Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions by Removing Small Obstacles

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We all have a tendency to make mountains out of molehills sometimes. The biggest killers of productivity are, at their core, really simple, such as noise, interruptions, and temptations of the Internet. After all, what destroys perfectly good new year’s resolutions are usually flashy events or crises.

It’s tempting to ask “how to I become more motivated” or “why am I so lazy?” They’re big, abstract, complex questions with no clear answer. Though they’re good questions to start with, they can quickly become misdirects that siphon your attention away from more specific issues.

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Think of one simple thing that kills your motivation to accomplish one goal. Just one thing for one goal.

I like to cook my own meals, because it’s healthier and cheaper. However, cooking can be a time-intensive task. With a full-time job and a side business, standing at the stove for two hours to make something is a really unattractive prospect. The solution for me was simple: spend $20 on a crockpot.

If you’re trying to create a game, but the noisiness of your home stops you from fully realizing your creative talents, don’t train yourself to work with noise. Close the door instead.

Sometimes the “small obstacle” that you need to remove is the fear of starting. It’s intimidating to look at a blank page, with no clear idea of what to write. If that’s the case, just start. Write one sentence.

Small Steps for the 5 Most Common New Year’s Resolutions

Since I’m updating this old post for the new year (2021), I want to take the most common new year’s resolutions and talk about how you can take a tiny, but nevertheless important and concrete, step in the right direction. Remember: this is just about getting started and building momentum.

Lose weight

This is a tough one, and I’m not a dietician. Obviously, what’s right for your body is going to be different than what’s right for mine.

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that odds are, you have at least one thing you eat that you know you shouldn’t. Before committing to restrictive calorie counting, a rigorous exercise routine, or an elimination diet such as keto, why not just cut back your intake of that one guilty pleasure?

It’s a quick win and if you need to do more, you can always do more. Sometimes the important thing is just building momentum! I’ve personally found its easier to lose weight when focusing on my actions and not the number on the scale, which cruelly fluctuates by as much as 5 pounds in a day.

Improve your finances

Some folks say “oh crap, I’m spending too much money” and then implement a tight budget. Then they lose steam quickly after two ascetic weeks of no purchases.

Why not instead focus on getting visibility into your whole financial situation? I recommend getting setting up with software like Mint or Personal Capital so you can see and really understand your situation, instead of being worried about it abstractly.

Exercise

This one’s actually pretty easy! Start by doing just ten minutes of any cardio you can stand everyday, be it running, walking, rowing, or something else. Or, if you’re looking to build muscle, start with some simple bodyweight exercises instead of pulling out the 45 pound plates.

Get a new job

Are you in a really bad job right now and need to take anything else? If so, the first step is easy: find any open job and apply. Just apply to one job everyday for starters.

If you’re looking to move up as a professional, then your first step is a different one. I say treat it like you’re buying a house: be really clear about your criteria. Think about where you want to work, how much money you expect to make, and the responsibilities you expect to take on. Come up with a basic list of “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.”

Eat healthier

Eating healthier is a vague and broad goal, so start by doing something simple. Replace one food that you think of as unhealthy with one you think of as healthy. For example, replace potato chips with apples.

Creating an Upward Spiral

Removing small obstacles won’t rocket you to greatness, but it will get you started. Getting started is the most important thing. The things that hold us back from getting started are usually very simple. We create narratives around our heads that make our obstacles seem complex. The tiniest removed obstacle can start you on the right path.

Once you get one small obstacle removed, you’ll feel good about it. Then you might just get your goal accomplished. You’ll feel good about that, too. You’ll be more likely to remove another small obstacle, and then accomplish another goal. Step by step, you’re building a habit. You’re creating a positive feedback loop. It’s almost like a hack for your mind. It’s freaky how well it works.

Remove one tiny obstacle today. You’ll be glad you did.





