Part of a series on the gameful rules for getting superbetter…
He waits till way past dark and I am alone. He won’t approach me but rather lurks in the corner as I try to skirt through that area without sparking his notice — but it is in vain. From the fridge, from the pantry, and from the counter with the nuts, the Late Night Munchie Monster attacks me nightly as I try to walk through the kitchen.
Should I manage to fend off the worst of his advances as I refill my fizzy water for the night, his henchman, the Sinister Spoon taunts me from the nearby drawer. “Just a spoonful…what could it hurt?” His Boss (and all too often, mine), the Late Night Munchie Monster, assures me soothingly, “Okay, you win — now just go ahead, reward yourself….a spoonful won’t hurt.”
And before I know it, I’ve had a spoonful…a spoonful of ice cream, followed by a spoonful of Nutella followed by a spoonful of peanut butter…
That’s MY Bad Guy to battle nightly. What’s yours?
See, a big part of any challenge involves the difficulties you face. When confronting these, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts, feelings or even negative experiences like a specific failure. Every hero battles monsters, villains, or dragons. Every super-hero faces an evil nemesis.
And everyone seeking to get superbetter faces Bad Guys: those things that block your progress or cause you anxiety, pain, or distress. Jane McGonigal lists some common Bad Guys people have identified:
- The Sticky Chair: easy to spot as the call to remain sitting all day along; also seen as the sticky couch — attacks your physical resilience
- Solitary Confinement: lack of human contact all day long, can even happen if you are out and about if you remain in your own head and avoid interaction with others — attacks your social resilience
- Too-Headed Monster: self talk that starts, ‘I’m too tired…” or “I’m too slow…” or “I’m too old…” that block your attempts before you even get started — attacks your mental resilience
- Guilty Twin: flip side of gratitude where you feel worse when someone helps you, feeling that you don’t deserve what you’ve got — attacks your emotional resilience
Once again, SuperBetter to the rescue.
Finding and naming your personal Bad Guys plaguing your efforts to get superbetter is step one in battling them. Don’t suppress these negative thoughts, feelings, or experiences. Instead, accept these as a necessary part of getting stronger.
To battle your Bad Guys, develop greater psychological flexibility — the courage to face that which is difficult with flexible responses. The book SuperBetter provides a short list of statements called the “Acceptance or Action Questionnaire,” asking you to agree or disagree with a list of statements. The first and last statements on the list sum it up nicely:
- It’s okay to feel depressed or anxious sometimes.
- I would rather achieve my goals than avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings.
Agree with even just one of the statements on the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire, and you already have some psychological flexibility you can build on. This flexibility can help you battle the Bad Guys by allowing you to choose how to deal with the challenge each one presents.
Drawing on research about psychological flexibility, McGonigal identifies five recommended ways to respond to a Bad Guy:
- Avoid it — just don’t do it! easiest strategy to implement, but actually the least useful. You will always have some negative thoughts and feelings.
- Resist it — to fight negative thoughts, actively pursue positive thoughts for 30 seconds when you feel the negativity rising.
- Adapt to it — for example, use a timer to remind you to drink that glass of water you tend to forget.
- Challenge it — the “So what?” approach…”So what if I am ‘slow’? What difference does it make?” Often we find the Bad Guy shrinks in size once we challenge their power over us.
- Convert it to a power-up — use the appearance of the Bud Guy as a power-up…use cognitive reappraisal to challenge yourself: “Rather than feel guilty about how much that person helped me out, I will send them a personal thank-you note” — an action that boosts your own social resiliency.
When you’re confronting one of your own Bad Guys, McGonigal suggests you should experiment with each of these approaches to see which best fits you, the situation and this particular Bad Guy. Just remember: you will not defeat every Bad Guy you encounter.
McGonigal ends the chapter with 4 recommendations about battling the Bad Guys:
- Do battle as least once a day.
- Power-up after each battle.
- Track your encounters.
- Make friends with the Bad Guy who won’t go away.
Finally, understand that no day will ever be free of Bad Guys. So, don’t wait till they show up today to take action: make a battle plan ahead of time. Experiment with the different types of response to bad guys and use the one(s) that work best for you.
The truth remains that my Late Night Munchie Monster will continue to lurk in our kitchen, and we’ve got so many spoons, there’s no escaping that nightly temptation. So, I battle the both of them nightly like some long-running sports rivalry. Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose.
Last night, I kinda lost to the Sinister Spoon — but I did beat his big brother.
Ha! Score one for me!