in: Fitness, Health & Fitness, Podcast

• Last updated: September 10, 2023

Podcast #170: Level Up Your Life

Like most American kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s, video games were a big part of my childhood. I can still remember the first video game I conquered (Karate Kid on the NES) and my first case of what felt like video game addiction (Zelda: A Link to the Past on SNES).

When I stopped playing video games over a decade ago, I figured they’d given me hours of childhood entertainment and maybe a few good memories.

Well, my guest on the podcast today argues that perhaps there’s actually a thing or two we can learn from how video games are designed that can help improve our real life. His name is Steve Kamb and he’s the owner of Nerd Fitness. In Steve’s newly published book, Level Up Your Life, he shows readers how they can use the same mechanics that make video games so fun and addicting to help them get in better shape and knock off items on their bucket list.

Show Highlights

  • How Steve stumbled upon the idea of using video game mechanics to improve his real life
  • The components of Steve’s Epic Quest of Awesome
  • How you can turn addiction-inducing gaming mechanics into overcoming motivation problems in real life
  • How the Hero’s Journey plays into living life like a video game
  • Why creating an alter ego may be just the thing you need to get the motivation to start improving your life
  • How to incorporate XP points into your life
  • Why you need an awesome team just like any superhero
  • What we can learn from video games on how they reward you
  • What’s the end goal of living life like a video game?
  • And much more!

Level Up Your Life book cover Steve Kamb.

If you like video games, comic books, pop culture, and self-improvement, you’ll love Level Up Your LifeI’d also recommend getting this book for a fella who doesn’t seem too motivated about leveling up his real life, and spends most of his time leveling up his video game avatar. The way Steve presents self-improvement and fitness may be just the thing that will connect with him and get him off the couch and into the game of life. Pick up a copy on Amazon.

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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another addition of ‘The Art of Manliness’ podcast. One of my favorite writers online is a guy by the name of Steve Kamb. He runs a website called I’ve had Steve on the podcast before. What I love about Steve is he’s made fitness accessible and fun to people who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in physical fitness or strength training. What he does is he takes inspiration from video games, pop culture, comic books, movies, and creates workouts sometimes based around these.

For example he’s got a thing on there called the Konami Code Workout. Based on the classic Konami code that you used at the beginning of Contra. Anyways, really fun guy. He just came out with a book called ‘Level Up Your Life’, and it’s not just about physical fitness, it’s about how to infuse more adventure, more progress in your personal development using video game mechanics. Using the same things that video game designers use to keep you playing a video game for hours on end. He’s found ways to implement those into your personal life. He shows you how in ‘Level Up You Life’.

Today on the podcast we talk about how video games can act as a template for our own personal development program. A lot of fun, so without further ado, Steve Kamb and ‘Level Up Your Life’.

Steve Kamb welcome back to ‘The Art of Manliness’ podcast.

Steve Kamb: Thank you so much for having me. I mean we go back to, geez five six years? Forever.

Brett McKay: Yeah. It’s been a long … I think like 2009 I’d say, when we started interacting?

Steve Kamb: That was it. I shot you an email like, “Hey Brett I’m a huge fan. Love your website.” You were so kind and got back to me, and I never forgot that. Thank you and thank you for having me back on the podcast as well.

Brett McKay: You’re welcome, so for those of you who don’t know Steve, Steve is the owner of a fantastic website and community called Nerd Fitness. We’ve had him on the podcast before to discuss what Nerd Fitness is, and it’s basically Steve’s taken inspiration from video games and awesome movies, and helping guys and gals get into shape using that. Today we’re going to talk about a book that Steve has just come out with. It’s called ‘Level Up Your Life’. What I love about this book Steve is that you take this idea … I played video games as a kid right? Nintendo, Super Nintendo, I loved them. I loved how you took aspects of video games and applied it to people’s life. How did you stumble upon this idea of living your life like a video game for personal self improvement?

Steve Kamb: Sure. Well very much like yourself, I was raised by two loving parents and a Nintendo Entertainment System. I spent my childhood playing ‘The Legend of Zelda’, and ‘Super Mario’, and ‘Super Metroid’. As I grew older I started to play more and more video games. They got more and more complex, and as they became more complex I was able to use less and less imagination. Thus spent far less time outside exploring as if I was a character, and more time inside at my computer or on my couch playing these games. Eventually it got to a point after college where I realized I was spending a majority of my free time playing video games. Specifically a game called ‘Everquest’ and ‘Everquest 2’. Which is like World of Warcraft, but I think even more in depth and nerdier. Life kind of became the boring parts between when I could get back in and play these video games, and eventually I got to the point like, “This is not good. I’m wasting these valuable years of my life, and all this time playing these games and I know it’s not good for me, I know it’s not healthy.” I started to think differently.

