Habitica: An Awesome Self-Development Tool

I have a new obsession. It’s called Habitica, and it’s become a huge part of my life for the last month or so.

I had been looking for a checklist app of some kind, so I didn’t have to keep re-writing the same tasks over and over. Bullet Journals and Day Books are fine and all, but there’s only so much time in a day. Sometimes we have to look for speedier ways of doing things. I used to have the app Home Routines on my phone and I really loved it, but once I left the iPhone world, I was out of luck: Home Routines does not have an Android version. In my search for a new checklist-type app, I had run across Habitica before, but I’m not a big fan of pixel art, so I had not given it the time of day. But eventually I decided to give it a shot, and am I ever glad I did!

Habitica is an app that turns your life into a Role Playing Game. Now, I have to be honest: I had never role played before, thought it’s always been an interest below the surface—something I wanted to do but never really had the time for. Habitica has allowed me to enter some role playing while remaining productive (and becoming even more so), and I’m loving it.


Habitica: An Awesome Self-Development & Productivity Tool, www.marianamcdougall.com


How the game works

On Habitica, you have a little character. As you complete tasks in every day life, your character earns Experience Points (XP) to level up and gold to spend on stuff within the game. You can also create real-life custom rewards that you can spend your gold on. For example, one of my rewards is to watch a movie, and it costs me 120 gold. So before I watch a movie, I have to complete enough tasks from my task list to earn 120 gold. You can set your rewards and how much they cost however you want, but the things to “buy” within the game cost a specific amount. You also have to buy certain things in a series before you’re allowed to buy more advanced equipment.

A fun aspect of the game are the “drops,” which randomly give you pet eggs, hatching potions, and pet food. As your character grows through the game, you can hatch and collect pets that you can then feed to grow into mounts. It’s a lot of fun doing this, at least for me—and it’s attracted the kids to participate in the game as well, which is awesome; they’re actually looking forward to doing their chores now, so they can go to the game, check things off, and get pets. This has been great because we loved ChoreMonster, but that company seems to have gone kaput, and we were looking for something to replace it. But truth be told, I’m enjoying this even more than the kids!

A new community 

The most valuable aspects  of this game for me are the guilds and challenges. Guilds are groups of people centered around a common interest or goal. Many of these guilds will have challenges you can join; there are challenges for almost anything you can think of. For example, I’m taking part in a challenge to read for 25 minutes per day, a challenge for scheduling a full week ahead of time, and a fun challenge about taking a virtual vacation. All of these challenges help me grow as a person and learn new things, as well as organize my life. For most of the challenges, you have to report back to the guild on whether you completed the activities or not, which makes you feel part of a group (and keeps you accountable).

For someone like me, who hasn’t been part of the traditional work force for many years, this aspect of the game has been invaluable. For example, while Dan is on vacation, I’m working full-time with my freelancing and blogging. One of the guilds does “pomodoros” together. We state what we plan to do for the next 25 minutes, and then we have to report back to say whether we did it or not. On Friday, I spent the day doing this. I was extremely productive while also feeling like I was part of a group of workers again. Even if there’s no one physically in the room with me, it still feels like I’m working “alongside” people.


checklist graphic

There are three types of tasks on Habitica: Habits, Dailies, and To Dos.

Habits are things that you want to develop a habit of doing (or stop doing). You can have positive and negative habits. For example, one of my positive habits is to put on lip balm, because I frequently forget to do this, and thanks to my super sensitive and dry skin, I really need to remember to do it. Every time I remember, I get to check that and get some gold and experience points for doing it. It’s a great motivator for me. I have a negative habit of raising my voice at the children. Each time I do it, I have to click the negative habit, which means I lose experience points and gold. It’s not as much a motivator to not do it as it’s making me notice how often I do it and helping me work towards better forms of communication.

Dailies are tasks that must repeat daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly. The important thing to note about dailies is that if you don’t perform them, you get “punished” in the game by losing gold, health, and if you leave enough dailies undone, you’ll lose all your gold, a level, a piece of equipment, and your character will die, so you’ll have to “refill health and try again.” In my dailies, I have such things as taking my medication, doing my physiotherapy, using assistive devices for my connective tissue disorder, and more.