Don’t Find Your Passion, Make It

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You probably won’t find your passion. I know what I just said is contrary to the milk-and-honey clickbait diet of Lifehack, Buzzfeed, and HuffPo articles that would say otherwise. I know this differs from the cheap, feel-good millennial-baiting garbage we’ve become accustomed to. I know that bolded text probably lands with the subtlety of a bag of bricks thrown down a flight of stairs. Yet there is hope even still…

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You won’t find your passion, but you might be able to create it. Soulmate passions don’t exist. You may be interested in many things. The world is an interesting place! With all the choices available to us, there is no meaningful way to reliably gauge what’s “right” for you to do forever. Fostering an obsession with what your “one true passion” is a form of detrimental perfectionism that may be holding you back. Indeed, it’s very thinly veiled perfectionism – it may as well be wearing Groucho Marx glasses.

The most reliable way to make your passion is to experiment. Experiment with things you may be interested in. You can learn from the experience. Pay attention to the facets you like and what feels good. Tweak your approach to making your passion as you learn. Your emotions, if you can view them in a detached manner every once in a while, provide extraordinary insight into what you really want to do.

What is passion? Well, let’s talk about what passion isn’t first. Have you noticed there are people in this world who get passionate about things that don’t look to be all that interesting from the outside? I’m talking about your stereotypical dads who get really into home repair, people who memorize anomalies in the road system and quote facts, or even – dare I say it – board gamers who collect several hundred games. Passion, then, obviously isn’t about being an astronaut or the President of the United States.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow Model
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Model

I believe passion and “flow” are the same phenomenon. When I refer to flow, I refer to Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi’s flow model – which shows that flow happens when you’re very skilled and very challenged at the same time. You get in the zone, so to speak. Those moments where we fall into flow are some of the most transcendent ones which we can experience on this plane of existence. I believe that this is what people seek when they seek passion – becoming one with something, falling deeply into something. I get it periodically when I make games.

How do you get flow? Well, it’s hard-earned. To consistently get work that puts you in that almost mystical flow state takes years of hard work and a lot of experimentation. Where there is experimentation, there is also a lot of failure. Start to find your passion by trying something that you’re kinda good at and something that’s kinda hard. That’s it! Don’t overthink it, just try a simple experiment.

Go hard on something for a couple of months and, once you do that, take a moment to reflect. If you like what you tried, keep doing it. Refine the things that don’t work and do more of what does. Seek challenge, seek learning, and seek engagement! If you didn’t like what you tried, that’s totally okay. Take a moment to really examine the reasons you didn’t enjoy what you tried. Be relentless in your self-questioning and get to the root causes. Try something new and don’t make the same mistakes.

I believe in enormous human potential. I don’t believe in magic, though. I don’t believe in shortcuts. I don’t believe in the easy road. By all means, be efficient and use technology to help you accomplish your goals quickly, but understand that the pursuit of passion is – for most of us mere mortals – a life’s work. Yeah, this is not something you can reliably crack at the tender age of 16 or 18 or 25 or 32. If you are the exception, that’s awesome!

It’s extraordinarily important to understand how hard it is develop a passion. You will probably have to back your way out of many dead end roads in the process. So it goes. I’ve found that many people function better when they understand the odds are tough. I’ve found that denial is only a useful shield for a short time and it’s much better to accept that you’ll have to do a lot of grinding and bill-paying. There are a lot of obstacles that will stand in your way that make it hard to develop a passion. Yet understanding that you will have to overcome obstacles will help you to dodge punches like a boxer. It beats the hell out of being blindsided.

Stay strong, stay experimental, and stay weird. Believe that you can create a passion with time, intention, experimentation, effort, and patience. I believe you can.

