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Level Up! What I Learned Doing a 30 Day Challenge

The Challenge

Thirty-three days ago, I started on a journey. One that helped me break through a wall and level up.

Back in October, I found a Facebook group called Coaching for Geeks. I thought they looked like a fun and interesting group of folks. So I joined. Not thinking much of it but enjoying some of the posts that appeared in my newsfeed.

Shortly thereafter, they announced that November would kick off a 30-day Level Up challenge. The rules were simple. You pick the stat and provide evidence to the group every day that you mad progress towards your goal. They didn’t have to ask me twice. I was in. I just wasn’t sure which stat to chose.

Health is always one that needs attention. I lost over 20 pounds last year (Yay!) but, somehow, they all found me again and brought some friends. So, yes, health would have been a good one to choose. However, in the back of my mind, something different was lurking. Something that needed to be addressed. Something that I have been working around and ignoring for quite some time now. My fear of writing.  Yes, I am a blogger and an academic who is terrified of writing. Here was my chance to defeat that fear.

Backstory – My Relationship with Writing

I use to love to write. I wrote in my journals, I wrote short stories, poems, you name it. I found joy in writing. Then came grad school. In grad school, you write. You write a lot. I enjoyed it for the most part. Researching topics, formulating ideas, synthesizing knowledge. It was kind of cool. However, my dissertation ruined me. Don’t get me wrong. It was an amazing experience. My dissertation committee was great and supportive. The teachers and students I worked with were fantastic. It was the writing process that ruined me. The dissertation process was not the only thing to blame. My new job contributed to it as well. During that time of my life, everything I wrote was examined under a microscope and edited, re-edited, changed, and reworked. The rational part of my brain knew that that was just a normal part of writing. Each edit and bit of feedback was making me a better writer. The irrational part of my brain was losing faith in me. I began to believe that I could not write. Even though I successfully completed and defended my dissertation (you can find it here), the situation destroyed my self-confidence as a writer. Every time I wrote something a voice would tell me that it wasn’t good enough. Not academic enough. Not cohesive or well organized enough or my ideas and conclusions were wrong. No one said this to me, just my own internal editor mouthing off. I became afraid to write anything.

For the next five years, I wrote as little as possible. When I had to write something I’d stare at a blank screen for hours. Thoughts and words swirling in my head forming into to ideas but falling apart when I tried to capture them on the page. The sentences were not good enough. My word choice was bad. My grammar and structure were too terrible to keep. In fact, I think I deleted more sentences than I wrote. It was a painful struggle to write even the simplest thing. Despite this mental barrier, I was able to collaborate on several articles, a few grant proposals, a book chapter, and even co-authored a short form book. It was never published but it was written. Every article, every chapter, every proposal was painful. That internal editor inside my head that kept telling me that I was not a writer. I shouldn’t even try. I was an imposter. As someone who works in a university setting, where writing and publishing are important, I was struggling with a mental barrier that was holding me back. My fear of not being good enough was holding me back.

Fast Forward – Challenge Accepted

Back to the present. Coaching of Geeks put out a call for the 30-day Level Up Challenge. I decided that this was my opportunity. I would tackle this fear head-on. I decided that I would blog every day about fun tech tools. The best way to defeat a fear is to rewire your brain. So, writing every day about a topic that was fun and interesting to me was how I was going to defeat my fear and overcome my barrier. Brain re-wire here I come.

I will admit, even before I started, I assumed that I would fail. I figured I’d last three maybe five days before I’d let the typical excuses get in my way. I don’t have time. I have nothing to write about. My posts are dumb and not worth reading. So I went into this thinking I would fail but willing to give it a try anyway. That was the first step on my journey. Telling myself that even if I might fail, even if my posts really sucked, it was worth giving it a try.

Challenge Completed!

Here we are. Thirty-three days later. Thirty blog posts later. Yes, all thirty. I did it! Have I completely beat the boss and leveled up? Maybe. The fact that I am still writing and have a head full of new post ideas makes me believe that I have at least won a battle.

I give all the credit to the Coaching for Geeks Challenge. If it was not for that, and the supportive group of people who were also doing the challenge, I never would have accomplished this goal.