I thought well if I can get addicted to these video games there have to be reasons why, and I wonder if I can kind of look at those games, and then apply those same tactics and almost behavioral psychology triggers that games use, apply those things to my own personal life, and instead of using these games as just an escape, instead using them as inspiration and education almost to kind of reboot and change my life outside of my day job. That was the beginning of it. I was sick of living vicariously through a character and to quote the most interesting man in the world, “I wanted to start living vicariously through myself”, and took those same mechanics and started applying them to my life so that I could level up my life.

Brett McKay: Yeah. Tell me … The way you did this is you set up a video game that you called ‘The Epic Quest of Awesome’. I remember when you started this, so can you tell us what is it? It’s still going on right?

Steve Kamb: Yes.

Brett McKay: ‘The Epic Quest of Awesome’, you haven’t conquered it yet?

Steve Kamb: No and I don’t know if I ever will. We can get into that a little bit later, but everybody has a bucket list. They just make a list of like 100 and whatever things that they create, probably in January 1st or January 2nd. They’re like, “My life’s going to be different and I’m going to make this bucket list of things that I always wanted to do”, and it’ll say something like travel, and learn a language, or exercise more, or become a better cook. These things so vague and so nebulous that people just have more fun creating a list, and they never actually cross things off of it. I figured if I was going to start living a life like a video game, I had to build my list like a video game.

The reason why games work, is there’s a very specific set of thing that need to happen in order for your character in a game to level up. It’s not just go fight a bunch of guys and eventually you reach level 50. It’s like okay at level one you need to kill 10 spiders, and then you need to go to this cave and collect 20 of these things. There’s a very specific path laid out for you, and it’s actually called the progress principle. It allows you to consistently see progress in your character, and anybody that’s ever played a game, it’s like, “Oh I’ll play for five more minutes. I’ll complete one more quest. I’ll try Candy Crush. I’ll try to get through one more level.”

I built my bucket list, which I didn’t think was nerdy enough as a title, so I called it ‘My Epic Quest of Awesome’. I turned the world into my video game world. I came up with different names for each of the different continents, and then I got very specific with things that I wanted to accomplish. Instead of I wanted to travel more, it was I want to find Nemo on The Great Barrier Reef. Oh man I grew up loving James Bond, so I was like okay I need to live like James Bond for a weekend. Which involves me being in Monaco in a tuxedo, and gambling. It’s learning to play a musical instrument, learning a new language, volunteering to a cause that something helps me out with or something that I think is important to me and helps make the world a better place.

With the help of my community I created a list of I think it was about 50 things, that as somebody up until that point had never traveled very much, was very risk averse, and shy, and felt more content on a couch then I did out in reality. Created this list of things that were challenging to me mentally, physically, socially. Put me in a different country in a foreign situation, or gave me an opportunity to do something that made my life better. Since then I’ve crossed off probably 20-25 things on that list, so I don’t want to say half way done but crossed off a significant number of them. As I’ve crossed them off and my life has changed over the five years since starting it, my quest has changed. I’ve added new quests and new quest paths, and identified new allies and obstacles to complete and things like that.

It’s kind of like a slowly evolving video game with a series of quests that have very specific guidelines that give me a path to follow that makes me better, happier, stronger, more financially stable, and also makes the world a better place.

Brett McKay: Awesome, so you’ve added expansion packs?

Steve Kamb: Yes. I’ve absolutely added expansion packs since the original beta launch. Whenever that was a few years ago.

Brett McKay: All right so let’s talk about it, so you’ve been able to cross off and do a lot of stuff that’s been on your bucket list right? You mentioned some of the principles that are involved, that you’ve taken from video games to help motivate you. You mentioned the progress principle. What are the other video game dynamics that helps solve the motivation problem in our lives? That people can use? That they can start actually doing the stuff that they’ve been saying they wanted to do for years.

Steve Kamb: Sure and everybody says … They say, “Oh man I wish I had the discipline”, or, “I wish I had the motivation to exercise more”, or, “I’ve always wanted to learn a language, I just don’t have the time for it.” I stumbled across a quote that I’ve just found really really helpful. Essentially the quote is something like, “Screw motivation, cultivate discipline.” Everybody is waiting for motivation to get started to get fit. They’re waiting for the motivation to start eating better. They’re waiting for the motivation to finally start writing a novel. Instead of using motivation, instead it’s like restructuring your life in a way that you’re only option truly is to succeed. That comes from video games.

