Gamify Your Reality
Situational Awareness, Body Language, and “Being Present”
In the world of personal development, “be present” is the new “be confident”
You hear ‘be present’ repeated by everyone from self-help gurus, yoga instructors, and public speaking coaches to pickup artists and comedians. Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, Tantric practice, and even Dual N-Back training can help you practice being present but this article is going to focus on the intersection of being present, body language, situational awareness, and how they can be practiced by gamifying your reality.
Being present means that your thoughts are focused on the here and now as opposed to the past or future.
The Problem: If you spend the majority of your mental energy planning for the future or analyzing the past, it’s difficult to transition to focusing on the present. While planning for the future and analyzing the past is very important, I’m going to do a bad job of executing towards future goals (or enjoying the life I’m working so damn hard for) if my mind is stuck in the past or future. Have you ever found that you couldn’t stop worrying about something that happened at work or thinking about the future when you should have been enjoying yourself with friends or family? This is a failure in being present. I’m also going to do a bad job at maintaining situational awareness if my mind is perpetually pondering the past or future. Like most ambitious, busy lifehackers my day-to-day thoughts are typically focused:
- Future 50%
- Present 20%
- Past 30%
I don’t want to change these proportions, the objective is to change the flexibility of my mind so I can transition robustly from thinking about the future, past, and present. Furthermore, when I am present I want to be 100% present, not 80% present, and 20% worried about some credit card bill I need to pay. This article isn’t here to sell you on the benefits of being present for that read something like The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle or check out the Youtube channel of “Tyler” of Real Social Dynamics.
The 2nd Problem: Most of the ways that people practice being present are time-consuming and not very much fun. It takes pretty world-class discipline to consistently meditate for 20 minutes daily or brain train with a Dual N-Back app regularly.
The Solution: Gamify your reality
Constantly play the games below in your head to prompt increased situational awareness, social awareness, and being present…
For people who have jobs like police officers, soldiers, or security guards situational awareness is a skill set that their lives depend on. For the rest of us, it’s a way to improve social savvy, build a more robust memory, and promote neuroplasticity.
The “James Bond Game”
When you walk into a room that is going to be a social experience ask yourself: What would Bond do?
- Identify the windows you could jump out of.
- What objects in the environment could you use as a weapon?
- If you were going to assassinate someone in this room how would you do it and how would you get away with it?
Find a Victim
When you walk into a public place imagine that you are a criminal, a professional mugger who is going to try to shake someone down for cash. Out of a crowd pick a victim fast; instead of being analytical about it just pick someone intuitively. Then analyze why you picked this person, it’s usually a combination of…
- Their physical size.
- How much attention they are paying to the environment.
- If they are alone.
- If they look like a worthwhile target (wearing nice clothing, carrying a nice phone, etc).
If you were going to have sex in this room, where would you do it? Which position?
The Drug Smuggler Game
When traveling or I’m going through an airport I sometimes imagine that I’m a drug smuggler…
- Where would I keep my drugs (on my person or in my baggage)?
- Where would I run if I were caught?
- How can I be disarmingly friendly to security guards and airport employees?
It might not be a good idea to play this game while being questioned by the TSA in the Miami airport but it can sure make waiting at a bus station or on a domestic flight more interesting.
The Car Race Game
When I’m driving, I imagine what if another car started chasing me and trying to run me off the road. Where in traffic would I swerve to avoid them? Which off-ramps or side road routes could I take to avoid them? Since traffic changes so often I play this game every 30–60 seconds, this game could save your life as it increases your situational awareness of what’s happening on the road.
When you start talking to someone take a mental snapshot of them noting their…
- Upper body clothing
- Lower body clothing
- Any accessory items
- Cleanliness (of clothing, shoes, hair, teeth)
This mental snapshot should entail a one or two-second glance up and down their entire body then focus on what they are saying.
Listen for an Assassin
If you are alone in a room with your back to the door imagine that an assassin is going to sneak in and try to kill you. Try to listen up; be extra sensitive to the sounds of people moving into and out of the room.
Start a Fight
If you are talking to a person, imagine if you were to physically assault them. What would you do? A punch, a kick, an elbow? This prompts you to be more aware of people’s body language.
Body Language Auditing
Our body language and micro-expressions seriously affect the way we feel, perform, and are perceived by others. If I catch myself doing a negative body language expression I will intentionally replace it with a positive body language expression.
