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Stop Press! Big Hairy Audacious GOALS. Do they really work?

The gamification process to goal setting.

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Game popup. Level up neon sign, bright signboard, light banner. Game logo neon, emblem. Vector illustration.
Game popup. Level up neon sign, bright signboard, light banner. Game logo neon, emblem. Vector illustration.

At our core, Human Beings love to learn, grow and be challenged. Look at any child, and you can see this in spades. Like most things in life, there is a sweet-spot. A sweet-spot is an optimum point or combination of factors or qualities. And, this absolutely applies when it comes to setting goals. That is if the goal is to set them effectively.

Pardon the pun.

There’s no question about it Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAG) work. But, they only work, IF you follow a counterintuitive process.

Make your goals hard and set the bar high instead of making them easy and setting the bar low. It’s a fact of human nature that we are wary of setting challenging goals. By challenging goals, I still mean achievable ones, and they require a stretch from you, a decent amount of effort and some time to bring them to fruition.

Think sweet-spot in terms of matching skills to goals… It can’t be overwhelming.

We think we want the easy wins and the low hanging fruit and so, we choose lesser goals and go for the quick win. This gives us a sugar hit and a dopamine rush and, just like sugar, they are nothing more than a short term boost. In our heart of hearts, we know the goal ‘achieved’ wasn’t that challenging in the first place. Moreover, given its lack of significance, we don’t value it in the same way, and the very achievement of the goal is diminished.

Enter BHAG’s which run counter to most of the instant results and cultural norms we all live in. Except in one area… Computer games.

You’ll play a game far after it’s stopped being fun simply because there’s the possibility of an increased level, a new achievement, or additional item. That’s why you’ll spend… hours… just to get to the next level, as you’ll then unlock a new sword or spell that gives you a chance to gain . . . yup, another level.

Steve Kamb

These types of games both understand and have been designed with human psychology in mind. They are predicated on our desire for achievement and, dare I say it our addiction to levelling up. How it works is simple. You buy a game because you want to complete the mission. In order to complete the mission, you have to go through a series of levels the game takes you through to level up. You move up through the levels, i.e. from level one to level two and, with any good game, those mini-quests or challenges have sub-elements to them. In those sub-elements, there are tasks to complete. Some tasks are mundane, some of them you love and some of them you may even loathe, but you derive enjoyment because it levels you up. Moving towards your goal through mini-quests to the attainment of the ultimate goal that holds more meaning IS what absorbs you and pushes you forward. 

A large part of it is the reward systems that are built into the games. Think Apple to get a glimpse into how this works outside of the gaming world. I have health and well-being as a key value of mine, and I create goals around the area. I also love my gadgets. Combining the two is a match made in heaven… I get rewards for exercise. I don’t just get the tangible rewards of increased vitality and improved mood, clearer thinking etc. I receive awards for monthly challenges on the app, levelling me up to the final level, my 12-month goal (my mission). These little badges motivate me when I would otherwise be less motivated. They say things like “You did it!”, yes Apple have incorporated that into their process. Also, the pins are funky and cool and more importantly, they continuously reinforce that I’m making progress on my goal. This is aptly called the Progress Principle. It helps “pull me through” because now I have 6 months of badges, so in a month where my plate is full, there’s NO WAY I’m going to let it go. When “I don’t wanna”, the mementos and reminders make all the difference.

This applies to your BHAG’s too! Create your levels and break them done into mini-quests. And, reward yourself and celebrate the wins along the way. Even if you do precisely that, there will be hard days.

On hard days, discipline is key and the support that using gamification and levelling up gives you makes it just that little bit easier and propels you forward to complete the self-assigned mission.

In short, we think we want it easy and we want our goals to be ticked off quickly, like a to-do list. If we do that however, we short change ourselves and rob ourselves of the future self that we are growing, stretching and challenging ourselves into… It’s challenge once realized and overcome that that gives us the feeling of increased capability and skill. It creates enjoyment in us and eventually leads to flow.

The future YOU will thank you for choosing to level up!

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