Like I said we have this progress principle where there’s a very specific set of steps laid out in front of you in order for you to get to where you are to where you want to be. Life is not generally laid out that way, unless you start structuring your life in that way. It’s taking baby steps and identifying, if you have a big goal, breaking it down into 50 smaller steps, and finding a way everyday to work on those individual goals.

Another thing that I found really important for me personally, as someone that had never traveled, was that I found more and more that the games that I loved to play were the games that involved exploring new places, or seeing what’s in the bottom of a cave, or over a mountain, or what’s on the other side of this ocean? A big portion of my game involved this idea, my personal game, involved exploration and discovery. Another thing that I found that I truly loved in games was the building a team of people as well. When you’re playing ‘Everquest’, or “World of Warcraft’, ‘Call of Duty’, any of these great multi-player games, you want to surround yourself with these really elite, highly qualified, really great video game players. It makes you better. It allows you to go further places and do further things, so I applied that to my life too.

I started recruiting real life allies and finding people that were good in the things that I wasn’t, and use them … Use them, I don’t want to use the word use like I’m using these people, but rather it’s like I identified the people that were better at things that I wasn’t and sat down with them, and had them help me structure my life in a way so that again my only option was for me to make small progress every single day towards learning that new instrument or setting aside more money to travel, or taking the leap and traveling even though I was terrified of doing such a thing.

Brett McKay: Awesome, so we’ll get into more detail about the building the team. What another aspect that’s fun about video games, and you talk about this as creating your avatar right?

Steve Kamb: Yes.

Brett McKay: Where you go in and it’s the very first thing you get to do, you get to pick. Even like when you’re a 30 year old grown man, you get really excited about picking digital cloths. Which I don’t know what that says about me. I don’t know maybe that’s kind of sad.

Steve Kamb: Nope. I do the same. It’s very important. You don’t want to screw up or it’s over.

Brett McKay: You don’t. You’re stuck with it for the rest of your life, or the rest of the video game. Is there an avatar building aspect of living a video game type life? If so how do you do that?

Steve Kamb: Yeah. Absolutely. There’s a big portion of the book that revolves around this concept of the hero’s journey. It’s this concept that every great story in history, every comic book, every video game follows this story arc of a character that’s a fish out of water. They enter this extraordinary world after there’s a call to action, and they identify allies, and they fight bad guys, and they return home a different person. Him or her returns home a different person. You know a changed/improved person. It’s very cyclical. I noticed that in comic books and movies, specifically these days with Marvel is doing a fantastic job with it, every super hero has an alter ego as well. More importantly every normal person then has an alter ego as a super hero.

For example Clark Kent is a mild mannered reporter. Indiana Jones is a archaeology professor. Buffy is a high school cheerleader when she’s not out slaying vampires. All of these characters have normal daily responsibilities that they must take care, and then after they’re done with their job or school work or whatever, they then transform into this super hero version of themselves that can do these wonderful things. In this personal development space, where this book touches upon, it’s very easy for people to just write things and say, “Oh just follow your dreams. Quit your job and travel.” In reality, for a strong majority of us, that’s not an option. We have families to take care of, we have bills to pay, we have jobs that need to … Cars that need fixing. Whatever it may be. There’s a cool opportunity to not allow yourself, not allow your job to define you unless it’s something that you truly truly enjoy. Throughout the book I share some fun examples of ordinary people, that are from the Nerd Fitness community, that have these really fantastic alter egos that allow them to do really exciting things.

For example this gentleman by the name of Thomas, who is a single dad. He is a construction worker … By day he is a construction worker. In afternoons, thanks to his love of Japanese comics, he and his have bonded over this. They found a comic in which there was a single dad with his son, and they have to complete missions and quests in this comic. He created a very similar set up for him and his son. Now they train in martial arts every afternoon, and it’s become his alter ego. It’s a cool opportunity for people to separate these portions of their lives, and say, “Well by day I might work in a cubicle or I might be a teacher, but by night I’m planning my next trip, or I’m a dancing phenom, or I love to play music in this band or something.” It allows people to take care of their responsibilities, but also re-frames their life in away that yes this is cyclical and you do have to take care of these other things, but you can also create these really fantastic alter egos of yourself that allow you to do things that you’ve always put off, or things that you’ve maybe been afraid to try. This alter ego allows you to compartmentalize it, and then live out that second half as if you were are this character and make progress on it.

