Gamification can boost your mental and physical wellness.

Welcome back to our gamification series! In last week’s article, we talked about how you can apply the principles of gamification to your exercise and physical health to make working out less of a chore. This week, we’ll be discussing how you can apply those same principles to healthy eating and mindfulness. If you’re bound and determined to increase your physical or mental health (or both), gamification can be a good lens through which to view your progress and goals. Plus, it makes things more fun!

So what exactly is gamification? It’s a way of organizing your fitness, healthy eating, or other goals into a series of smaller, more achievable goals and rewarding yourself for each one. For some people (me), it also involves making your goals more gaming-themed and applying the principles of experience points (XP) and other gaming-related markers of progress to your actions. While it won’t be right for everyone, it’s worth a shot if you’ve ever wished life was a little more like a video game.

Boost your stats

In the previous article, we examined adding experience points and stat growth to exercise. By completing more reps, exercising for longer periods of time, and becoming stronger, you can “level up” and become more physically healthy. The same principles can be applied to food, water, and meal prep goals. Create stats for yourself and assign different amounts of experience points or stat increases to each type of food. As you work toward healthier eating, watch your stats and experience grow each time you make good food choices! (Pro tip: assign larger amounts of XP to healthy foods that you don’t like. It might make eating them a little easier.)

You can also do this with water consumption and meal prep. Assign XP or stat increases to each glass of water that you drink or each day that you make your meals ahead of time (and actually eat it instead of opting for take-out!). You don’t have to make radical changes right at the start or toss out all of your desserts; big change is all about gradual movement and improvement, just like grinding and leveling up in actual games. You have to fight the little monsters before you take on the bosses.

Keep an air of positivity

When assigning XP and stat growth to different activities, it may also be tempting to assign stat decreases or even “damage points” to certain actions, like getting takeout instead of eating healthy or skipping a few glasses of water. The decrease that would follow these actions is – in theory – designed to make you avoid doing them, but looking at your goals with this mindset isn’t always beneficial. Sometimes, it can be downright harmful.

If it helps you to think of slip-ups and mistakes as actions that detract from your overall progress and therefore deserve a negative result, more power to you. For many people, though, this can result in a significant amount of negative thinking, which in turn can cause a decrease in motivation. Instead of punishing yourself for making bad choices or slipping up, reward yourself for good choices. This can take the form of granting XP when you choose a healthy meal rather than removing XP when you opt for fast food or boosting your stats when you have a glass of water rather than decreasing them when you drink a Coke instead. Most of the health battle lies in mindset, so it’s important to think through things more positively. Physical health and mental health are connected, so try to stay positive when you’re fighting for your goals.

Play with your food

Ever wished you could cook like your favorite game characters? Well, now you can! No, seriously – you can. There are tons of official and unofficial cookbooks out there that contain recipes inspired by the popular games of today and yesterday. Though I can’t promise all of these recipes are healthy – my partner owns the Hearthstone cookbook and it’s literally 50% cheese – learning to recreate some of the dishes you’ve seen in games might inspire you to learn more about food and get more involved in the kitchen.

There’s an even wider variety of recipes that are inspired by the ones found in popular games. This Polygon video features a cook making all 78 of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild‘s recipes in real life. Many of these dishes could be modified to contain healthier ingredients and sides. If you grab a glass of water alongside your creation, voila! – you’re eating like Link. (How much XP is that worth?) Again, even if the recipes aren’t all super healthy, learning to cook and savoring the food that you create can give you a greater appreciation for what you put in your body and teach you a few things about home cooking. It’s healthier and cheaper to cook at home instead of eating out, so eat up!

Relax with play

With the amount of cozy, relaxing games that have come out in the last few years, it’s easy for everyone to find a slower-paced title that they enjoy. From Stardew Valley to Animal Crossing, an entire genre has risen recently that focuses on feelings and experiences over progression. While you’re working on your own real-life progression, it’s important to remember that rest, relaxation, and mindfulness are a very important part of the process. Cozy and relaxing games can help put you in the right state of mind to meditate or practice mindfulness, particularly if they’re titles you already enjoy. Had a stressful day? Try playing something relaxing before meditating to put you in the right mindset.

If you’re not a fan of relaxing or slower-paced games, you don’t have to force yourself to play them. If Call of Duty or Fortnite put you in a calm, relaxed state of mind, you can play them instead! At the end of a busy day of work, I look forward to unwinding with a rowdy round of Apex Legends as much as I look forward to checking in with my Animal Crossing town. Both make me feel happier and relaxed, though in significantly different ways. The important thing is finding a game that makes you feel good and using it as a segue into meditation, mindfulness, therapy, or other mind-benefitting actions.

Use an app (again)

Okay, okay, I’m copying this one from the first gamification article. But seriously, if you don’t want to manually keep track of your stats, XP, or days, an app like Habitica can automate the whole process and make things a lot less labor-intensive. Use the daily tasks section to include things that you want to make sure do every day, like meditate or make your meal for the next day. Once you’ve set those up, you can use the habits section to set up things like drinking water or choosing a side salad instead of fries. (See? Even if you do get takeout, there are ways of making it healthier.) The more you do each of these things (and keep up your streaks), the more XP you’ll get and the better you’ll feel in real life.

Though I believe Habitica knocks your HP if you miss a daily task, you can avoid that by turning all your tasks into habits. If you want to meditate each day, just make meditation one of the habits in the app and tap it once when you’ve completed it. Trust me, it makes the whole thing much less stressful.

There are a lot more uses for gamification than just physical and mental wellness, but even within these categories, there are a myriad of ways you can apply the principles to your daily life and goal-setting. Like I stressed in the part one, the most important thing is finding habits you can stick with and creating small, achievable goals on your way to The Big One. While no organization and mindset system will do the work for you, they might make some of your tough journeys a little easier. Good luck, traveler!