Dungeons & Dragons and Personal Growth

Did you ever want to improve something about yourself but you were just like... “ugh... how even...?” Maybe you wanted to exercise more, eat healthier food, reconnect with loved ones, or read a new book. Maybe you want to manage your time better or not feel as stressed out. I’ve been there so many times! I’ve tried a lot of different ways of eating healthy, establishing a workout routine, reconnecting with the people who matter in my life, and reaching out to others through social media.

If you’re up for it, I would like to propose a challenge.

I challenge you to play Dungeons and Dragons. To be specific, I challenge you to begin to see your life like an individualized and personalized version of D&D where you are the character and your ultimate quest is personal growth. Why D&D? I wish there was a peer-reviewed, published study I could cite, but I can only say that since I have been a part of the community, the main theme that comes up in conversations is how much D&D has helped people in many areas of life. I like D&D because not only is it fun, but it is structured and flexible in such a way that it allows for maximum growth while letting you make your own choices. I think it can be therapeutic because it also encompasses six major abilities that touch on areas that are very important to overall health in game and in real life: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. These are the areas that I challenge you to work on. These will be your quests.

Why would this be useful? Well, maybe it will and maybe it won’t. I know it helped me. One day a few years ago, way before I started to even play D&D but after I’d been exposed to it, I thought, “Why not apply this to my personal growth?” I did it when I wanted to feel healthier after I graduated with my doctorate, and it worked for me. I focused on eating better and doing more physical activity 3-4 times a week, and it was totally working. Recently, my life has changed a lot, and I realized there were some things I didn’t like and I needed to do something about it, and not just in the eating habits area, but other areas as well. I figured I would try this again because it’s worked for me before, and then I thought, if it’s helpful, why not tell everyone?!

This challenge will involve six quests, one to be completed each day, and each of which is meant to help you improve an aspect of yourself and your life. They’re not meant to be super transformative in and of themselves. They’re meant to give you a little push in the direction that you want to go. These are meant to help you make small changes that add up over time.

I broke this up into ten days, but you can do whatever works for you better:

Day 1) Build your Strength.
Do some kind of physical activity. It does not have to be a hardcore workout! It can be a short walk, or stretching. It can be something like getting out of bed in the morning, which, if you have ever struggled with depression, you know how difficult that can be. Try to move the parts of your body that you can move. Why is it important? Science shows us that movement helps increase your physical resilience, making you stronger. Not only does it improve your physical health, but studies show that physical activity affects mental health in positive ways. Regular physical activity has been shown to improve some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and it’s been suggested that it also helps decrease the likelihood of developing dementia later in life. This means that while you’re working on your physical strength, you are also improving your mental strength. So, for the first day do something physical that you wouldn’t ordinarily do, even if for you that means simply going outside for a few minutes. So, not hard, but maybe just a teeeensy bit challenging (but please don’t do anything so physically demanding that it would hurt you!).

Day 2) Improve your Dexterity.
Dexterity involves fine motor skills, such as eye-hand coordination, and overall physical and mental agility. It's an important ability because it involves balance, coordination, speed, control of your body, and quick thinking. It's about performance, but not just for people whose jobs require them to be physically coordinated. Mental agility is important too. It helps with adapting to new situations and solving problems. Activities like squeezing a stress ball or stretching rubber bands between your thumb and index finger, or other fingers might help improve these skills. Cutting paper, doing origami, or tracing objects may also help with those visual-motor skills. Playing darts, or crumbling up a piece of paper and shooting it into a wastebasket further away from you. You might find it surprising, but video games can also be helpful because they involve movement of the fingers on the controller as you take in visual information and have to respond quickly. Putting together models or legos also builds on this skill, as does folding your laundry. Puzzles help with mental agility, and there are also a ton of apps for that!