Brett McKay: That’s awesome. Let’s talk more about the progress principles. This is the thing I love about video games. I think it’s why it’s so addicting, is that like you said. You don’t go and beat … You don’t go and fight Gannon in Zelda right at the very beginning. You have to start off and you go and collect chickens or something like that. It’s like-

Steve Kamb: You get your wooden sword and shield.

Brett McKay: You get your wooden sword and shield, and that’s it. Through the process of doing these little micro missions, they’re dumb but it’s addicting to do them, but you’re getting better and better and you’re leveling up your guy so you can actually fight the big boss right?

Steve Kamb: Sure.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about … Let’s give a concrete example. How can someone take that idea of the progress principle in video games and apply them to a quest in their life? Let’s get really specific here. Say if someone’s goal is … I don’t know you come up with a goal. You wrote the book, give me a goal.

Steve Kamb: I have been living this for seven years, I can provide you with a very specific musical example, or a specific travel example. Which one would you prefer sir?

Brett McKay: Let’s go travel.

Steve Kamb: Travel?

Brett McKay: Yeah. Travel’s exciting right?

Steve Kamb: Yeah absolutely, so for somebody that … Let’s say they’ve always wanted to travel, yet they’ve never found themselves outside of North America. Booking a flight tomorrow to New Zealand or Thailand probably is not an option. They’re so terrified. That’s such a nebulous goal. It’s so far away on the other side of the planet that they … It’s something that they’ll always say they want to do, but they’ve never been able to do. I was very much the same way back when I was 24/25. At this point I’d already started Nerd Fitness, but I’d never traveled. I wanted to travel. I started making my list to do, but some of them were still so far away, the idea of traveling alone scared me. Traveling around the world, specifically alone, both of those things added up to become the Gannon of my life. The final boss in my head. It was like that’s not going to happen.

I took a much smaller trip, and I traveled with a friend of mine who is very well versed in travel. We went to Peru, which is still a huge step for me, but because I was traveling with somebody that knew what they were doing and it was to a country where I spoke the language already, so I was relatively fluent in Spanish back then. To me it seemed like a jump from level four to level five instead of a jump from level four to level fifty. Making that small step and taking the smaller trip allowing me to travel in a foreign country, with a friend, was like, “Okay I can do this. This wasn’t too bad.” Then that gave me the confidence and the ability, and kind of lit the fire under my butt to say, “Okay now let’s take that next trip.” That next trip then was to Australia. Australia was like okay this might be way further away then Peru, but I’ll speak the language. I know I can get around. I’ll be surrounded by other travelers. Eventually it lead me to traveling through China, where I didn’t speak the language. I was traveling alone and was able to do these things because I had been able to slowly level up my traveling through those examples.

I realize my example might be a little bit more extreme then many others. For somebody else that very rarely travels, it might be as simple as taking a weekend camping trip in your back yard, instead of convincing yourself to go to a nation park on the other side of the country. If you’re unable to fly over to Europe, maybe taking a day trip up to Montreal or somewhere in Canada from wherever you are in The United States is applicable. It’s kind of ramping up the difficulty a little bit, and taking you slightly outside of your comfort zone. Instead of so far outside of it that you kind of either shut down or you refuse to do it, it’s like dipping your toe a little bit further in the water instead of having to mentally yourself to cannon ball in the deep end.

Brett McKay: Got you. Here’s a question though. One of the things with video games that make them so addicting is the XP right? The experience points, because you can see a meter on your various aspects of your character.

Steve Kamb: That’s so addicting.

Brett McKay: His strength. His speed. I think in Fable there’s like a morality one. You’re either a good guy or a bad guy. You see this meter going in either direction, and you’re like, “I’ve got to increase that.” You know there’s certain tasks that you can do to get the XP that you need to get to the next level.

Steve Kamb: Sure.

Brett McKay: Is there a way that … I mean have you come up with an XP system with your ‘Epic Quest of Awesome’, to keep track of all the aspects of your life. You know that if I worked out, I get this many XP for the day. Is there something like that going on?

Steve Kamb: Yeah so when I started I had neither the resources, the talent, or the money, or time really to pull off something like this automatically. I just kind of created a very simple system. It was like okay every time I cross something off of this list, I earn 20 experience points. Every level has 100 experience points, so every time I cross five quests off the list my character levels up. That sustained me for many many years. We actually have members of our community that have created these really elaborate Excel spreadsheets of what their questing system would look like. Some of them were for social skills. Like they have to go talk to a stranger every morning, or they have to go for a walk every day and track their mileage to see if they can walk the distance between The Shire and Mordor, or something like that.

