Part 3 of a continuing series on getting superbetter
Anytime you’re facing a challenge, you could use a bit of a boost.
Think back to video games for some simple examples you may remember: the power pellets in PacMan, care packages in Call of Duty, super-seeds in Angry Birds — these all provide you with a way to boost your power and help you in the game.
Without these power-ups, you hardly stand a chance.
To apply the SuperBetter gameful approach to your personal challenges, you want to find similar power-ups: quick actions that can be performed anytime, anywhere to boost your resiliency in the moment.
You might think real-life doesn’t offer such easily recognizable power-ups. Or does it?
Think about those little quickie energy boosts, the things that make you smile, put a spring in your step, and encourage and empower you to strive even more to meet and beat your challenge. Whether it’s hearing a song you like, smelling a favorite scent (mmm…bacon!), or looking at pictures of your family, you probably already provide yourself with these little power-ups all the time.
SuperBetter encourages you do so even more so, connecting these little bursts of positive energy into an upward spiral to build your resiliency in 4 key areas: physical, mental, emotional and social.
Here’s a brief list of some popular power-ups lifted from the book:
- Physical resilience: Drink a glass of water!
- Mental resilience: Name 2 specific things you’re looking forward to in the next week.
- Emotional resilience: Spend 3 minutes on social media and like, favorite or leave a positive comment on as many social media posts as possible — if you don’t use much social media, send quick texts or emails such as “You’re awesome” or “thinking of you.”
- Social resilience: Sing your lungs out!
Each of these actions provides a power-up that reinforces your resiliency in the listed areas. Remember that the “good day formula” calls for activating 3 power-ups daily. McGonigal suggests getting to 3 by making sure to power-up morning, afternoon, and evening.
To make your power-ups even more powerful, find and collect ones specific to you. For example, in addition to several of the suggested power-ups from the book (and the game-app itself), I added these to my roster right off the bat:
- Physical resilience: Step out into the sunshine and stretch.
- Mental resilience: Nap, then awaken to start anew mid-day.
- Emotional resilience: Find funny memes and share or save them for later.
- Social resilience: A big hug, usually from my wife, Sara, but from others as I see them — even from myself if I want it!
One of my favorite things about McGonigal’s books is her concise and coherent explanations of the science and research underlying these gameful rules. In SuperBetter, she explains power-ups by noting the importance of vagal tone in not just general health, but the ability to respond to stress — resiliency, in other words.
Vagal tone refers to the overall strength of the vagus nerve, which reaches from the brain to your intestines, touching heart, lungs, voice box, ears, and stomach, essentially connecting your major bodily systems. Research indicates your neurophysiologic state, or mind-body strength, before a stressful life event may be the greatest predictor of your ability to weather this challenge.
Measuring vagal tone can be done through sophisticated scientific machinery, or you can determine an approximate measure through a positive emotions-negative emotions inventory. Again, SuperBetter distills the research into simpler inventories you can use personally from the more involved ones used by research psychologists.
By self-reporting your positive emotions as well as negative emotions after (or during) a 24-hour period of time, you can determine a Positive Emotion to Negative Emotion ratio (PE:NE) as an indicator you can personally monitor for changes over time. Use power-ups to give your vagal tone a boost over time and the PE:NE should improve.
One more note about power-ups: some people who most need power-up support in battling their personal challenges are the least able to activate some of them. When you’re battling depression, for instance, reaching out to anyone, even just to say “Thinking of you” can worsen the problem.
Rather than struggle with that added difficulty while at a low ebb, research suggests that boosting physical resiliency can still be done (drink a glass of water, stand up and take 3 steps). Doing so helps boost your ability to activate power-ups in the other areas, starting an upward spiral of improved and improving resiliency.
So here’s your assignment, dear reader: seek and use 3 power-ups today to boost yourself and your resilience. They’re quick, easy, and you can feel better in 5 minutes.
Me, I’m going for a grand slam with a glass of water, thinking about 2 “future boosts”, singing a song or two — LOUDLY! — and passing on the positivity through a social storm of like-favorite-share, starting right now…
Next: Bad Guys