Balancing gaming with self improvement: An impossible task?

by VR Lars
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Self-improvement is a big term, encompassing a lot of different potential avenues in one phrase. It’s also particularly big business this time of year, as most people generally seek to make some big lifestyle changes to make improvements to their lives with New Year’s resolutions.

But, as you probably already know, New Year’s resolutions don’t usually add up to much. It’s a running joke in every gym I’ve ever been a member of – the January rush where you can’t move in the building for new faces. A few weeks later, none of those people is ever seen again.

But this article isn’t about sticking to resolutions. It’s not about the gym or your lack of motivation to go. No, if I’m being totally honest, this is about a personal issue that I have – one that I’m hoping my journey through could help someone else. And that’s to focus on self-improvement.

How do you balance self-improvement and gaming? (Or any hobby)?

I’m writing this article from the perspective of someone who plays a lot of games, because, well, that’s who I am. But the same advice could apply to any pastime, really. I guess gaming feels a little bit unique in that regard because it’s mainly about sitting on your arse and staring at a screen. No matter what you’re playing, that’s usually what you’re gonna be doing, right?

I guess you could also apply this line of thinking to social media. I think at this point most of us know we’re spending a bit too much time on it. Whilst disengaging from it entirely might seem impossible for some (especially if you’re planning on playing Oculus Quest games anytime soon) there are ways to mitigate its impact on your time.

Final Fantasy XIV is one of my favourite games. But I can’t play it without feeling like I’m wasting my time.

This has been especially challenging for me because so much of my livelihood comes from gaming. Whether it’s the content I create for FULLSYNC or my freelance work creating guides for games like Final Fantasy XIV, I’ve made a decent career out of the industry. After spending a considerable amount of time studying the areas in which I’d like to improve as a person, I’m left with a dilemma. Gaming – the hobby that’s accompanied my entire life and provided me with an enjoyable career – doesn’t fit very neatly into many of my self-improvement boxes.

But I’m beginning to realise that this is all really just a question of perspective. With an open mind and a few simple tweaks, you can still enjoy gaming (or any pastime!) whilst working on self-improvement. And yes – the two can even cross over pretty effectively. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Keep an open mind – and be honest with yourself.

To be free from convention is not to spurn it but not to be deceived by it. It is to be able to use it as an instrument instead of being used by it.

Alan Watts, The Way of Zen

First things first, you need to determine whether your gaming/social media habit is problematic or not. For gaming, this is really going to come down to an individual level. Does playing games take precedence over everything else in your life? Do you spend all of your free time gaming? In that case, you could probably do with diversifying your interests, spending some time evaluating yourself and what you really want out of life.

This can be a hard conversation to have – but it’s one you’ll need to have with yourself, time and time again, to get the results you want! But don’t worry. It gets easier the more progress you make. Eventually, that conversation changes into something really positive.

In my opinion, gauging harmful social media usage is much easier. Social media is at once the easiest and the hardest part of self-improvement these days. Here are a few things I would consider red flags in that regard:

  • The first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is check social media.
  • The last thing you do at night is check social media.
  • You scroll through social media on your phone in bed (morning or evening).
  • You scroll through Facebook/Instagram/Discord even though you’ve already seen all the new posts. (this is the digital equivalent of checking the fridge for food even when you know it’s empty).
  • You feel the need to check your phone as soon as it buzzes or plays a notification sound.

Those are just some of the things I would consider to be signs that your social media usage is impacting your brain and your free time negatively. I covered this briefly in “Three easy fixes to the daily routine” last year. These apps are literally designed to be addictive! But you don’t have to go cold turkey to negate their bad effects. Use them, instead of being used by them.

How common is this scene in your household? Network photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com

And yes, this includes Reddit and Discord. They can both waste your time just as much as Facebook. These can be all be powerful tools. You can stay in touch with your family. You can promote your business or things you care about. But they’re designed to make you look at them for as long as possible. Why? So they can sell you more stuff.

Swap your favourite game/social media with an educational app.

This is easily done on mobile. I used to have Reddit on my home screen. When I was bored or feeling the urge to scroll, muscle memory would kick in almost subconsciously and I’d open Reddit. In some cases, that’d be it – my productivity would tank for a couple of hours.

