After last week’s post went live, two excellent colleagues – Stephanie Charette and Simone Heller – noted that they hadn’t been able to make Habitica work for them and I realized I’ve had troubles on that front as well. It took me a few tries before I got to the point of absolute adoration I am in right now. Stephanie gently suggested that I write about it, and so here we are. I started the first of my many, many attempts before the current one when Habitica was still called HabitRPG

Dailies vs habits – who cares?

Welp, turns out, I do. The first time around I put everything that I wanted to do in the dailies but most of it also in the habits columns. That was the point, right? Make yourself do all the things that you want to do or get punished if you don’t. That worked GREAT, for like a week. I was good to go! Excited. was going to get my shit together and put my life in order. Then after that first week, I started to realize that I couldn’t keep it up. After the first time my poor, neglected character died, I started cheating. I wasn’t hurting anyone, right? Ultimately, it just fell off and my character died and stayed dead for a good while.

The next time I tried, I made the same mistakes, with fewer dailies and predictable results. Again, my character died and stayed dead for a good while. Needless to say, it was frustrating.

Breakthrough? Not really

Around the time that Mary Robinette Kowal published her post on how sometimes writer’s block is just depression (it’s still a great post and worth the read) that I started yet another attempt at using Habitica. Somewhere around then, I realized just how useful explicitly defining both the positive and negative sides of a habit is. And by this, I do mean the stuff in the habits column of Habitica. It seemed like it would be awesome; state your goals explicitly and surely it will just work out this time! Things like “Sat down to write/Got up without writing” seemed like it would be the salvation to my sins.

Ultimately, this attempt failed for the same reasons the previous ones had; I had too many things in the dailies column and not nearly enough time or energy to get all of it done.


Finally, we come to my most recent attempt and the one that seems to be sticking. I decided to try again after reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits. Something that he said in the book really stuck with me.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.

James Clear – Atomic Habits

So I thought about the kind of person I want to be. Or rather, the kinds of person I want to be. I listed things like “I am a storyteller; I’m always working on a story or several” and “I am sensible with money; I am working toward being debt-free and financially independent” in my BuJo notes on the book. I came up with about a dozen things I wanted to be and listed them all. I’m not pursuing all of them but they’re in my BuJo and out of my head and easy to find when/if I want to return to them.

Then I turned the 4-6 identities I wanted to start actively pursuing into tags on Habitica. After that I started thinking about the habits that would be votes for the kind of person I am working toward being but would also get the shit done that I want to get done. Now I have habits like “Checked budget before spending” and “Worked one pomodoro on fiction writing”. I have hardly any dailies. This blog post is one, although I’ve marked it as once a week daily. My dailies have turned into “you just have to get this done” whereas my habits are “these are the things you need to do to get the future you’re dreaming about”.

My to-dos are a mixture of both, mostly larger projects that need to get done. They aren’t so much a habit I want to build, even if they are building toward that future I’m dreaming about. This year I’m trying to get a short story out the door every month. Each short story is a todo marked hard and with an associated checklist. The scenes that need a rewrite for my novel are likewise a todo and a checklist. They’re related to the storyteller identity and build toward it, but can’t be classified as either a habit or a daily.

beautiful sun rising sky with asphalt highways road in rural scene use land transport and traveling backgroundbackdrop

Why this and not that?

On the surface, it seems like Habitica on its own should be enough to motivate me to get my shit done. It’s a nerdy little distraction that rewards me for getting things done. It comes with ALL THE TICK BOXES FOR FUCKS SAKE! Turns out, that was pretty far from the case. Instead of a motivator, over several attempts, Habitica turned into just another chore that I had to do. And since I wasn’t getting all of the others done, what point was it? I needed that connection to the intrinsic motivation through the habit identities to actually see the point of it all. The RPG elements are fun, sure, but I get games from so many other locations as well, another one wasn’t enough to get me coming back day to day.

Ultimately, these are all just tools that I use and discard as they work for me. I kept coming back to Habitica because it IS fun. I’ve almost finished killing off a Skeletal Tyrannosaur with my party as I write this. In fact, this post might even be the killing blow. It’s fun to use the reward coins to build my character. It’s just that sometimes fun alone is not enough.

Do you use Habitica differently? How?