The Super Better Leadership Connection

Why is Super Better on a list of leadership resources?

A Summary of Super Better

By: Jane McGonigal

Super Better is one of my all time favourite reads because it changes how you look at the world around you and the opportunities you have to build your resilience. Based on the idea of being gameful, Jane shares her own story of how the Super Better game began as Jane the Concussion slayer in response to her own severe concussion and subsequent depression.  In her book and TED Talk, Jane shared how she used the science of games to create her own daily challenges to help get better.

TED Talk – The Game that can give you 10 extra years of life
(Interactive Transcript)

Built around the idea that improving your physical, social, emotional and mental resilience will improve your overall health and perspective on life, Super Better uses strategies found in gaming to increase your strength, happiness and resilience (p. xi). Did you just make a face when I mentioned gaming?  Don’t worry it’s not going to try to make you into a gamer rather it pulls from rigorous game based research, which means using what science has learned about gaming to help you become healthier.  Can you play it as a game?  Yes – there’s an app for that – What you don’t want to miss is the wealth of strategies offered that have the potential to improve your resilience.

51ohurxogil-_sx327_bo1204203200_McGoningal (2015) noted in her opening pages, “there’s a lot of evidence that it works” (p. xi) including a “randomized, controlled study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania…[and] a clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted at Ohio STate University  Wexner Medical Center” (p. xi). A summary is available at the end of the book and online at

Are you intrigued?  Here’s the very quick rundown of SuperBetter. Based on the idea of post-traumatic and post-ecstatic growth… which means why do some people grow stronger after extreme stress while others are weakened (p. 7).  McGonigal noted 7 key ways of “of thinking and acting that contribute to post-traumatic and post-ecstatic growth. And they are all ways that we commonly think and act when we play games” (p. 7-8).

(Image Screenshot from Amazon)
  1. Adopt a challenge mindset
  2. Seek out whatever makes you stronger and happier
  3. Strive for psychological flexibility
  4. Take committed action
  5. Cultivate connectedness
  6. Find the heroic story
  7. Learn the skill of benefit finding
    (SuperBetter, p. 8-9)

The SuperBetter method helps you learn how to challenge yourself in a variety of ways that you can easily do each day.  My favourite are “power-ups” – “any positive action you can take, easily that creates a quick moment of pleasure, strength, courage or connection for you” (p. 160).  McGonigal goes on to share that these will change your “biology in extraordinarily important and long-term ways” (p.160) making you less vulnerable to stress.

Power-ups are easy and can be physical, social, emotional or mental.  It can be standing up and taking 3 steps or snapping your fingers 50 times.  Building resilience helps your body withstand stress (physical p. 14);  “improve focus, motivation and will power” (mental p. 15);  increase your ability to focus positive emotions (emotional p.16); and find support in the networks around you (social p.17).  The book is filled with examples of power-ups and the online game includes more designed both by McGonigal and other players.

Power-ups build into quests – things may push you outside your comfort zone but are achievable in the next 24 hours.  It just like teachers would do for their students.  Challenge them to stretch to what is in reach but just outside where they’ve been before.  Then you build your network of allies….what leader doesn’t need a team of strong followers.  You go on to name your own bad guys and develop your own super hero name in the ultimate search for your epic win.  Even if you are shaking your head right now, remember that each aspect has the science behind it… including giving yourself your own secret identity.

So why talk about Super Better in a class that’s focusing on leadership? As an educator and a home based business team leader, I see many benefits to building these strategies into your daily life.  Can you imagine if we explicitly planned in schools to create more resilient students? Not that teachers don’t already do this, but what if we purposefully use research based strategies to build resilient learners.  Could you imagine the toolbox of resilient strategies students would have?  Can you imagine the ripple effect?

Whether you are a team leader in business or a teacher in a classroom, what you do and how you do it affects your followers.  It affects how your followers are going to respond to tough times and hard decisions, which in turn affects how they support you as a leader.  Leadership is more than having the characteristics of a leader, it’s about how you can give back to your team members.  After all, a resilient team that builds on the strengths of each other and forms a strong supportive network is more likely to produce positive results.

And so as I write this near the beginning of my ETAD 898 – Independent Study in Leadership, I see connections building to theories of servant and transformational leadership.  I think SuperBetter offers a concrete, research based way for you to become more resilient and in turn you have the opportunity to share those strategies with those around you.

My daughter is 7 and we’ve started playing SuperBetter together.  It’s a great way for us to learn how to live healthier together.  Even better, she reminds me to do our power-ups and when she’s had a tough day we stop for a moment and look at all the positive power-ups that she’s already done and at ones that will help us feel better.

So whether you play the game faithfully or learn some simple strategies.  There’s always something to learn from the SuperBetter method.

SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Jane McGonigal

McGonigal, J. (2015). SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient. New York: Penguin Press.