I leveled up in Superbetter by petting an unkempt neighborhood cat

I’m probably the biggest nerd in the world for productivity and lifestyle apps. I enjoy trying out as many as I can in the futile search for the one that will finally make my life perfect and optimised and give me ultimately .. total transcendence :o.

They always bring with them the alluring promise of a new age of self. Where one happily jumps out of bed at 5 am in the morning, writes 5000 words, masters Icelandic and then goes on a 20km hike or something.

Irreconcilably enough, I think that doing nothing is way underrated and ‘productivity’ is a bit of an icky word – but I’m just annoyingly contradictory like that.

One is fruitful only at the cost of being rich in contradictions.
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Thanks, Nietzsche! I feel a bit less crazy now.

What is this Superbetter?

SupperBetter (an iOS and web app) is a bit different in that its mission isn’t so much about getting you to do more stuff but rather uses gamification principles to help you build resilience, get over adversity and just generally make you mentally healthier and more positive.

It spawned originally from Game Designers Jane McGonigal’s struggle to get over a concussion.

Here’s the story and the science that the app is based on:

The original app was released back in early 2012 and I heard about it through the TED talk about a year later.
I downloaded it instantly cause it sounded right up my alley of attempting to become Übermensch via app (more Nietzsche??).

Plus I had heard of Jane McGonigal and thought she was kinda interesting, plus female game designers are rare enough. I have since read her book Reality is Broken and enjoyed it despite its overly optimistic slant.

My Experience

Back in 2013, my digital acquisition of the app happened to coincide with a particularly bad break up and I will quantify that it made my life at the time approximately 7% less shitty (which is actually pretty good).

The app experience starts by asking you to set up your ‘Secret Identity’ alter ego. According to the app:

Scientists have recently discovered that telling a heroic story about yourself can turn a challenging experience into a transformative one. This is especially true when you tell your heroic story to others.

I picked the name Svæina because it is similar to my real name but sounds 1000 x more Nordic and badass.
The app then prompts you to select the challenge you are facing and what your goal (i.e. your “Epic Win”) consists of. This could be anything from anxiety, sleeping better, getting over a physical illness etc.

Based on what you have selected the app will suggest various ‘Powerups’ and ‘Quests’ to complete and “Bad guys” to battle. You can even make your own custom ones. By completing these tasks you gain points and level up and all that other typical RPG stuff.

Some of my favourites I was assigned:

  • The ‘What went well challenge’ – where you record positive things about your day and WHY
  • The ‘Fail with Style’ power up where you get points for trying and failing
  • Fighting Chicken Little as the bad guy
A custom Power Up I made. I dinged to level 7 by petting this unkempt neighbourhood cat while reading a book on my doorstep. Nice!

Essentially it’s all just around adding things to your day to make you feel happier and stronger and removing stuff that gets you down.

But the power of these small positive disruptions should not be underestimated. It’s easy to get stuck in a hole of bad habits and bad thinking and sit inside all day just wallowing when there is a perfectly good sun, book and cat waiting right there for your enjoyment.

I could imagine for someone focused on a more specific goal (such as getting better after an injury) the app could be even more useful.

So then I stopped using it…

I grew a bit tired of using it after a couple of months.

The user interface was confusing and not very nice to use, the syncing with the web-based version was terrible and the developers didn’t seem to be supporting the service at all. I think it was pretty much abandoned.

So why am I talking about this now?

Jane has recently released a book titled SuperBetter on the science behind the app. It’s not just about the app, but also how the principles can be extended into the broader realm.

In this book, McGonigal reveals a decade’s worth of scientific research into the ways all games—including videogames, sports, and puzzles—change how we respond to stress, challenge, and pain. She explains how we can cultivate new powers of recovery and resilience in everyday life simply by adopting a more “gameful” mind-set. Being gameful means bringing the same psychological strengths we naturally display when we play games—such as optimism, creativity, courage, and determination—to real-world goals.

Also, the news about town is that the SuperBetter team is getting ready to launch an Indigogo campaign on the 6th of October with a funding goal of $150k.

This is interesting news as the app felt like it had lots of potential but maybe just not enough budget to make it as technically stable and usable as it could be.

SuperBetter really helped make that shitty time be just slightly less shitty and I’m excited to see what the team come up with for 2.0.