The Science of Change, Games, and Happiness

by David Samoranski on September 16th, 2012

It has been a year since I first started thinking about how I could apply the business concepts I use at work towards my own happiness. I have learned a lot through my research and have experienced positive results from identifying personal strengths, creating a personal vision and mission, designing a personal strategy map, and implementing a personal balanced scorecard. My most recent efforts have been focused on the science of change and motivation. I read the book, Change Anything, not too long ago. The book helped me gain a better understanding of personal behavior. I also enrolled in an online gamification course being taught by Professor Werbach in a partnership between Wharton and I am very interested in applying these concepts to the happiness framework.

Change Anything

Research from Change Anything found that behavior is influenced by 6 sources. Everyone experiences pressure from 3 specific motivations and abilities. This includes personal, social, and structural influences. The authors also discovered that people who were aware of the sources of influence and used them to their advantage were 10 times more likely to their desired change. The key is to leverage your motivations and abilities to develop vital behaviors for things that are important to you. This might be focused on exercise, nutrition, professional development, financial, or relationship behaviors you would like to make habitual.

The personal aspect of change is pretty straightforward. If you want to change, you have to want it and you have to be able to achieve it. Understand why you want to create change and why it is critical for you. Visualize what the future looks like if you are successful, and what will happen if you do not change. Picture the result you are seeking and use it as motivation to keep pushing forward. Wanting it isn’t enough though. You must rigorously break old habits that interfere with your vision and learn new skills that enable your goals.

The social aspect of change is based on the people in your life. Do the people you interact with make your goals easier or harder to achieve? Friends get you excited and encourage you while accomplices hold you back. Working with a support system of friends, co-workers, or relatives can establish the social motivation and ability to stay committed to your change. Transforming negative accomplices into friends that hold you accountable can have an enormous impact on change efforts.

Structural motivation and ability includes everything else. This could be the way you incentivize yourself to change or the things you see or hear on a daily basis. One of the surprising finds about motivation was that people are far more motivated to avoid losing something compared with receiving something of similar value. Another big surprise was the impact of our environments on the ability to change. The sights and messages we surround ourselves with are constantly at work influencing our perceptions. A change initiative can dramatically be improved by putting the structural aspect of change to work.


Gamification is the application of game elements and game design in a non-game context. People enjoy games because of our natural desire to compete. Incorporating things like points, score boards, and challenges into business or behavioral change initiatives can help keep people engaged. Badges, progress indicators, and rewards can motivate people to complete specific activities or achieve certain goals. The popularity of social networking games has created the perfect environment for game theory and mechanics to be used for other purposes.

Gartner identified four principal means of gamification that drive user engagement.

  1. Accelerated feedback cycles
  2. Clear goals and rules of play.
  3. A compelling narrative.
  4. Tasks that are challenging but achievable.

The crew at Change Anything created an iOS app that gamifies the development of vital behaviors. You’re On enables you to track your progress on new habits you want to establish. It also allows you to invite others to join you and create challenges between friends. The app could use some improvements though. I wish I could customize points or create recurring challenges, but it’s definitely a good start.

I’ve been working on the execution of my own happiness strategy for a while now. I don’t always achieve the targets in my scorecard and some weeks I experience better results than others. But, I am more in tune with what’s important to me and what happiness really means. I’m very excited to apply what I’ve learned about the sources of influence and gamification to my work on the happiness maturity model.

From → Personal

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