Negative Body Language
Positive Body Language
I try to do a positive body language expression whenever I catch myself exhibiting negative body language.
What Would an Evil Villain Do?
When facing a challenge or situation that is at all political ask yourself: How would an evil villain deal with this situation?
- What would Darth Vader do in a morning sales meeting?
- How would Rasputin deal with his messy roommate?
- What would The Joker do at a family reunion?
In addition to being just plain being fun, imagining what an evil person would do gives you practice with ethical development and thought compartmentalization, more on this below.
Dream State Detection
As a lucid dreaming nocturnal adventurer, I try to detect when I am dreaming so I can actively architect my dream environment. The reality testing methods that lucid dreamers employ are great practice for increasing situational awareness and being present. By nature, the mind doesn’t want you to recognize when you are dreaming, so it’s important to pay extra attention to a few things…
- Fine print is very unpredictable in dreams; a lot of times it’s unreadable or blurry, or if you read it once, look away, read it again, and it will have changed. This is one of the most consistent ways of detecting a dream state. Some people wear digital watches to check this, I prefer to just look at my smartphone.
- Center of gravity — since your physical legs don’t move while you are walking around in a dream you are essentially floating. For this reason, I pay attention to my center of gravity changing while I walk. If my center of gravity is floating or too smooth then I may be dreaming.
- The dissociated dialog that doesn’t correct itself — frequently conversations you have with your dream’s characters will be nonsensical and unassociated with what’s going on in the environment. Dream characters will be angry at you for no reason, they will insist on talking about something mundane while something crazy is happening, or they will repeat something inane. Conversations with dream characters are generally emotionally flat, meaning that if the conversation begins angrily it doesn’t change to peaceful. How does this vary from the real world? In real life, people make absurd statements all the time, however, they usually promptly correct those statements or associate them back to reality so they are not thought foolish.
- Flying from doorways — in dreams, you can frequently will yourself to fly, it’s one of the coolest things about lucid dreaming! One of the ways I reality check is that whenever I walk through a doorway, I imagine for a moment, that I’m going to fly to where ever my destination is. If I’m dreaming I usually start flying at that point, which is a pretty dead giveaway that I’m not awake.
- Light switches don’t work in dreams as it’s usually impossible to change the ambient light level in dreams. I make it a habit to hit the light switch whenever I enter or exit a room (a good habit for waking reality to save on the electricity bill!)
Perhaps you’re saying…
I thought the purpose of being present was to listen and connect to people and be in a state where I can better soak in what’s happening around me. You’re describing a bunch of flights of fantasy and pretending to be someone I’m not. How does this help?
These games are not done continually, you do them for a moment and then focus back on what you doing. The games take anywhere from half a second to 30 seconds to play and they don’t require your complete attention.
How often should I gamify reality? You don’t want to gamify reality all the time because you wouldn’t get anything done! When you first get started just do one per hour. Then add one game per day whenever you notice to do it. Eventually, when you have this fully integrated as a mindfulness practice you will probably do it frequently.
Benefit — Personality Enrichment
One of the disadvantages of the lifehacker lifestyle is that focusing on making life more efficient can make you a boring person. If you spend 40–60 hours weekly working (very efficiently, we presume!) and are constantly focused on getting the maximum bang for your buck out of your remaining time, it mentally crowds out the playful, fun side of your personality. Playing mental games, like those above, trains your mind to robustly switch between serious problem-solving modes and creative states.
Benefit — Practice of Thought Compartmentalization
One of the objectives of personal development should be to become more observant of our thoughts. The opposite of this is someone who feels 100% of their thoughts; this person is their thoughts and their life is an emotional roller coaster that they are out of control of. They are a slave to what feels right at the moment. As a little more evolved individuals, we should have the ability to put our thoughts in a “glass box” — once our thoughts are in a glass box we have a couple of options:
- We can analyze that thought from outside of the glass box.
- We can leave it there and return to analyze it later.
- We can say “that’s just a thought,” ignore it, and let the thought die.
The games suggested above are an excellent opportunity to practice thought compartmentalization.
Since a lot of the thoughts that these games generate are absurd, useless, or will be totally out of character for you, they make great specimens to be put in a glass box. As you get in the habit of doing this you will start glass-boxing your other thoughts and will end up being a more objective observer of your reality.