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Build New Habits With HabitJudo

I learned about HabitJudo a few weeks ago from Metafilter Projects. Its creator, Allen Reece, wanted to build a "gamified" system for enforcing new habits.

"Gamification" is a new thing in productivity circles - I believe it comes from video game designer and philosopher Jane McGonigal. McGonigal has dedicated her life to analyzing why we love video games so much, and why they are better than real life. 

One thing games have over real life is a reliable - yet variable - rewards system. Every time you harvest a crop in Farmville, kill a monster in World of Warcraft, or shoot an alien invader in Halo 2, you get points. As points accrue, you level up and get rewards. Leveling up usually means getting some visual symbol to show how far you have come, and rewards can be anything from better fertilizer for your crops to a more effective weapon.

Compare this system to real life, where rewards tend to be intangible at best (like that hypothetical warm and fuzzy feeling you get from washing all the dishes?) and it's easy to see why we spend so much time playing video games.

HabitJudo is designed to apply those same mechanics to daily habits. (Plus the original version is run entirely out of a spreadsheet, and spreadsheets are my favorite thing ever.) Reece recently released an Android app for $.99 and I believe he is working on an iPhone app as well.

Here's how it works: on the top row, you start by entering three daily habits, one in each of the first three cells (B1, C1, and D1). The row below that calculates random numbers. These random numbers are the points you get for completing that task today.

Each day you enter in the points for that task, if you completed it. If you didn't complete it, there is no penalty. (This tracks nicely with the tenets of positive reinforcement training.) Your points accrue in the columns to the right.

At the far right we have the leveling chart. As you can see, as you level up you get to give yourself a reward, advance a color level, and occasionally you add a new habit.

The fundamental philosophy behind HabitJudo is that if you do something regularly for a certain number of days, it becomes an ingrained habit. Reece explained this philosophy for a recent article in The Guardian: "It provides enough additional incentive to get you over the motivation gap until the new habit becomes ingrained."

This deviously simple method, which requires just a spreadsheet application (Google has one you can use for free) is one of the most effective productivity and habit-building tools I have found so far. It boils productivity and self-improvement down to its bare essence: do the thing, and get a reward.

We intuitively know that this kind of system works. That's why we give little kids charts and gold stars, and dispense little bits of Snausages to our dogs when they do the right thing. But at some point, we stop doing it for ourselves. Download the HabitJudo spreadsheet and reverse that trend!