Finally, To Dos are things that you only need to do once. For example, some of my to dos have been to put a letter in the mail or to create a new budget for my business (Budgets would be reviewed monthly/quarterly/year, but creating the new budget itself is a one-time thing).

Free Accounts and Paid Accounts

Habitica is free to access for everything I mentioned above. Paid subscriptions get a few extra perks, but it’s important to note that this game is not “pay to play.” You can access everything in the game from the paid account, but a subscription will give you fun things like the ability to purchase gems with gold. Gems allow you to buy certain things in the game that you otherwise would have to wait for a random drop for. These don’t affect your levelling up at all, they’re just fun little things to collect. There’s a few other extra perks as well.

Having said that, Habitica depends on subscriptions to continue running, so if you can afford to get one, it would be good to do so. I myself am considering buying the Groups submission, which allows you to assign tasks to people in the group, have a private chat, and other functionalities. This would be useful as a family to get stuff done around the house, and could even work as a chore chart that may be more effective than other things we’ve tried. I’ll keep you posted about my subscription purchase.

If you’d like to give Habitica, a try, visit the website here. If you want to learn more about the game and how it works, there’s a huge Wiki that will tell you everything you need to know.

Have you tried Habitica? What do you think of it?

How to Be a Good Listener

How to Be a Good Listener: Developing Positive Communication Skills

I’m a talker. Sometimes, I talk too much. But over the course of many years and many mishaps, I have finally learned how to be a good listener. I still talk too much, and sometimes I still mess up (a we all do). But I try to truly listen when I’m having a conversation, and to consider someone’s points before responding. This is important in every day conversation, but it’s even more important when conflict is involved.

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New Year’s Resolutions? Here’s Some Help

New Year’s Resolutions & Managing Expectations


New Year's Resolutions? Achieve your goals in 2020. Photo of beach and palm trees in background. Photo by Matthew Brodeur on Unsplash




New Year’s celebrations have come and gone, and for many people, new year’s resolutions are already failing or the wagon is getting harder to stay on. Not to worry! We have everything you need to make 2020 your best year yet. Here are some tips to stay healthy and happy this year. Want more? Sign up for the mailing list for full access to our free resource library, which has self-development tools and more. In the meantime, read on for some tips on how to get a better start to 2020.

1. Stop worrying about what others expect

Many new year’s resolutions fail because we make them based on external motivation: what others think of us, what we think we “should” be doing to fulfill some external source of validation. When we don’t truly believe in a path, it becomes much harder to follow it.

Make this the year that you listen to your own heart and follow the path that’s right for you, even if that’s completely out-of-the-box and outside the realm of what those around you consider “normal.” Remember, there’s no such thing as normal, and what’s right for those in your circle may not be right for you. If those in your circle can’t support you in your different choices, it may be time to find another circle.

2. Give yourself some time

As much as I’m a huge believer in SMART goals, I also think some times we can’t see the forest for the trees when we concentrate too much on the details. We often worry too much about the end results and forget about the progress we make, little by little, each day.

We are not broken if we don’t achieve everything we’ve set out to achieve in the first few months of the year. We are not broken if we fall off the wagon. All we have to do is start fresh the next day and get back on again. You are not a failure if you fail. You are a failure if you stop trying. So fail. Fail well. Keep failing. Keep trying.

No one achieves great things the first time trying them, so give yourself some time to achieve your goals. And perhaps start with a broad goal, and move on to SMART goals once you’re a little more ready to take things in a detailed approach. For me, this looks like this: I know I need to lose weight. But I’m never going to achieve that goal if I don’t first learn to love and respect my body just the way it is, right now. So I’m giving myself some grace to achieve that broad goal first. I’m taking it step by step to learn how.

3. Practice gratitude

Practicing gratitude is something that most of us think we do. I thought I did it myself; I have much to be grateful for. I was given a second chance at life by being welcomed into a country where I had a future. I have a roof over my head, food on my plate, and clean water in my glass. I have a husband and children who love me. I enjoy the right to educate my children in the way I see fit, and I’m privileged to be able to homeschool them. I’m deeply thankful for all these things every day, and I don’t take it for granted. Yet, I’m not always grateful.