Fortunately with this book there’s now a system where if you go to you can create a character, aka create your avatar. Determine what character class you’re joining. Let’s say you … I think being active is such an important part of how you’re going to level up your life, depending on what class you feel like becoming. If you like to strength train you’re a warrior. If you like to run you’re a scout. If you like to do martial arts you are a monk, or you like to do parkour and gymnastics you’re an assassin. We’ve actually created a system where you can write in your own back story, create your character’s alter ego, pick your class, and then input your quests, assign experience point values to them, and literally level up your character as you are leveling up your life. It gives you a chance to assign those point values to whichever quests you deem are most important.

My quest involved things like travel. They might involve music. I’m in the process of learning to play the violin, so a lot of my quests from a musical standpoint are around making sure I practice every week. Slowly ramping up … Making sure I’m taking lessons, or ranking up to a master boss battle. Which involves me with my violin in a bar in Dublin or somewhere in Ireland with my fiddle playing Irish tunes with locals. There’s a fun thing that you can do. Like I said it’s at, where you can create your character, assign those values, and actually start leveling up, and put specific points to those questions and make it far less nebulous and way more concrete.

Brett McKay: Awesome. All right so throughout a video game there are certain points where you do level up, and it’s … I remember the old school game where there would be a little sequence right? You level up and there’s bright lights and-

Steve Kamb: Ding.

Brett McKay: -Zelda throws up his sword, ding. Usually when you level up you get something. There’s a reward. You make this point in the book that video games reward you in a specific way that we typically don’t reward ourselves in real life when we accomplish something. What can we learn from video games about rewarding ourselves whenever we do level up in life?

Steve Kamb: Sure. I apologize for the sirens. I just relocated to New York City a few months ago and all though I block them out in my head, now when I’m doing these interviews I can hear them so it’s kind of funny. In life a lot of people reward themselves with things that make them either unhealthy or give them a step back. It’s the equivalent of, “Oh man I just a three mile run, I earned this piece of cake”, or, “Oh I was able to get through all my work, therefore I’ve earned this night out of heavy drinking”, or something like that.

It’s the equivalent of taking two steps forwards and three steps back. With video games my favorite example is from a game that you and I both love, ‘Legend of Zelda’. That’s rewarding yourself with things that reward you back. When you defeat in the first dungeon the first bad guy, you earn let’s say a boomerang, or a bow and arrow-

Brett McKay: Hook shot.

Steve Kamb: -, or something. Hook shot. Something that allows you to progress to the next level. It is a momentum building reward, and those rewards slowly increase what your character is capable up. They encourage you to want to continue playing even more, and it’s done so perfectly well in games like ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘Fable’, and any role playing game or ‘Call of Duty’. Where once you reach a new level you unlock a new item for your character, but only part of it functions until you get to the next level. Not only does it reward you with something that makes your character better, but it even gives you a gentle nudge to keep playing and continue further.

I applied that to life as well. I was like, “Well what if we start rewarding ourselves with things that reward us back?” In the book it’s called finding your treasure chests, and thinking terms of Zelda, don’t reward yourself with things that make you take steps backwards, but things that encourage you to step further forward. Let’s say you’re trying to become more fit, and you say, “Okay I’m going to exercise three days a week, every week, or the next month.” If I do that, then I am allowed to buy let’s say three new shirts or something. Two shirts that fit you, and one shirt that is slightly smaller then the shirt that you’re currently trying to put on. You then have rewarded yourself with something that is going to encourage you to continue down this path of living a healthier life, and one that nudges you even further to say, “Oh man I now have a goal in front of me to work towards.”

That’s just an example for fitness. You could say, if I’m trying to write a book, “If I write every morning for … If I write 500 words every morning for two weeks, I will buy myself a ticket to this writers conference. That will then encourage me to write more, or if I set aside $50 a week to travel, I will then subscribe to this travel something or other.” That encourages you then to travel more, so it’s looking at your life in a way … One of my examples, and I actually have to go out and buy it now that I’ve completed it, was I had to convince myself to perform on a street corner. Which scared the crap out of. Performing in public is terrifying, but I loved the movie ‘Once’, and I was like, “I’m going to stand on a street corner like Glenn Handsard and play a guitar.” If I do that I can replace my $100 guitar that I’ve been playing on for seven years with an upgraded leveled up guitar that will encourage me to play more music.

It can apply to literally any type of quest that you’ve put together. It’s trying to think of it in a way that instead of rewarding yourself by taking a step backward, rewarding yourself with how does this further improve me or kick me even further down this quest path that I’m on?

