three different ways (the variety of which really helps with retention).

  • Added a new language entirely -- Portuguese!

  • Reintroduced and reinforced the habit of keeping a daily journal.

  • Started watching at least one Ted talk every day. Most days, because I’ve started looking forward to it so eagerly, I watch three.

  • Successfully kept Facebook use to a strict 15-minute daily limit. Making this stick was a huge surprise...and a resounding win, believe you me.

...and I’m adding more stuff all the time, because guess what? As it turns out, it all fits into my life. All the things I was thinking one-day-I-oughta or when-I-have-a-slow-moment or maybe-someday. ALL THE THINGS.

I’m willing to bet that your one-day-I-oughtas actually fit into your life, too.

And maybe what you need is a zombie dragon to ride around on and chase those lofty goals.

Just sayin’.