Introducing the Action Hero Card Game©

November 11, 2006

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to develop ways to “get motivated.” Admittedly, this should be a pretty simple process: the thought ‘You need to do this’ should immediately trigger the response ‘Let’s do it!’ and then the action should get done.

Yeah, right. If we were computers, maybe. But if we were computers, we wouldn’t have intuition, creativity, or any of the other lovely qualities that make us, well, human. And besides, what challenge would there be in that? And therefore, what reward?

So, what have I been doing to “hack” this human error? Well, I’ve tried tons of things. Let me give you the short version of some:

(1) The simplest one involves just making a list of things “to do” and then kicking through it. This one works surprisingly well. It’s elegant, all you need is a piece of paper, and the energy you free up just by making the list gives you the momentum to get started. I highly advise.

(2) Just doing what I feel like doing. This is pretty much the antithesis of number one. When you feel like doing homework, do some homework. When you feel like writing a blog post, write a blog post. And when you feel like just chilling out listening to music, then chill! Also a simple model. It allows you to do what you “want” to do, so you get a boost when you decide you “want” to get important things, like homework or a blog post, done. I also advise this system, but not every day. Maybe once a week, like on Sunday’s, when you feel like taking a break from the over-scheduled world.

(3) Make a schedule. This one seems the most likely to work, but I’ve found it the least effective. Basically, you make a list of all the things you want to do, and then you fill them into a blank day-schedule. So, at 9 you do your chemistry homework, at 10 you go for a run, and at 11 you eat lunch. It’s all there, down on the page. Plus you PUT it all on the page at some point, so you know you must want to do it. For some reason, this method just makes me freeze up. I feel like my day has turned from a flow of energy to a giant monolithic mountain that I have to dig a tunnel through. I don’t advise this one, but if you figure out a way to make it work, give me a heads up. :)

Those are simplifications of the systems I’ve been trying out since I got to college and decided I wanted a better method for motivation than, “Oh, shit! This paper’s due in a day!” I like all of them, to an extent. But they all have their weaknesses, so me being the optimizer that I am, decided to come up with yet another system.

I’ve been reading a lot by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yeah, that’s a tongue twister of a last name, but it’s pronounced easily: “chic sent me high” [nice!]). He’s a psychologist that studies a phenomena known as “flow.” I wrote about flow on my old blog here, when I profiled a game based on the theory. I won’t reiterate it here, because to be honest it’s not that important. Let me just summarize flow: it’s a great feeling you have when life’s a game. Pretty simple. Rules, goals, easy feedback, all these things lead to flow. All these things are in games. Basically because games are “autotelic” (which means, literally, “a means unto itself”) by there very nature. Something that’s autotelic makes should be done for its own good. IE you don’t need to get anything from it, it’s just enjoyable to do. Think of reading, going for a fun bike ride (if you’re not pumping your heart for cardio reasons), a nice talk with a friend. Now, none of these activities are purely autotelic, just like no job is purely exotolic (a means outside itself).

If you want to experience flow, make things more autotelic, ie more game like. And thus comes in my latest idea for motivation: The Action Hero Card Game© (okay, I didn’t really copyright it, but if you steal my idea and market it, that’s bad Karma on you!). Here’s a picture of it below:
Action Hero Card Game
Nice, huh? Now let me explain. As you can see, each card has a box in the upper left and upper right corner, as well as one in the bottom third. The top left box has the time that I’m going to do the activity, the top right box has the amount of time I’m to spend on the activity, and the bottom box has any notes on the activity (take the write blog post one for example: the time is 8 (when I started writing thing post!), the amount of time is 30 minutes (the amount of time it took me to write this!), and the note says to write about making card games to increase motivation (you get the idea!).

Basically, I have a stack of such cards, and I go through them one at a time throughout the game. When I finish a card, I turn it over, place it in a separate (done) pile, read the next card, and either act on it if the time’s come, or move on to whatever I feel like doing at the moment. I can do that because I know I’ve planned out the day to the point that I’ll get everything done. No guilt in randomly surfing the interweb or randomly writing some stuff. It’s a nice feeling. :)

There’s a little more to this system than I’ve explained (like, how do I decide what to do in a day? and when to do it? and how long to do it?), but I’ll leave those items for a later blog post.

I hope you found this post informational. And maybe now you’re motivated to make you’re very own Action Hero Card Game© set! ;)



2 Responses to “Introducing the Action Hero Card Game©”

  1. Dave in the West said

    lol, sounds good. Glad you found something that works. Usually I just write a list of objectives whenever I have a bunch of important stuff to do. I usually only write a list when I absolutely have to do things. basically, just tell yourself that you’re not allowed to rest until those things are done. It’s simple, but it can be difficult if you’re not used to telling yourself what to do.

    If I were there, you would get things done, because I would bitch at you, in the loving way that i bitch at people. Let me be there in spirit. Make me happy.

  2. Ed A. said


    I usually just procrastinate as long as possible, and then ultra-cram out my work in the bit of time before I have to turn it in, haha.


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