Brett McKay: Yeah I think that’s genius, because I think that a lot of … What I see that a lot of people do, they have this self improvement kick. They’re like, “I’ve got this self improvement kick. I’m going to go get all the stuff that I need to make this possible right at the very beginning”, so they drop a load of cash and then they don’t do anything. A week later they’re like, “Okay”.

Steve Kamb: I’ve moved on to the next thing.

Brett McKay: This is great, because they can start doing something with the bare minimum. Then if they … That’s when they can figure out, “Okay is this something I actually like?” That’s a problem that I’ve seen a lot of people, I’ve run into too. It’s like I want to do something, but I don’t know if I’m actually going to like it. There’s always that fear that I’m going to invest a lot up front and them I’m going to find out this was a terrible terrible mistake. I do not enjoy this at all.

Steve Kamb: I immediately regret this decision.

Brett McKay: Yeah I immediately regret this decision, but this provides a way that you can test it out. If you like it then you reward yourself with something that will allow you to further your progress on that thing that you found out that you enjoyed.

Steve Kamb: Yeah it’s like in games there’s always a skill tree. Where every time you level up you earn a point, and then you can put it where you want it. The other path that you were just describing is the equivalent of getting all of your points and putting them all into one discipline. Then playing for a half and hour and realizing oh I don’t actually like playing as this type of character, I give up, I quit. If you can kind of dip your toe in the water … I remember when I started Nerd Fitness. I had actually started two other types of blogs before. I started a music blog and a sports blog. After two weeks I was like, “I don’t want to write about this stuff.” Luckily I hadn’t bought anything. I had set up a free basic website, so Nerd Fitness was a very basic, free WordPress template. That survived me for awhile until I realized six/eight/ten months down the road, I’m freaking loving this. This is the path I’m supposed to be on. Luckily I didn’t go all in on those other two. I found the path that worked for me and then I continued to add attribute points to that path or that quest line I was working on.

Brett McKay: Awesome. All right so you mentioned multi-player mode early on. Why is a team for important for your ‘Epic Quest of Awesome’, and what sort of people should you be looking for in your team?

Steve Kamb: Yeah well it’s … Some games are fun to be the lone wolf. Going in against insurmountable odds. It’s like the Jack Bauer or the-

Brett McKay: Leroy Jenkins? Leroy Jenkins!

Steve Kamb: Yes.

Brett McKay: It’s still funny.

Steve Kamb: Every time it’s funny.

Brett McKay: Every time you watch it it’s funny. It’s awesome.

Steve Kamb: Yes. Anyways life is a multi-player game. It’s fun to think that what we do, we are by ourselves. However life is a multi-player game and who we surround ourselves with, and how we build our environment around us are responsible for such a huge portion of us actually reaching and accomplishing the goals that we’re trying to pull off. We are products of our environments and I think as the quote goes or saying goes and I don’t necessarily believe it 100%, but I’ve found it to be true, “You are the average of the five people you associate the most with.” To go back to video games again. Do you want to be the one person in your group of five people who is better then everybody else on your team? You are the guy that gets all the kills, but your team stinks, and you just get to be like, “Oh look I’m the best on my team”, but your team is terrible. Would you rather be on a team of four elite commandos, or four amazing characters in ‘World of Warcraft’ that allow you to go fight freaking dragons and explore far of place that you’ve never been able to see before.

Obviously in games everybody answers the second one like, “I’m not stupid.” Then in life they spend all of their time with people that are negative, that have no interest in improving their lives, and would rather drag you down then pick you back up right?

Brett McKay: They’re hanging out with like Natalia’s from ‘Golden Eye’. Is that? I hated that chick on that game.

Steve Kamb: I am not a fan.

Brett McKay: She would just like walk around and then she’d just stand in front of you and get shot. It’s just like you’ve got to be kidding me.

Steve Kamb: Yeah it’s the equivalent of having a non player character with you that is really terrible at it. I was just playing ‘BioShock: Infinite’, and you have to help a woman in that game as well. She is phenomenal. She helps, her AI is awesome. It’s like this makes the game better and you’re surrounded by people that are improving you on your path. It works in games, it works in real life too, so I try to surround myself with a few different types of people. Very much like if Justice League was made of all Supermans, all it takes is kryptonite and they’re screwed. If you have Superman, and Batman, and sure even Aquaman, and Wonder Woman you have this diverse group of people. If you’re playing ‘World of Warcraft’ you have a wizard and a warrior and a healer, you’re going to far more capable as a team.