Key Takeaways for Game Devs

  • You don’t find a passion. You create it.
  • You create your passion by experimenting and learning about what you like and don’t like.
  • Passion isn’t necessarily about doing the coolest thing.
  • Passion resembles “flow” – it happens when you’re good at something and when you feel challenged.
  • Both skills and challenge are hard to come by – so you have to spend a lot of time creating your passion.
  • Don’t be afraid to stop doing what you don’t like at all.
  • I like setting the expectation that finding your passion is tough. I think it gives you a better chance of making it.
  • I believe in you.





You Are Not Alone: Common Pains for Game Devs & How to Overcome Them

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In the middle of April, I did an experiment. Whenever I saw a complaint from a game dev pop up on my Twitter feed, I recorded it in Excel. I didn’t have a plan to use this data, I just thought it would be interesting to gather. I did this until I had 200 complaints.

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One day, I decided to group the complaints into different categories. Something clicked for me. So many of the struggles that we deal with in game development are shared by others in the industry.

In my geeky analysis of game dev Twitter gripes, I found some common threads. The top five complaints were ones of exhaustion, time constraints, difficulty communicating with other people, disappointment in existing games, and frustration with development tools. All the other stuff we think we fret about – selling, motivation, Kickstarter, our lousy day jobs, and day to day events – pale in comparison to the top five. It’s not even close.

Smashed Computer
Did you really have to update Windows right now?! Image taken by youngthousands and posted to Flickr under the CC BY 2.0 license. (Source)

I’ve got a message of hope for you. That which is weighing you down is not your burden to bear alone. We’re all in this together.

If you’re feeling tired, you’re not alone.

If you feel like you’ve got no time, you’re not alone.

If you feel frustrated with players, reviewers, teammates, distributors, manufacturers, artists, or peers; you’re not alone.

If you feel like games sorta suck sometimes, you’re not alone.

If you want to chuck your Windows machine out a window, you’re not alone.

Today, I’m going take a moment to talk about each of these five big issues. I want to defuse the tense emotions, think about the root causes, and look for ways to improve. I believe leaving frustrations unexpressed squashes motivation.

Exhaustion

There are two basic types of exhaustion: physical and emotional. They feel awfully similar, though, and I’ve become very acquainted with both of them. Game development is very demanding. Let’s be real: most of us are doing this with a full-time job and/or children. I put in about 70 hour weeks. I’m not proud of this because I don’t think it’s something to aspire to. Long hours are simply the tactical approach by which I’m pursuing my twin goals of making good games and helping you to do the same.

If you’re physically exhausted, you should do what your doctor tells you to do. Try to get enough sleep, whether that’s 6 hours or 10. You know your body. Get some regular exercise – it has the uncanny ability to pick us back up when we’re feeling down.

Exhaustion
Same. Image taken by Jessica Cross and posted to Flickr under the CC BY 2.0 license. (Source)

If you’re emotionally exhausted, pay attention to how you’re spending your time. Be a relentless time manager (see below). Say “no” to stuff that’s not useful and that you don’t want to do. If you feel like crap all the time, you could even be dealing with depression or anxiety. Consider therapy, as well. No shame in it – this is a straight-up smart thing to do if you need help. There is even a convenient online service for that. Take a 3-day weekend or a vacation every once in a while.

Don’t ignore exhaustion! Don’t hurt yourself in pursuit of a goal. Self-care is important.

Time Constraints

Time is the great equalizer. We all have the same amount of it, but it doesn’t always feel like it. I strongly recommend that you check out Google Calendar. If you don’t use any scheduling software to run your life, just try playing around with it for a week or two. Track everything you do. It’s eye-opening.

Wall Clock

On the other extreme, if you find yourself living very rigidly to your schedule and trying to squeeze every moment out of the day, that can be problematic as well. Even if you have strong time management skills, the brutal truth is that game development is measured in months and years and not weeks and days. Keep your time expectations realistic and don’t beat yourself up if it takes longer than you expect to make something great.

Communication Breakdowns with People

Becoming a good communicator takes a lot of practice. We do, after all, live in our heads and our own little worlds. How does one bridge the gap?