I believe being thankful for your life and being in a state of gratitude are two different things. I think when we are in a state of gratitude, that state informs our actions. I think it’s a lot harder to be angry or annoyed if your first reaction to everything is to remember gratitude.

If I’m starting to feel annoyed that the line in the store is taking too long, I can remember that I’m in line at the store because I have enough funds to buy nutritious food. If I’m starting to get impatient with my children, I can remember my gratitude for having them in my life. If I’m starting to get the blues about no longer being on the road (which everything in me tells me is my real home), I can be grateful for the stable life my children can lead and for the things stationary life provides.

Being grateful isn’t always easy, but practicing gratitude can make the rest of life easier. So practice. Practice daily. Take nothing for granted. Write down what you’re grateful for when you wake up in the morning. Let that gratitude guide you for the rest of the day.

4. Laser focus, little by little

We’re too distracted by our to-do lists. I know I am. And for those with ADHD or other attention problems, these distractions are even higher. Often, we want to do too much, too fast. I know I often fill my plate too much, and then get frustrated that I can’t accomplish all I set out to do. 

So this year, let’s take one thing at a time. Just as we need to give ourselves time to accomplish our goals and desires, we also need to give each goal and desire its own time. Stop trying to do everything at once. As much as multitasking is a way of life in the modern world, we can still take pause to focus on one goal and one small step at a time. 

I know I want to drop some weight, focus on slowing down the progression of my chronic illnesses, spend lots of time with my children, read more, draw more, write more, kiss my husband every day, meal prep, eat healthier, play more games, get together with friends more often… the list goes on and on. But it’s not humanly possible to do all those things at once, and perfect life balance is a myth. So take one thing at a time.

Choose one goal a week, one goal a month, even. Concentrate on that for a while, and put the others aside. As long as everyone’s fed and alive, the other things can wait a while. We don’t need to achieve “success” (whatever that means) in our 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s, even. We need to do what needs to be done and concentrate on little goals, one step at a time, or we’ll drive ourselves crazy trying to accomplish too much, and feeling like we’re failing all the time.

5. Celebrate everything

I’m as much a critic of “everyone gets a trophy” as the next cynic, but there’s power in celebration. Patting yourself on the back for a job well done can encourage you to keep trying (and keep failing, and keep trying).

This might resonate with other moms, especially homeschooling moms: some days, all I can do is make sure the kids stay alive and that I have a shower. And you know what? That’s an accomplishment. In a busy day of teaching school, prepping meals, and keeping the house in somewhat decent order, I’ve often done the job of 3-5 people, all while getting paid with hugs and kisses, which, while emotionally valuable, don’t pay for my hobbies or extra wants. I was able to do something, however little it may look in the eyes of a society that defines us by how much money we earn.

So, celebrate. Celebrate the small things. Whether it’s with a reverse checklist to show yourself what you’ve accomplished, or with 10 minutes to play with stickers or work on a hobby, or a 5-minute time out for self-massage, or simply a self-pep talk to tell you that you’re killing it, give yourself the time to recognize that while it may not feel like much, it really is. Especially if you’re a person dealing with chronic illness, every little accomplishment matters.

6. Help yourself to free resources to make things easier

The Internet is full of free resources to help you do just about anything. In the age of information, the amount of resources at our disposal can feel overwhelming. So remember to take one thing at a time, evaluate resources based on whether they’re useful to you, and move on if they’re not.

Our FREE resource library has lots of helpful things to help you learn to love your body, get healthier, get organized, accomplish goals and more. Join us in making 2020 the year you make yourself a priority.



Happy New Year, and may this be the year you love yourself just the way you are, while learning and growing each day.


Everyone is responsible for their own feelings.

When we tell everyone that they’re “responsible for their own feelings,” we lose something we need desperately in our world: compassion.

