“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit..” ~ Aristotle
It took me far too long to realise the importance of developing good habits and discipline. Enthusiasm, motivation and inspiration are all great, but the truth is they’re not reliable. In my years as an undergraduate, I could always count on panic to fuel me through late nights approaching a deadline if motivation had left me. Not only is that option unavailable as a PhD student, it’s also not very fun, and doesn’t produce the best work.
So how do you go about forming a habit? There’s a lot of advice out there, and I’ve read my fair share of it – but never really bothered doing it.
Then (cue trumpets)… I found Habitica! It’s an online role playing game that “gamifies” your real life. I am a huge fan of games: badges, achievements, levelling up, finding gear, hatching pets – this stuff totally floats my boat. And it’s super cute! Just look at this promo video they released the other day.
You have habits, daily activities, and to-do activities that you can complete in real life and get experience points and gold for. Sometimes you get random rewards when you finish a task – an egg, a hatching potion, or food, which you can use to hatch and feed pets. I really love the pets. After level 10 you can choose to be a mage, warrior, healer or rogue. You can buy gear, join parties to fight bosses, join a guild and participate in a massive array of challenges.
How has it helped me?
I spent a lot of time over the past few months trying to get to grips with all the supporting skills and aspects of research. I wanted to be well-rounded and lay a strong foundation right from the get-go: to develop good time-management strategies, project management, better reading and note-taking, writing, communication practice, supporting physical health through exercise, healthy diet and meditation. I figured out what I should do to work towards all those goals, but the list was so long it became overwhelming, and I stalled a bit. Cue the habits and discipline.
When I first started using Habitica, about a month ago, I wanted to escape the feeling that I could never do enough, never catch up. I was getting things done, but I couldn’t see the progress, only the mountain ahead. So, I started by adding habits and daily tasks that were pretty basic, but important. My office is up 4 flights of stairs, so every time I walked up them instead of taking the elevator, I reinforced that positive habit. This is something I do anyway, but by including it in the beginning I reminded myself of the good habits I already have, and that it’s possible to build more. That and things like taking vitamins and drinking enough water throughout the day were all I did in that first week, but it worked. It was positive reinforcement. I levelled up a few times, and when I hatched my first pet I was totally hooked. I can look at my level, my health points, my pets and achievements, and know that they represent things I did, effort I put in. It helps me to notice the success as well as the work still ahead.
And now that I’m mildly obsessed, I use it for harder or more relevant things. I joined the Graduate Students Guild, and participate in the monthly “Hit the scrolls!” challenge (RPG language for reading papers). I’m doing a 30 day yoga challenge (it being the new year and all), and it’s on my dailies list. I add to-do items relevant to my research (finish a report, make a complex diagram, analyse data, etc), and I have “write for 30 minutes” as a habit. It’s amazing how this game has hijacked my life in a really positive way. I care a lot about my little avatar. If I really don’t want to do one of my dailies, I do it anyway because I really don’t want to lose health! I stopped my excessive chocolate consumption during the day by making it a negative habit. You know what that means? I like this game more than chocolate. And, best of all, there is a Chrome browser plug-in that tracks the website you’re on and gives you experience or hurts your health, depending whether you’re on a productive website (PaperPile and Google Docs, where I take notes) or wasting time (Facebook, Pinterest, and Reddit for me).
If you get on Habitica or are already playing, give me a shout! Let’s make a party and play together!