Day 3) Work on your Constitution.
You are in a body made up of cells that need energy to reproduce. Work on your constitution by eating something healthy and/or drinking water. Too often, we find ourselves in a rush and eating things we probably shouldn’t eat. That’s okay, don’t judge yourself! But if you can and if it’s available to you, have at least one healthy snack or meal during the day. Just see if you can go the day making healthy eating choices. If not, that’s okay, because you made the attempt and that already means you have your foot in the door, which is already progress! If you’re the kind of person who already makes very healthy choices, congratulations! This should be a breeze for you! If you have a doctor who prescribed medications or supplements, you should also include that as part of this quest, as that is absolutely part of keeping you healthy. And maybe there’s something physical that you’ve been neglecting to get medical help for? Think about what’s holding you back, and think about whether you’d consider seeking medical attention.

Day 4) Reflect.
Take some time to assess how you did the past three days. We are all in different places in our journey. Maybe you work out and eat healthy, and are physically as well as mentally agile, and these three days were just like doing your normal routine. Maybe you live a more sedentary lifestyle and it was hard to find the time to do something out of the ordinary, or maybe it was hard to find the motivation to do anything physical. This isn’t the time to give up. This is the time to think on what things were hard and what things were easy. If you challenged yourself, that’s great! If you didn’t, that’s okay! Maybe the activities you chose to do helped you see where you are right now and how you are doing, which helps you identify the areas that might need more work. There’s no need to criticize or judge. You are where you are, and this journey is all about you. Change does not happen overnight.

Day 5) Repeat.
Now that you’ve had time to reflect on where you are, is it possible to try some of these again? Maybe you skipped a day and this is your time to catch up. Maybe you're doing so well that you could do all three each day going forward. Pick one or more to do again on the fifth day. If you want to challenge yourself, pick the one that you found hardest. Just see if you can do it, but don’t push yourself too much out of your comfort zone that you would no longer feel gains or no longer feel safe.

So that’s the first five days. What was that like for you? Remember, depending on where you are on your journey it might seem easy for you to do all three in one day, or it might seem hard to come up with something to do on any given day. Some people’s small habits are others’ huge leaps, so don’t compare yourself to others. Make the attempt and see where you are. Don’t judge yourself for it. Recognize your strengths and that you tried something new. When you’re ready, you can move on to the next five days.

Day 6) Work on Intelligence.
There are different types of intelligence, and going into each one would be its very own post. Instead of going into each one, I will suggest you seek or learn something new. Why? Science suggests there is a correlation between novelty and overall intelligence. That is why, even though all of these quests are personal, this one is even more so. Only you know what areas you want to improve. Being open to new experiences will help you expand this ability. Read or listen to something that stimulates your mind. Maybe there’s a podcast you’ve been meaning to listen to, or a book you’ve been meaning to read. Maybe there’s a new artist you’ve been meaning to check out. Seek novelty and learn with a curious mind. There are apps that are supposed to be designed to “train your brain,” though I have never personally tried any of them, it may be worthwhile to do some research. Please let me know if you do find something awesome! Also, if you want to know something really cool, all the previous days and those other quests that you’ve done or will do help with this one too!

Day 7) Gain Wisdom.
Wisdom involves insight and being aware of what’s going on within you and around you. Take care of yourself. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth for a few times. Focus on the present moment. One thing I really like to do to help me feel grounded is to pay attention to what’s going on around me. I like to imagine that each of my five senses is the finger of a hand that is holding onto this moment. See, hear, smell, taste, and touch. What colors or shapes stand out? If you look closely, what else do you see? What do you hear? If you listen closely, what other sounds are in the background? What smells or scents can you pick up on? Are there any tastes in your mouth? Maybe the food you ate recently, coffee, or toothpaste? Are there any sensations on your skin? Maybe your feet are warm in your socks, maybe the tag on your shirt is itchy? While you’re paying attention to your five senses, also pay attention to what you’re feeling physically. Are you tired, maybe your body aches in some areas, maybe you’re hungry. Pay attention to what you’re feeling emotionally. Maybe you feel excited, angry, sad, or very enthusiastic about something. Maybe you feel just okay.

