I cannot adequately describe the elation I felt back in 2012 parking my old truck and walking in to meet my friend, James, for a beer. Shoulder surgery had left me completely unable to drive for over 2 months, and working my way up to driving the manual transmission truck took several more weeks, making it 4 months since I could drive my own truck. Just getting there on my own was quite an achievement in my shoulder rehab journey — and James and I hoisted a toast to my victory in celebration.
In addition to taking a challenge mindset, finding power-ups to help you, battling bad guys who would thwart your efforts, accomplishing multiple quests, recruiting allies to help you, and adopting s secret identity to remind you of your strengths, you’re going to want an Epic Win to look forward to as you’re getting SuperBetter.
An epic win is a gameful goal that is realistic — but challenging. This needs to something big enough to be meaningful for you, but something you have a good chance of accomplishing. When you consider the possibilities, ask yourself, “Can I really do this?” Taking on that sort of difficult goal as an epic win can really energize your efforts. Thinking about driving my truck to go meet James for that beer was a stretch, but do-able, eventually.
The idea behind the science of the epic win is to unlock another hidden cognitive skill, positive reappraisal, or the ability to find opportunities for success and breakthroughs. When you can see how difficulties or struggles could have a good outcome, you boost your resilience in all 4 areas: mental, emotional, social, physical. Practicing positive reappraisal can lower your stress hormones, boost immune function, improve your mood, and leads to great satisfaction in your relationships.
One way to choose your Epic Win is to consider an improvement you want to make, and put a measurable goal with it. For instance, to get SuperBetter in my struggle with diabetes, I need to exercise more — which I constantly talk myself out of. I’m increasing the frequency and duration of the walks I take, and have completed several short quests in pursuit of that improvement.
For my Epic Win, though, I want to stretch myself a little further by walking from my house in Austin’s Zilker neighborhood to the Austin Convention Center, about 2 miles away, for at least one of the days of the upcoming SXSWedu Conference in 2 weeks, maybe all four mornings.
In her book, SuperBetter, McGonigal also talks about another type of epic win: a breakthrough moment. This is the sort of achievement that says to everyone, “I am so much more stronger than you know.”
The example she cites is the fellow, Alex, who survived a horrible bicycle accident: getting knocked off his bike and run over by a car. His leg suffered multiple fractures, requiring 2 separate surgeries, and a couple of months of slowly working back up to simply walking. Bicycling again seemed so impossible, he grew depressed.
So he decided to play SuperBetter.
He set his epic win as riding his bike 3 miles around his favorite local park. When Alex made that ride sometime later, he had 11 allies there to cheer him on! His allies made a video of the ride (set it to the music from Chariots of Fire!) which he proudly shared online.
Sometimes, you might choose to go for an epic win only slightly related to your main challenge: in this way, McGonigal suggests you can sneak-up sideways on some epic wins. For example, one fellow, Dylan, had lots of health-oriented goals (eat better, get fit, lose weight) and all of them could easily have a number attached to make it a measurable win.
But he was tired of counting calories and timing his work-outs. He realized, though, that all of these activities to get himself off the couch more could also benefit his dog, Cody. So , he decided to celebrate Doggie Birthdays with Cody.
See, if every year is like 7 years to a dog, they ought to get 7 birthdays every year, right? So Dylan set out to celebrate a Doggie Birthday every 57 days. On Doggie Birthdays, you do everything the dog wants to do: long walks in the park, playing fetch or catch, big-time belly rubs & ear scratching, plenty of treats and great food, maybe even a good bone for the end of the day. Dylan set his Epic Win as celebrating a full year of Doggie Birthdays.
This got him off the couch, but in a much more forgiving way, sneaking up sideways on his real goal of getting healthier. Sometimes, setting specific goals can backfire if you feel like you’re not reaching the goal quickly enough. That negative thinking can lead to self-doubt and rumination. By tying his activity to something truly joyful, he managed to replace that kind of negative thinking with a goal he could really enjoy and celebrate: a year of playing with his dog.
One key to going for a SuperBetter Epic Win: share your goal and intention with your Allies. They might be able to help you with suggestions, reminders, or just cheering you on. Make plans with your allies to celebrate your Epic Win when you reach it.
Also important in going for your Epic Win: be open to failure — a gameful goal should be forgiving as well as challenging and exciting. Remember that in playing games, every “failure” teaches you something to move you closer to that Epic Win. Don’t pick a one-try-only Epic Win, as you should be ready to try again if you don’t make it.
For example, I’d like to walk both there and back to SXSWedu all 4 days. But I know I’ll wimp out if the weather changes, and I may decide to catch a ride home somehow after a day’s worth of conferencing. That would be okay by me — I still intend to try and walk there for at least one morning, Wed. March 9th, when SuperBetter creator and author, Jane McGonigal, gives a keynote speech.
Go for Epic Wins that are genuine to you — I suppose I could set some other exercise goals, but the truth is walking has always suited me well. I used to believe that given enough time, I could walk damned near anywhere— once contemplated hiking across Texas. These days, though, it’s a struggle to convince myself to even walk 1 mile, much less 2, much less twice in one day.
But I’m building up to that walk to SXSWedu — that’ll be an Epic Win!
Who’s going to help me celebrate?
Next: putting it all together — keeping score