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Use a Game to Motivate

Last year I wrote the short blurb below in my monthly newsletter.  It is about using games to motivate ourselves or our teams.   

One trick we can use to get us fired up about our goals is to make a game of them.  Even better is to find competitors who will spur us on.  Most of us like to compete though many of us are undercover about our competitiveness.  Competition can help us to quickly ramp up our game!  Find someone who is doing something similar and make it your goal to beat them.  Or, create a friendly wager that will spur you both on.

Tshirt qualifier v1 copy


One little-known secret behind my success in qualifying for the 2007 Boston Marathon was that my wife Norma qualified in October 2006.  I felt like she was walking around the house, gloating, with a t-shirt on that said she qualified!  It really got to me when she began making travel arrangements to go to Boston for the race without me.  The thought of her going to Boston without me spurred me on.  I was sad and angry and I didn’t want to get left behind and that was the push I needed to qualify.  I ran in Las Vegas in December of 2006 and missed my qualifying time by 12 minutes.  I was ready to give up when I thought about her and that shirt.  I signed up for the New Orleans Marathon and ran that at the end of February 2007, and made my time with only 90 seconds to spare! 

I took my own advice recently when I found myself stuck and I was reminded how powerful this concept is, at least for me.  I had committed to running the 2009 Chicago Marathon to raise money for charity.  The running part was hard – I had an 18 week training plan that built from 15 miles to 40 miles in a week! 

As hard as that sounds, I found that the other part of the commitment was even harder – asking people to contribute money to the cause.  Now my particular cause was an easy one to get behind.  I am raising money for RISE International to build a primary school in rural Angola Africa where none exists today.  However, I still found myself very stuck or scared to reach out to people and ask for help.  With less than 6 weeks to go before the race, I had only raised $250 and that was from my own brother.

So I made a game out of it.  I challenged a good friend and fellow runner Tim to a fund raising competition.   For the last 6 weeks leading up to the race, we would track the donations each of us received.  Each week, the person who raised the least would contribute $20 to the campaign of the other.  We also set up an overall competition where the person who raised the least overall would take the other and his wife out to dinner.

Did it motivate me?  You’d better believe it.  The idea of competing with someone got me moving and willing to push through my fear.  The contest was on my mind and I began to think creatively about who to contact for help and what to say.  I found myself checking where I was versus my competitor multiple times throughout the day (you can check the current results for yourself here). 

RISE Leader Board


The results have been great.  Over the last 4 weeks I went from raising $250 to raising over $6,600.  My friend and competitor Tim raised $8,600.  Together, we raised over $15,000 and I know that is more than either of us expected at the start.  Though it now seems likely I will have to concede the overall contest, I put up a good fight and won two of the weekly competitions. 

I challenge you to give it some thought to how to use competition to motivate yourself or others.  When people are stuck or scared, how can you make it a game?  Where would a friendly competition bring out the best in you?