Do you wish that taking care of your mental health and wellness was fun? Does it feel nearly impossible to break free from your negative thoughts and habits while taking steps to improve your overall happiness? Even with the guidance of a therapist, it still might feel daunting to work on your mental health every day. That’s where SuperBetter comes in.
SuperBetter is a smartphone app that doesn’t just monitor your mental health, it turns taking care of yourself into a game. With over 100,000 downloads, the app is one of the most popular mental health and wellness apps available. SuperBetter is created by Jane McGonigal, a video game designer with one simple mission: to save the world by putting the principles of video games to good use. In McGonigal’s TedTalk, she explains how people feel capable and dedicated when playing video games and she aims to transfer those feelings into tackling real world problems.
I was a bit skeptical when I downloaded SuperBetter a month ago. I couldn’t see how mental health could be turned into a game, let alone one that would work. But after reviewing the science behind the game, I began to see how the app targets negative thoughts and encourages healthy habits which leads to better mental health over all.
Power-Ups are small steps you can take on a daily basis to improve your health in some way. Most people struggle to relax, to exercise, to eat better, and to be more social. SuperBetter breaks those big tasks into baby steps. A Power-Up might involve texting a friend, walking around the block, or drinking a glass of water. Staying healthy doesn’t seem so challenging when you see how easy it is to do one small thing at a time. If you aren’t satisfied with the Power-Ups that come with the game, you can add your own. I’ve added drinking a cup of tea and walking for 20 minutes to my Power-Ups as those are small things that help me feel calm. You also win points for every Power-Up you do in four categories: mental, emotional, physical, and social resilience. These points help you move up levels in the game. For example, the Power-Master level reflects how often you use your Power-Ups.
Quests are a way to keep track of daily and weekly goals. Quests help you by breaking down a big goal or an “Epic Win” into manageable steps. What’s great about this is that Quests are only supposed to focus on goals that are important to you. The app stresses that Quests should not be used as a simple “To Do” list but should be used to make measurable progress towards your goals. SuperBetter comes with pre-made Quests and you can unlock more of them as you progress in the game. Much like Power-Ups, you can add your own Quests. For example, I’ve made it a goal to cook at home more, so I’ve made it a Quest in the game. This way I’ll get points and move up in the game every time I cook. You can assign which category of points the new Quest belongs to so you can accurately be rewarded for completing your customized Quests.
This is my favorite part of SuperBetter. This section allows you to notice what is working against your mental health and turn it into a metaphorical villain you can fight against everyday. Whether it’s the “The Sticky Chair” or the “The Self-critic” or a Bad Guy of your own choosing, there is no better way to zoom in on what is causing you trouble. For example, I noticed that when I’m bored or doing idle tasks, I sometimes ruminate on bad memories from the past whether it is a mistake I made or a time when someone wasn’t nice to me. This would lead to me feeling either sad or angry over situations that happened years ago. Knowing this isn’t productive, I created “Thought Quicksand” as my Bad Guy and every time I noticed I was getting swept up in my negative thoughts, I would record my wins and losses in SuperBetter. Soon it became easier to identify when a “Bad Guy” was about to strike and to defeat him.
You don’t have to battle it out alone, you can invite friends and family to be your Allies in the game. Not only will this help you get the support you need, it also encourages your loved ones to play the game and improve their own mental and emotional health.
Do you have something fun or important to look forward to in the near future? You can record it in the Future Boosts section and when the big day comes you get a boost in points. This helps you find things in your life to look forward to and rewards you for sticking with the plans you’ve made.
Your Epic Win is the biggest goal you have for yourself. This is what all of your Power-Ups, Quests, and Bad-Guy fighting is leading up to. It can be related to work or school, facing a big fear, or simply feeling less anxious or depressed. The only complaint I have with this app is that there is no way to have multiple Epic Win goals as many people usually have more than one big goal they want to achieve. I understand that it is probably best to focus on one goal at a time but some of the activities in SuperBetter can apply to a lot of my big goals and I wanted a way to keep track of all of them. Other than that, this app is a fun way to get you feeling better and move closer to achieving your Epic Win.
What I valued about SuperBetter wasn’t just the fun aspects of game playing, but the science behind it. The app provides you with several videos that explain the science behind each part of the game and how it can help you. A large portion of SuperBetter is modeled after cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is considered best practice for treating a variety of mental health issues including anxiety and depression. While this app isn’t a replacement for therapy, it is a simple and fun way for anyone to improve their mental health and wellness.
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