I see it time and time again when someone mentions being triggered, or when someone has a hard time dealing with a confrontation. There’s always that one person (or several people) proclaiming, “no one controls your feelings but you.” Or “You’re responsible for your own feelings.” Or they quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  And while all that might be true, it ignores one very important factor: the aggressor is responsible for the actions they take, too. And they’re responsible for the consequences of those actions.

Yes, you have some responsibility for how you make people feel.

There have been a couple of times in my life when I was going through a terribly difficult time, and along came the straw that broke the camel’s back. You don’t know what people are going through, and you don’t know if you’re going to be that straw for someone. So treat people with kindness.

True, you don’t have control over other people’s feelings, and you can’t live your life stepping on eggshells in fear of setting someone off. However, that doesn’t give you license to demean others, call them names, and tell them to just deal with the feelings you’re causing. Yes, you do have partial responsibility for how you make people feel. And you should act accordingly.


"You're Responsible for Your Own Feelings." But where does compassion come in? www.marianamcdougall.com. In an age of "me first," we need to take responsibility for how we make others feel. BackgPhoto by Rémi Walle on Unsplashround


So the next time you feel inclined to tell someone “you’re responsible for your own feelings,” think back to what you have said to that person or what might have been said to them. Consider the history you might not be aware of—how this person might still be working really hard at healing from an abusive relationship. How this person might have a loved one on their deathbed and is especially vulnerable in this moment. How this person needs compassion and unconditional love desperately, and how all you’re giving them is disdain.

Consider how your own self-development journey into being someone who isn’t affected by “triggers” might be playing out for the people around you. It’s great to be strong and “trigger-proof,” but if that makes you someone without compassion and without love for others, was it worth it? Consider that perhaps not everyone is as strong as you. That everyone experiences things differently and is at a different point in their journey. That in the time it takes for you to say, “only you can manage your feelings,” that person may be having physical symptoms from an anxiety disorder, and you’re exacerbating those symptoms with your lack of compassion. And that’s just one example.

Stop judging others for their reaction to events and start offering a listening ear, a “walk a mile in their shoes” attitude, and learn that your way of dealing with things doesn’t have to and never will be everyone’s way.

And most importantly, remember this: people won’t always remember how emotionally strong you were, but they will always remember how you made them feel. Want to leave your mark on this world? Stop belittling those who are still healing from emotional upheaveal and are struggling to not let things affect them. Want to leave your mark on this world? Let people remember that you made them feel wonderful. Want to leave your mark on this world? Be kind. 

Stop Comparing: You’re Good Enough As You Are

I’ve been having a hard time lately, comparing myself with people two to three decades older than me. On days when my pain is especially bad and my joints aren’t cooperating, it’s hard to see a 60-year-old who can move better than me. On days when I compare myself to people like this, I tend to get depressed. And therein lies the problem: we have to stop comparing, because wherever we are, we are good enough.

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Make Time for Reading

I love reading.

But this love didn’t start early. As a child, I loved writing, but reading really wasn’t my thing. Recently, I had an epiphany. When I was a child, I was pushed fiction books to read all the time. That’s about all we were given (other than textbooks, obviously) as kids in school.

There were never books about various interests, just “stories.” And while I enjoy reading the odd fiction book now, my  preferred genre is non-fiction. Whether it’s business, self-development, or my favourite, memoirs of those with interesting stories to tell, I love learning through reading.

Perhaps I didn’t enjoy reading as a child because I was never given the choice of what to read. That has all changed now, of course, and my love of reading, combined with my love of acting, has created a great opportunity to read to my children and use all the different voices and accents I can make up. This means I’ve been reading more children’s literature, as well as more fiction. 

Our family enjoys both fiction and nonfiction, and of all the things we left behind before we came on this trip, the most difficult to put into storage were our books. We did bring some books on the trip, however, as well as eReaders and a tablet for ease of book carrying.

While some would argue that listening to an audiobook isn’t “reading,” to me, it doesn’t matter. Yes, of course you should read print whenever possible, but just like tablets in education, there’s a time and a place for listening to audibooks.

