Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed, exhausted, bored or discouraged by a new diet, lifestyle or workout routine. (All hands go up.) For many, the idea of making these changes is a chore. Steve Kamb, the founder of NerdFitness.com and a self-proclaimed nerd, doesn’t see it that way, though.
Whipping yourself into shape is all about having the right mindset, Kamb says. The mindset, that is, of a superhero or a gamer on a quest to advance to the next level. “It’s as simple as thinking of your life like a video game,” Kamb says. “Except unlike Mario Kart, you only get one life, so the goal is to train and use it wisely.”
In his new book, Level Up Your Life, Kamb explains how to structure your life and your goals so you can go from Average Joe to Captain America. We got Kamb to share his top seven hacks for taking your life to the next level — so get ready to press start.
7 Ways to Unleash Nerd Fitness on Your Life
1. Create an alter ego.
“All my favorite heroes have day jobs,” Kamb says. “It’s their secret identities that make them amazing.” Indiana Jones was an archaeologist, historian and college professor; Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a high school student at Sunnydale High; and when Clark Kent wasn’t saving the world as Superman, he was a reporter at The Daily Planet.
“Apply video game mechanics by being really specific and having mini battles on the way to your ultimate goal.”
Just like you, these heroes have a lot of daily responsibilities. “You have to find a balance, and figure out what kind of superhero you want to be,” Kamb says. “You still have to go to your job, go to class, pick the kids up from school — but you can also have an alter ego version of yourself.” Maybe your alter ego is a marathoner, a mountain climber, or someone who goes on epic weekend trips with your kids.
Develop an identity beyond your 9 to 5 and let that person be the Superman to your Clark Kent. Parts of your superhero character will undoubtedly start bleeding over into your everyday life. “Indiana Jones is a more confident professor because of his international adventures,” Kamb says. “The things you do in your alter ego help you build momentum in the rest of your life.”
2. Build an Epic Quest List with mini battles along the way.
This time of year, goals and resolutions are all the rage. But there’s a big difference between saying you want to “lose weight” and saying you’ll “lose 15 pounds by June.” “Coming up with a list of big, undefined goals makes it hard to see the direction you’re headed with them,” says Kamb. “Apply video game mechanics by being really specific and having mini battles on the way to your ultimate goal.”
Instead of “lose weight,” resolve to eat three healthy meals per day for the next three weeks, or go to the gym three times per week. This way, you know exactly what you need to do to complete your task and get to your next level. Your Epic Quest can be anything from being able to hold a two-minute plank to running a half-marathon.
3. Embrace gamification to persevere in the face of obstacles.
In games, you’re trying to kill the bad guy or explore a new place. In real life, it’s about setting a personal best by lifting a new weight or running a new pace or distance. “It’s not just about looking better,” says Kamb. “It’s about staying motivated, excited and energized, and improving as a character in this game called life.”
The key is to stay focused on the task at hand, Kamb says, and not worry about what’s next. “Stop thinking about processing payroll while you’re doing a deadlift at the gym,” he says. “You need every ounce of concentration you can get to keep reaching your goals.”
“Surround yourself with people who encourage you…Create your most powerful Jedi Council.”
4. Hack your productivity habits.
Don’t give yourself a chance to make excuses. “So many people say things like, ‘I wish I were motivated to work out today’ or ‘I don’t have the willpower to say no to cake,’” Kamb says. “But screw motivation — manufacture discipline. If you rely on willpower, motivation or inspiration — which are great to get you started for a day or two — you will fail.” Instead, create discipline so you can’t cop out or be influenced by your environment. (Real-life application: Stop taking the route home that you know passes a McDonald’s, Chick-Fil-A and Burger King, and opt for the less, uh, scenic route, even if it takes a few minutes longer.)
“Bruce Wayne structured his Batcave to help him become a better Batman. Do that with your office, your car and your time at home, so you’re not relying on willpower to get to the gym,” Kamb says. Sleep in your running clothes so you won’t hit snooze or put your alarm clock across the room so you’re forced to get up when it goes off.
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5. Train your body like Jason Bourne.
“Jason Bourne was dropped off in the middle of nowhere, and had to survive,” says Kamb. “He learned great skills that allowed him to thrive and survive in any environment — and he didn’t go to a gym.” Learn to be as efficient as possible with your workouts so you can be prepared for anything. “As long as you can find something to hang from, you can do anything with just your bodyweight,” Kamb says. “Let the world become your gym.” You don’t need a fancy yoga mat to do squats, lunges, push-ups, dips and pull-ups. Use what you have, wherever you have it.
6. Build in rewards and accountability to succeed.
You know that political issue you hate? “Give a friend $50, and tell him to donate it to your least favorite cause if you don’t get up and go for your run,” Kamb says. “Or schedule a really embarrassing Tweet to go out unless you get up when your alarm goes off to stop it.” Accountability is key when you’re working to build habits. Recruit an ally, like a friend or coworker, to check in on your goals and progress.
Then, when you do hit your goals, reward yourself! Just try to avoid rewarding yourself with food or bad habits. “That’s taking three steps forward and three and a half back,” says Kamb. “In video games, you get rewarded with something that rewards you back, like an extra life or shortcut.” Find a reward that will further encourage you down your path of health and fitness. If you run a mile every morning for a week, at the end of the month go buy yourself a new pair of shoes. If you go to the gym every day for a week, treat yourself to a session with a personal trainer. “Reward yourself to reinforce your healthy new identity,” Kamb says.
7. Choose multiplayer mode and build a legendary team.
“Say you’re playing Call of Duty, and you have the choice of joining Team A, which is a group of absolute badass guys who are all at a higher level than you and have been playing the game longer, or joining Team B, where you’re the star of the team and the rest of the players aren’t very good and don’t go very far, but you get to the be the best,” says Kamb. “The choice is simple, right?”
So often in life, though, we don’t do this. We don’t run with the faster runners for fear of being the slowest or getting dropped. “Don’t get stuck surrounding yourself with bad influences,” Kamb says. “We are the average of the people we associate with — our coworkers, friends, relationships. So surround yourself with people who encourage you, inspire you to become better, and have succeeded in a way you hope to succeed. Create your most powerful Jedi Council.”
Finally, remember, that we rarely win video games on our first try. “It’s OK to fail,” Kamb says. “It’s OK to miss a lift, to look awkward at that first Zumba class, or to slip up on your diet. We all started somewhere. And so often we only see that end goal—and not all the years of work that go into it.” Step one is just hitting that start button.