Day 8) Work that Charisma.
It's not just important in leadership or persuasion! Personality and how we approach others is significant. Most likely, you can tell when someone is being disingenuous. Genuinely showing that you care about others is important in making and maintaining relationships, and not just romantic relationships, but friendships and family relationships as well. Call or message someone. That means something more than an emoji or a ‘like’! Think social support, like motivating others, sharing about your day, or asking someone how their day is going. Maybe text a friend you haven’t heard from in a while just to see how they’re doing. Or have a conversation with a colleague. If you feel up to it, make eye contact and offer a friendly smile at a passerby (but not in a creepy stare-y way and it doesn't matter if they smile back!) Not only does this keep you connected with those you care about, but it also builds stronger relationships as others see that you are willing to give your attention to them, and that you are present. You also never know when a simple smile can make somebody day. Being in the mental health field, I have heard this happening many times, and being an introverted person, I have experienced it as well.

Day 9) Reflect.
Again, take some time to reflect on how things are going. Like in D&D, some of us are not great at each and every one of those six areas. For example, I find it harder to work on my constitution and strength than my charisma or wisdom. It’s so much easier for me to smile at a stranger in the street than to make healthy eating choices, so I know that the latter is what I have to work on and pay extra attention to.

Day 10) Repeat.
If there were any quests that were especially hard, this is your chance to try again. This is optional!

After working on each individual quest, you might notice that some things might have been harder than others, or some might have come more naturally to you than others. Do you think you can identify the areas that were more challenging for you? Do you think you’d want to pay closer attention to those areas and make a special quest for yourself to improve them? If there is a specific area that you want to improve, take a few moments to do the following extra steps. If not, you can skip the next few paragraphs and instead focus on the quests. Maybe the ten day template didn't work for you and you'd like to condense it into seven days, doing a quest or two per day and reflect on the seventh day. Maybe your wisdom is right where you want it to be, and you'd rather focus on the other five. This is all about you, so modify it to whatever works best for you!

Extra Steps
Take a moment to think about your goal. Write it down somewhere and place it where you will see it every day when you wake up. Maybe write it on a post-it and stick it your bathroom mirror or the refrigerator. Try to be specific with your goal. Instead of, “I want to eat healthier,” make it more focused, such as, “I want to eat more vegetables, and I will start with one serving of carrots per week,” or “I will drink less soda, and I’ll start by cutting it out of my lunch.” Pick the quests that will get you there. Whatever works for you. For me, the healthy eating choices, that would mean working on my constitution daily.

Some goals might be simpler than others, and although these quests are meant to get you started, you might need extra help and that’s totally okay! In fact, I encourage you to reach out to others. This is where you would gather your party – those people who can help you along the way on your personal journey. For example, if you are struggling with getting your homework done on time, you might reach out to a buddy who is also working on that, and you might keep each other accountable. If you are struggling with depression, you might reach out to a therapist or a loved one for support. This challenge is not a substitute for professional help.

While it is important to identify what you want to do, it’s also important to recognize the character strengths and traits you have that will help get you there. Take a few minutes to think about it. What are some of your personal strengths? Maybe you are very friendly, maybe you’re very observant, or good with electronics.

Take another few minutes to identify the personal challenges. What characteristics about yourself, or about your situation, might make it harder for you to reach your goal? For example, if you want to meet new people but live in a very remote area, it may make it harder to meet new people. Maybe you want to cut out junk food from your life but hot cheetos and Mexican Coca-Cola are your weakness (that’s me). Identifying those things, those monsters that you’ll encounter along your journey, may make you more prepared for when they arise.

Okay, so now that you’ve identified a goal, people who might help you (depending on your goal), your strengths, and potential monsters you might encounter, you’re ready!

Go for it, brave adventurer, and stay safe along your journey.

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