There are a lot people that game developers need to work with: customers and play testers, vendors, and teammates. Learning to communicate effectively with each of these groups is very important. Focus on listening more than speaking, for there are two goals here. You want others to feel heard and you want the data that their opinions will provide. Don’t prematurely judge, always assume good intent, and make sure you clarify your understanding every once in a while.

Once you get the basics down, you’ll slowly gain the ability to hear not just words, but deeper emotions. Once you start understanding people’s deeper emotions and motivations, you can respond even more adeptly. Again, this takes tons and tons of practice and is a highly sought after skill.

When you do speak, focus on being clear and unambiguous in your speech and with body language to match. Repeat yourself as appropriate and ask your audience if there are any points that need to be clarified.

Disappointment with Games

This is a surprisingly common complaint among game developers, but maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise. On some level, being disappointed by games that are currently in the market is a good fuel for inspiration. Nothing captures the stereotypical entrepreneurial spirit like believing “I can do it better.” By all means, if it keeps you creative, feel free to simmer in low-level frustration.

Other developers find games disappointing because they’ve realized many of the trade-offs that go with bringing a game to the market. You can’t have the nicest components and the lowest price – it’s just not feasible. You can’t have a ton of text and a big, super-accessible font size – something would have to give first.

Overall, as a pain point, this is a bittersweet one. It’s often a sign of the discontent and ambitious and occasionally a sign of the uninformed. Being discontent is not a problem to be solved so much as it is a fuel to tap into. Being uninformed is as easy to fix as reading a few game development books and blogs. Figure out which one you are and act accordingly.

Frustration of Inadequate Tools

Microsoft Excel crashes all the time on my computer. I have no idea why. Tabletop Simulator – as much as I love it and recommend it for rapid prototyping – often does the same. Nothing can derail my game dev time quite like these two programs dying on me. This is a common pain point for other game devs, too. I’ve got a list of complaints about computer peripherals, Windows updates, and – for the video game devs I follow – integrated development environments, engines, and programming languages themselves.

For as long as we are brains wrapped in skin, we will always have trouble acting upon our ideas as quickly as they come. No keyboard will ever type as fast as I think, and indeed, no fingers could ever move as fast either. GIMP, Photoshop, MS Paint…it doesn’t matter what you use to draw your game board, it will be a slow stroke-by-stroke process. These are more existential problems, but hey, they’re very real!

What can you do to improve your issues with development tools? If you’ve got a giant pile of money laying around, shell out some cash for a great computer. However, since that can cost over $1,000 and game development itself tends to be expensive, I suggest learning how to build your own desktop PC. I get all of my hardest work done on a stripped-down custom build. It was $600 with two big monitors. Get a great computer, pay for the software you need, and learn to cope with the rest.

Key Takeaways for Game Devs

  • Game devs share a lot of pains. The top five are exhaustion, time constraints, difficulty communicating with other people, disappointment in existing games, and frustration with development tools.
  • You are not alone. There is hope.
  • Unexpressed frustration squashes motivation.
  • Exhaustion: Sleep well and exercise often. Manage your time relentlessly. Get therapy if you have long-standing emotional issues that you need to work through.
  • Time Constraints: Check out Google Calendar. If you’re a good time manager but still feel like you don’t have enough time, set your expectations more realistically. Game development is measured in months and years, not weeks and days.
  • Communication Breakdowns: Becoming a good communicator takes a lot of practice. Actively listen. Learn to discern the emotion and motivation behind people’s words. When you speak, focus on being clear and unambiguous in your speech and with body language to match.
  • Disappointment with Games: Figure out if you’re disappointed with games because you think you can do better or because you don’t know what goes into them. If it’s the former, use that as motivation. If it’s the latter, start reading!
  • Frustration of Inadequate Tools: Get (or build) a great computer, pay for the software you need, and learn to cope with the rest.
  • Intimidated by all these bullet points? Take them one at a time!