Thoughts on the Gamification of #Mindfulness

By fouts | Mindful Social Chat

Jul 04

In case you’re not familiar with the term, gamification is the process of using gaming elements like scoring, competition, play, and rewards. It works particularly well with problem-solving where badges or scores indicate competency.

Think about those merit badges in the scouts, or checking in on Foursquare to earn points. These are games that bring us gratification and sometimes financial rewards.

Many corporations use gamification to encourage employee engagement, sharing of company information on social media, and meeting performance goals.

Gamification is certainly not a new way to engage us and create good learning habits. In fact, a Russian scientist named Dmitri Mendeleev may have been the first to use gamification as a learning tool in the 19th century. An avid card player, Mendeleev used playing cards to help remember the elements in the periodic table.

Today, when we think of gamification there are thousands of examples, from games for learning specific tasks, understanding our emotions, encouraging employee engagement, and, of course, to develop mindfulness practices.

For example; the wonderful game designed by Jane McGonicalSuper Better” a game which has helped thousands deal with real-life health challenges like depression, chronic pain and traumatic injuries and it’s given so much insight into how changing our habits can dramatically improve our lives.

Or Mindful Games from Susan Kaiser Greenland, a recent guest on #MindfulSocial who offers us a way to bring mindfulness into the family. Her book and game cards help develop focusing skills, sensory awareness and encourage kindness, generosity and to recognize and regulate our own emotions.

There are also a bevy of meditation apps that use gaming techniques. Headspace, and Calm both lead us through guided meditations and use invitations to complete a series of meditations to reach new levels.

One of my favorite meditation apps, Insight Timer, shows an array of stars to show how many meditation milestones one has achieved. It also has an option to auto-post to social networks with a notice you are starting or just completed meditation. The idea of meditating together with 10,000 people around the world is powerful, and I’ve struck up several conversations around these notifications on Twitter.  This particular app also has a community aspect, where people can share their own insights and joining groups around their areas of interest. Is community engagement gamification?

The naysayers
There are some who feel that gamification diminishes the value of mindfulness or meditation practice, and I’ve had some fairly intense conversations about it.

This post “Buddhism, Gamified” states “meditation is practiced to generate good metta (roughly, ‘loving-kindess‘) that improves our level of reincarnation in the next lifetime. The ultimate goal of meditation is originally nirvana, not stress reduction.

I’m not going to go into that theory here in depth beyond to say I think it’s one person’s perspective. I have used the Muse meditation headband myself, and it gave me quite a bit of insight into how busy or settled my mind can be, or not be, and how much control we do have of that.  In fact, here’s a recent output of the device during meditation. I confess I use it rarely now, but it was a fun way to visualize what was going on in my head.

So, is gamification anti-mindful?
It makes little sense to me to think that when it’s common for meditation teachers to suggest counting breaths as a training tool. But that, right there, that’s the crux of it all. Gamification is a tool, not the end result.

As I have developed a more consistent practice I find I use these tools less often. As someone who actively encourages people to try meditation and mindfulness practices in their daily work and home lives, I suggest apps and tools to help people develop a good habit of practice. It’s the habit that matters at first. When you see results you may not need games anymore at all, unless you want to experiment some more.

Sure, if the only goal is to get the most points, regardless of learning anything, it’s not so mindful in intent, is it? The sneaky bit is, with continual practice you do see an improvement in focus, calmness, and ability to handle difficult situations. That’s a win in my book. How about yours?

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