Breath and Reflect

So, now is the time in the process when we step back and reflect on what we learned. No achievement is complete without a bit of self-reflection.

Lessons Learned

  • It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just write. I think my fear came from needing to be perfect. My writing had to be good enough before I could share it. I was in that mindset where it had to be exactly right or it wasn’t worth doing. Writing every day and having to post it as evidence helped me begin to get over that. I’m not “cured” by any means. But I think I’m better. The posts weren’t perfect. Heck, some of them probably sucked. I know I broke grammar rules. My tenses switched. My metaphors mixed. I had participles dangling all over the place. My spell checker was overworked and a couple times just said WTF. But it didn’t matter. I wrote. I shared it. People read it. And some even liked it or shared it. I wrote. It wasn’t perfect. And that was OK. Whatever I was afraid of didn’t happen. It was OK. I got a good laugh this morning with this memory popped up on my Facebook timeline. “even if its crap, just get it on the page…” Seems fitting. It’s my new mantra.

    Facebook post
    I knew the secret back then.
  • The more you write. The better you get. My writer friends have been telling me this for years. It makes sense. You can’t improve if you don’t practice. The only way to become a better writer is to write. A lot. Over the course of the thirty days, my writing got better. I could write faster. My blog formats got better. I researched formatting and read more blogs to learn best practices. I feel that overall, I improved. I still have a long way to go but I improved. That improvement wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t commit to writing every day. It was fun to read the reflections of the others doing the challenges. Even though we all went after different goals, we all saw something happen in the end. Some now know more words in a second language than they did before. Some got healthier and now their pants fit better. Others made things or cleaned things or organized things. Whatever our goals were, buy attacking them every day, we got better.
  • Excuses are just excuses. What do you know, I do have time to write. I just had to make it a priority and turn it into a habit. Who knew?
  •  I write to learn. For me, this challenge was two-fold, 1) improve my writing and 2) explore more tech tools. The world of educational technology is huge! I felt like life was preventing me from staying on top of the hot trends and I was losing touch with the new tech tools out there. I had a blast spending the last 30 days digging into some tools. Not only did I get to explore them and write about it. It started several IRL conversations. Just the other day I had one of those conversations that goes something like this…”Hey, have you seen this tool?” “No! Cool! Have you seen this tool?” “Holy cow, no! It reminds me of this tool. You should check it out.”  Loved it!! I have several new tech tools to explore..and write about.

And finally – this is the big one.

Gamification strategies are an effective way to support self-improvement and learning. – I have been a believer in gamification in the classroom ever since I took my first grad class on the subject and read the book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by Dr. James Paul Gee. That was almost ten years ago. Since then, I have taught workshops on how to use game elements and strategies in a classroom and I’ve used these strategies with my learners. However, this is the first time I really saw it from the learner’s side.

Actually doing it and being in the role of the learner, helped me understand why this can work so well.

Here’s why.

  • The overarching storyline kept me motivated. Every morning I looked forward to logging on and seeing what was happening in the story. They were revealed just in time and kept me interested. Plus they were fun and funny. I also had fun reading others responses. 
  • Even though our goals were all different, we worked together as a team and were accountable to each other. I made sure I had my evidence posted early every day just to make sure the time difference didn’t make me miss a day. I didn’t want to let the group down and break my streak. The group needed me.
  • This showed me how powerful personalized learning can be. Even though we were all part of the same challenge, we all had different goals. The challenge was meaningful and personal. Yet, we were there to support each other and celebrate our wins. We were not competing with each other but with ourselves. And it worked.

I commend Robin Bates, our challenge master, and the entire team at Coaching for Geeks (CfG) for creating such a fun and engaging challenge. And big congrats to everyone who completed the challenge. No matter if you had a solid 30-day streak or an any-day streak. We did it! We were able to level up, make progress towards our goals and achieve the power level needed to defeat Nega-Robin. Yay us!

I highly recommend following CfG on Twitter (@CoachingGeeks‏). Join the Facebook group. Find them online, read the blog, listen to the podcast, and check out their courses. They are a great group of folks. They helped me overcome my fear and find joy in writing again. Thanks all!

So, what’s the next challenge? Bring it on!

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