I try to surround myself with people that are better then me. People that I am teaching, and people that are the same level as me. Whether it’s in health and fitness, I look to people that have done what I wanted to do. I can ask them how did you do it and it helps me further down that path. Nerd Fitness, I have a community of people that I am helping that are slightly behind me, or maybe some of them are probably ahead of me as well, but people that I can help further down because I’m a little bit further ahead then them. We all know that one of the best ways to get better at something is to teach somebody else to do it.

Then the final category I like to throw in there is the wild card. I think in the book I call it do you want you Jedi master, your fellow Jedi, and you padawan, your apprentice. Then you have the wild card, aka the Han Solo of the crew. The person that takes you outside of your comfort zone. That does things that probably make you slightly uncomfortable. Whether it’s tra … If you are socially awkward then hanging out with somebody that has kind of the social game figure out. Hanging out with them more often, and then having them get you into more situations where you have to improve in the way that makes you uncomfortable, the more well rounded, the more leveled up you’re going to be. Very much like a game I surround myself with allies that help me improve my quests and in turn I try to make their lives better as well.

We’ve all seen it with master mind groups, or groups of friends that not just have game night but they have book clubs and they all have running clubs or whatever. It’s understanding that you’re not alone in this journey, and if it’s just up to you it’s very easy to quit and skip a workout, sleep in. It’s very easy to skip a lesson, whatever. If you have groups of people that are counting on you and will hold you accountable, you are far more likely to follow through with it and progress further in this game we call life.

Brett McKay: Awesome. Avoid Natalia’s.

Steve Kamb: Avoid Natalia’s, yes.

Brett McKay: Okay. All right so I’m going to ask you this question, which will lead into my next question. What was the very first video game you conquered? Ever.

Steve Kamb: Very first game in conquered? ‘The Legend of Zelda’ for regular Nintendo came out before … I was young kid when that came out, so I don’t think I ever beat that one. I was like four or five maybe when that came out, so that was little before my time. I think the game first fully beat completely, and it was with friends. We passed the controller around, but it is ‘Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past’.

Brett McKay: That was a good one.

Steve Kamb: That was my favorite game for many many years. I think there was one point where my mom made me stop playing it, because I heard the Zelda music in my head and I couldn’t sleep. I made the mistake of telling her this, and she was like, “Well that’s easy. You’re not playing Zelda for a few weeks”, I was like, “Aw man!” Yeah the first game ever was ‘Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past’ that I remember completing and having that immense sense of satisfaction.

Brett McKay: Yeah, yeah that was awesome. I love that. My first was ‘Karate Kid’ on NES.

Steve Kamb: Oh wow.

Brett McKay: You ever play that?

Steve Kamb: Good game. Is the … Was that the one … Was there only one Karate or did they have ‘Karate Kid Two’, because the scene I remember is when he has to break the ice with your hand.

Brett McKay: It was a combination of ‘The Karate Kid One’ and ‘Karate Kid Two’.

Steve Kamb: Oh okay.

Brett McKay: You start off. The very first level is the tournament at the end of ‘Karate Kid One’, and you have to do the crane kick to beat Johnny. If you do that you get to go to Okinawa.

Steve Kamb: Put him in a body bag!

Brett McKay: Yeah. You get to go to Okinawa and then you get to break the ice and all that.

Steve Kamb: I do remember that.

Brett McKay: You could catch flies with the chopstick. I remember I was so excited when I beat it, because it had like the … You remember the old school days when you conquered a game there would just be like a Mr. Miyagi head, and there was just text that scrolled down and told you here’s what happened. There was just glory in it.

Steve Kamb: Oh so good. ‘Glory of Love’ which was a great song from ‘Karate Kid Two’.

Brett McKay: That’s right.

Steve Kamb: Nominated for an Academy Award for like best soundtrack song.

Brett McKay: It’s awesome. I freaking love ‘Chicago’.

Steve Kamb: Yeah Peter Satara’s the man.

Brett McKay: I don’t know. They’re so under rated. I think people need to go check out ‘Chicago’ and Peter Satara. It’s my jam. You just feel pumped up when you listen to that stuff. Not going to be afraid to admit it.

Steve Kamb: Good.

Brett McKay: This is my question, so what’s the end goal with this sort of life as a video game? Is our life conquerable? Are we going to get the Mr. Miyagi head at the end? Signed off, or is this something different?

