How about using Gamification to practice self-control?


It is common knowledge that the human brain is lazy (it prefers expending the least amount of energy possible), so it finds different ways to procrastinate. The verb procrastinate is used to describe the neglect of activities, that is, when a specific job does not get its due attention or importance as a result of distraction… or laziness!

Self-control skills allow us to take action against procrastination. Self-control is the “human ability that helps control character impulses. It helps us to calmly and peacefully face problems and normal challenges of everyday life. It encourages us to cultivate patience and intelligently develop established and future interpersonal relationships.” [1]

Triggers: triggering behaviors

Often, all people need to overcome procrastination are a few well-devised triggers. A trigger is an environmental stimulus of any kind that makes us think about a related concept or idea – something that is seen, heard or smelled, which arouses the desire to do something. A bank notification on a smartphone is a trigger for users to access an online account, for example.

Developing positive discipline for your health

Patients who suffer from diabetes are a clear example of problems with procrastination, or lack of self-control. Such individuals must constantly monitor their sugar levels. Because this is a routine task which is often boring, patients forget or ignore the need to perform self-monitoring.  They adopt an “I´ll leave it for later” attitude (that´s procrastination!) and end up forgetting. The consequences of this lack of self-control are possible heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, among other diseases, which these patients may end up facing.

Ok, but how can I use gamification to avoid this problem?

Article on self-control gamification for type 1 diabetes patients

The article [1] explains that gamification can have positive effects on self-control through increasing intrinsic motivation and using positive reinforcement to develop healthy habits.

How was the study performed?

Three questions guided the study:

Q1 – What characteristics from studies on videogames and gamified applications in virtual environments are applicable to diabetes management?

Q2 – What is the target behavior for these interventions?

Q3 – What are the main conclusions of the study?

The article presents different research study categories, including games and gamification. In this post, only gamification will be addressed. Three different studies presented gamification techniques. One of these was based on adolescents with type 1 Diabetes and created what is medically called Mhealth (a term used for medical and public health practices supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones and tablets).

A chart relating articles cited in the research study is found below:

The review article was based on four different databases (PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, PsychINFO) on October 31, 2014. To include terms such as “games,” “gamification,” etc., the research was narrowed down to subtitles, abstracts, titles and keywords and publication dates were limited between the years 2000 and 2014. The research was also limited to English only, but we focus on gamification data only here.

What was discovered in the study?

Researchers concluded that gamification significantly increases blood sugar monitoring. That is, it improves discipline for personal health care in patients by increasing their self-control. Despite the different methods used, all 3 studies presented positive results.

After reviewing principles of gamification used in the three studies, researchers concluded that the children´s learning process on health improved  when learning was facilitated by a personalized robot [4], while the use of rewards for motivation showed an increase in blood sugar monitoring [2]. Most of the participants and health professionals attested to the value of the Didget [3] system as an assistant in blood sugar monitoring, and to the fact that the system “solved a problem and fulfilled a need.”

Gamification as an incentive for self-control

We can finally conclude that the case successfully used gamification in favor of self-control, causing patients to adopt the desired habits. See the different roles gamification can play? Now, what are you going to gamify?



[1] .

[2] Theng, Y.L., Lee, J.W.Y., Patinadan, P.V., Foo, S. (2015). The use of video games, gamification and virtual envrionments in the self-management of diabetes: A systematic review of evidence, Games for Health Journal, 4(5), 352-361. DOI: 10.1089/g4h.2014.0114

[3] Cafazzo J, Casselman M, Hamming N, Katzman D, Palmert M. Design of an mHealth app for the self-management of adolescent type 1 diabetes: a pilot study. J Med Internet Res [Internet]. 2012 Jan [cited 2014 Nov 4];14(3):e70. Available from: mcentrez&rendertype=abstract 29.

[4] Klingensmith GJ, Aisenberg J, Kaufman F, Halvorson M, Cruz E, Riordan ME, et al. Evaluation of a combined blood glucose monitoring and gaming system (Didget®) for motivation in children, adolescents, and young adults with type 1 diabetes. Pediatr Diabetes [Internet]. 2013 Aug [cited 2014 Nov 4];14(5):350–7. Available from: 30.

[5] Blanson Henkemans O a, Bierman BPB, Janssen J, Neerincx M a, Looije R, van der Bosch H, et al. Using a robot to personalise health education for children with diabetes type 1: a pilot study. Patient Educ Couns [Internet]. Elsevier Ireland Ltd; 2013 Aug [cited 2014 Oct 31];92(2):174–81. Available from:


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