An easy fix for this is to swap the app’s position in your home screen or menu with something educational. For me, that was Duolingo. When that muscle memory went to open Reddit, I was confronted instead with the reminder that I could be learning something. Thanks to this one change, I’ve actually made fairly decent progress on learning a whole new language. It’s no longer a habit I’m building – it’s an activity that’s part of my daily routine which is teaching me something useful and satisfying.

It doesn’t have to be Duolingo. It doesn’t have to be educational. Just make it something that will inspire you without sucking up your time.

Make use of free self-improvement resources.

Something I used to do was listen to self-help/educational books at the gym. I had the attitude that I could train body and mind at the same time, as it were. But honestly, this probably isn’t the best approach to take. You shouldn’t really spread your focus like that (especially at the start). Concentrate on one thing at a time. That’s the best way to work on self-improvement.

The Norse Mentality is a fantastic self improvement resource.

What really kicked this all off properly for me was The Norse Mentality. Granted, the podcast might not be for everyone. It can be pretty intense and doesn’t leave a lot of room for excuses/weak mindsets. But for me, that was exactly what I needed.

Do some googling yourself. I guarantee it won’t be long before you find a free resource about self-improvement that works for you.

Find games and constructive digital experiences that can help you improve.

Yes, they are out there, and they can be really helpful (as an augment to a good routine, not a replacement). Games like RingFit Adventure can give you a half-decent workout at home, along with the gamification elements that scratch that itch in your brain.

The Wii is still a surprisingly popular choice for home exercise, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Picking up a Balance Board bundle or something similar can be a fun way to introduce exercise into your gaming life.

Personally, my favourite way to do cardio is games like Synth Riders and Ragnarock. Obviously, these are reliant on you owning a VR headset (and being comfortable playing VR in the first place). On higher difficulties, these games are a great way to get your body moving and heart racing whilst still having fun at the same time. This brings me to my final point…

Accept that it’s okay (and healthy!) to waste time every now and then – just don’t waste your whole life.

Back when I was binging The Norse Mentality I was also hitting the gym as hard as I could. I got my diet nailed down to an absolute point of precision for a little while, and I was constantly learning new things, absorbing books, and making moves to improve my life in the long run.

Obviously that all sounds great, and I was able to make a ton of progress on some important aspects of my life at that time. But here’s the thing. That approach is not sustainable forever, not for most people. Andy Lewis – the man behind Norse Fitness and The Norse Mentality is someone that is all go, all the time. If he’s not moving and working on his next victory, he’s not living.

That’s great. That’s admirable. But it’s not everyone. If you can take on just a little bit of that passion and energy for yourself to work on self-improvement, you’ll go far. You can make the changes you want to make. You do not have to feel guilty for doing the things you enjoy, even if they aren’t for self-improvement.

It’s okay to play that game for a few hours. It’s okay to go to the pub every now and then for a few drinks and a chat with your friends. It’s okay to have a takeaway at the weekend because you can’t be bothered to cook. The problems arise when these things become your lifestyle. When gaming, social media, getting drunk and eating unhealthy food is just what all your time is spent on.

VR is something I especially struggle with from a self-improvement standpoint. It’s kinda contradictory – strapping a screen to your eyes to exercise. But it can be really beneficial, and fun too.

Life is to be enjoyed, sure. But to get the absolute most enjoyment out of it, you have to become the best version of yourself. If you aren’t striving for improvement, you won’t get the opportunities that could lead you to exciting new experiences. You won’t meet the people that could enrich your social life into something beyond what it is now. You won’t feel confident enough to take the chances that could change everything.

Put simply – how will you know you’re enjoying your life to the fullest if you haven’t made the effort to find everything you enjoy?

So find your balance. Educate yourself – it’s easier now than ever to work on self-improvement. Use your body. I really can’t emphasise that enough. You are built for motion, and your brain will reward you for it. You don’t have to make all the changes all at once – in fact, that’s just setting yourself up for failure. Make one change today, no matter how small, and stick with it until it becomes a habit. Start with that, and you’ll be stacking victories left and right in no time.

Thinking about picking up a VR headset? Do you wear glasses? Consider picking up a prescription lens adapter from HONSVR to improve your experience. You can read our review of their Oculus Quest 2 adapter HERE.


Whilst you’re working on your self-improvement, why not check out more of our opinion pieces HERE.

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