Games, Teams, Leaders, and the Whole Life Challenge

By Dave Smallen

I’ve signed up for the Whole Life Challenge (WLC) as a member of the Hamilton College Challengers team, which includes sixty-two members.  My goal is not to lose weight (although I remember what I weighed as a first-year undergraduate, fifty-three years ago, and imagine if I weighed that amount again I could roll back the aging process :<).  I do want to see whether I feel better if I eat a less carbohydrates, drink more water, exercise and stretch every day.  The challenge lasts eight weeks and that seems doable.  But, I am also interested in seeing how the “gamification” of wellness, teamwork and leadership works in the WLC.

In simple terms, Gamification, is identifying elements of games that are fun and motivating, and using those same elements in a non-game context to influence behavior.  Gamification techniques “strive to leverage people's natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure.”  Game techniques can be used in a variety of settings, for example, to encourage people to drive more efficiently or buy more coffee from Starbucks. In the WLC game you accumulate daily points for the right dietary, exercise and life style behavior.  You don’t “win” any prize with monetary value for accumulating more points than other people, but the points help you quantify your commitment to a healthier lifestyle, and for me it taps into my inherent desire to achieve.  Not all games are necessarily good for you as my semi-addiction to Candy Crush illustrates.

Another element of the WLC that interests me is teamwork.  A team is a collection of individuals who share a common goal and a willingness to help each other achieve that goal – in this case to be healthier. When Michael Stanwyck, one of the co-founders of WLC, spoke at Hamilton on January 14 he told of how the team aspect of WLC is what ultimately made it successful.  That is, when you create a community with common goals the members can support and encourage each other in the pursuit of success.   It is well known that trying to quit smoking is hard, but having a support group of others trying to do the same thing, or who have been successful, makes the challenge more reasonable.  I’ve already seen the members of our Hamilton team encouraging each other by commenting on their daily written reflections.

Finally, Irene Cornish is our team leader.  In the days leading up to the start of the WLC in January, Irene answered questions people had about the program, and inspired us with her personal experiences in previous runs of the WLC. Like all good leaders, she tries to find ways for each person to do his/her best work every day.  Whether the need is finding a good recipe of compliant food, or finding a ten minute workout that can be done while traveling, she is there to help.

In LITS, teams and leadership play a crucial role in helping us deliver information and technology services to faculty, staff and students. Warren Bennis and Patricia Biederman, perhaps said it best, in Organizing Genius, “In a society as complex and technologically sophisticated as ours, the most urgent projects require the coordinated contributions of many talented people.” Our team leaders are similarly challenged to empower their members to work together effectively on common goals.  I’m also hoping that we will find ways of using games to help members of the Hamilton community become better stewards of confidential and sensitive information.  Information security is a big challenge that will require a change to our normal behavior. In the coming weeks, I look forward to helping the Hamilton College Challengers to have a healthier life.

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