Steve Kamb: It’s a little different. I think … I like to come up with games that they may or may not have an end. I think the game of life itself, there is literally one end and it’s our game over screen that we have no control over. To an extent we do, but tomorrow is no guarantee so we have to do the best that we can to enjoy today and make progress. Instead of having a game over … Instead of having an end game, I think of each quest line as it’s own game. Just like any other hero’s journey or any other video game, or movie, or book there are always plot twists. For you Brett, I’m sure your life changed pretty drastically when you had your first kid. Your game changed at that point. Before that it might have been heading down a specific path, and then oh plot twist. You and Kate are pregnant and you have a baby on the way. It’s like, “Okay now my new game might becoming the best father I can.”

For myself I had traveled very extensively for a year and a half, and crossed off 15-20 things on my list, but I wanted to have a home again because I was living out of a back pack. My game shifted, where instead of traveling permanently I then I had a home and I was booking smaller trips and I was … My focus shifted from visit more places, to get stronger and become more musically talented, or improve my lack of talent I guess is a better way to put that.

The game … The full game of life like I said we have one quarter that goes in the machine, and we do our play through the best that we can and then there’s the game over. In between you putting in that quarter and then that game over screen there are so many different paths that you can choose to take, and depending on aspects of your life or life moments or memories or changes in passion. Specific things that alter your course, or your heroes journey, the game changes. I think that’s okay for people. How I felt six years ago and the quest that I built, and the vision I saw for myself at level 50 which is what I kind of see as fully leveled up, is very different now then it was six years ago. I think that’s okay.

Brett McKay: Awesome, so there’s expansion packs.

Steve Kamb: Yes. You can always add more. Provided you are at least working on them in some way. It’s very easy for people just to add, add, add-

Brett McKay: Add, add, add.

Steve Kamb: -and then never make any progress.

Brett McKay: You’ve got to beat the expansion pack first before you can go on the next one.

Steve Kamb: Right.

Brett McKay: Then also there’s side missions. Like once you beat the main … Like on ‘Grand Theft Auto’. I don’t really like ‘Grand Theft Auto’, because I always feel kind of skeezy playing it, but the one that I like is ‘Red Dead Revolver’.

Steve Kamb: Awesome game.

Brett McKay: It’s awesome. It’s about a guy who’s going to avenge his father’s dead. Freaking awesome. Anyways, once you do that you’re done, but there’s other stuff that you can do within the world of ‘Red Dead Revolver’.

Steve Kamb: Yeah and I’ve seen it so many times with fitness on Nerd Fitness. It’s probably my favorite thing to hear. Everybody starts with a quest to lose weight. They’re like, “I just need to lose 50 pounds. I want to feel better about myself.” They follow the framework laid out in this book and in Nerd Fitness, and as they build a team of people to help them succeed they structure their life in a way where they’re making consistent progress. They have rewards set up to push them forward, and accountability set up to keep them on target. As they are completing the game, as they are reaching this 50 pounds lost aka what they think their end goal is, the closer they get to it the more they realize how much they actually enjoy exercising. I’ve heard this from almost every single one of our big success stories, people that have lost 100 pounds, 150 pounds, whatever. They say, “I never thought I was say this, but I actually enjoy exercising now.” Their goal or their game has shifted from a weight based goal, aka I want to lose 50 pounds, to a performance based goal. I want to run a marathon, or I want to … I wonder how long I can hold a hand stand? I wonder if I can dead lift 500 pounds or something along these lines.

When shifting from a numbers goal to a performance goal, it’s the equivalent of slaying a dragon and then instead of saying, “Oh look I slayed a dragon I’m done”, and going back and eating terribly and sitting around in the pub telling everyone how great you are because you slayed that dragon, you get your ass out there and find another dragon to slay. One that’s a little bit bigger, that lives in a larger mountain, that lives a little further away then the one that you just kind of took care of.

Brett McKay: Awesome, well hey Steve this has been a fascinating conversation. Where can people learn more about the book and your level up system?

Steve Kamb: Absolutely. The book is available now all over the internet. It’s available at, or if you go to it’s linked through there. is where you can create your character and get started with building your own ‘Epic Quest of Awesome’, and recruit allies, and get started down this path to a leveled up life.

Brett McKay: Awesome Steve Kamb, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure sir.

Steve Kamb: Brett the pleasure is all mine sir.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Steve Kamb. He is the author of ‘Level Up Your Life’ and that’s available on and bookstores everywhere. Like Steve said you can go to and create your own avatar and character, and start going on your own video/life adventure. Go pick it up, it’s really fun book. You can also read more about Steve’s work at

Well that wraps up another addition of ‘The Art of Manliness’ podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure and check out ‘The Art of Manliness’ website at If you enjoy this podcast I’d really appreciate it if you’d give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. Help get the word out about the show. I really appreciate your support, and until next time this is Brett McKay tell you to stay manly.

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