Make time for reading, www.marianamcdougall.com, man wearing a hat sitting on a windowsill and reading, Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

For example, for children who don’t yet read, listening to audibooks (or a parent reading) helps them to develop a love for literature early on, and I would argue, even an interest in learning to read. For children who need to be in constant motion, audiobooks provide an opportunity to enjoy literature while still allowing for energy expenditure. And for those who are on the road, like us, audiobooks means being able to carry as many books as we like, and still have a chance to discover new and re-discover old literature.

On this trip so far, we’ve had lots of time to do reading, whether that be on our own, through audiobooks, or with me reading to the family while my husband drives. But what if you’re not on a road trip, and you simply don’t have the time to read? Make the time.

Reading is such an amazing activity, and has a tonne of benefits. It expands your knowledge, relaxes you, and builds your vocabulary, among other benefits. But in today’s rushed world, it’s hard to find the time to enjoy these benefits. Here are some simple ways to enjoy reading, even when you’re short on time.

1. Do it in short bursts

Even 5 minutes of reading a day will relax you and allow you to take a break from your busy life. Set aside 5 minutes of your lunch break or 5 minutes after a meal to read a page or two.

2. Put the phone down (unless you’ve got a eReader installed)

Stop scrolling through social media during your commute or when you’re bored, and replace that time with reading time. You can even use your phone for reading time if needed.

3. Make use of the tools available to you

If carrying a book is burdensome, use an eReader or even an eReader app on your phone. Reading is reading; use the tools available to you to read in the most convenient and efficient way for you. 

4. Multitask

Although multitasking has earned a bad rep in recent years, when it comes to reading, it might be worth a try. If you’re already fitting exercise into your day, why not add reading to you exercise? Here’s where audiobooks work wonderfully. Listen to a book as you run, cycle, or lift weights.

5. Remember to read what you like

I didn’t like reading as a kid because people constantly told me what to read. Now that I’m an adult, I pick books that interest me, and I enjoy reading so much. If you pick books you enjoy rather than the ones you think you “should read,” you’ll be much more successful in your quest for more reading time.

How do you fit reading into your day?


Seek to Serve: Improving Yourself by Helping Others

I love connecting people to resources, whether those resources are other people, information, or places. And whereas that looks helpful, the truth is, it could be seen as a pretty selfish thing to do. I help others because helping others makes me feel good. And we all like to feel good, don’t we? And making me feel good is not the only advantage of helping others. It turns out that it helps people remember who I am—and that’s pretty good for business.

I’ve met many people in my 36 years. Wonderful people, helpful people, people who are truly interested in helping others succeed. And I’ve also met people who will do anything to ensure they themselves are successful—including throwing others under the metaphorical bus to get ahead.

And in my experience, those people who’ll do anything to get ahead—including hurting others—get ahead in business, all right. But eventually, it all comes crashing down. They might be making a tonne of money, but they slowly lose friends, and end up alone and miserable. Money doesn’t bring happiness—though it sure makes life easier sometimes.

Seek to serve: improving yourself by helping others, www.marianamcdougall.com, several hands holding each other in background

I may not be rich in material goods, but collecting material stuff is not what I want out of life. I have what I need to live a good life: water, shelter, food, and friends and family that I enjoy spending time with—both in person and online. And to me, personally, that’s what life is all about: friends, family, and spending time with the people who bring you joy.

A long time ago, I adopted a “seek to serve” mentality. I’m always thinking about how I could help others, though I’ll be honest, on days when I’m having a lot of pain, that’s hard. And sometimes, it’s OK to “take a day off” from being super nice. I’m not mean to people when I’m having flare-ups, but I make sure I’m taking time away from people when I need to concentrate on self-care. But on any other day, I do what I need to do to take care of myself, while also looking to help others. 

The “seek to serve” mentality has served me well over the years. I use this mantra because it makes me feel good, but the side effect is that people remember me. And that’s how I get most of my business through word-of-mouth. After seeing me answer questions in many Facebook groups for writers, or after witnessing me connect people with useful resources, these same people remember me when a client is looking for work that they’re not experts in, but that they know I could do well. This is how one of my largest clients “landed on my lap:” a referral from an online friend who’s seen me help others online.

So if you want to grow your business, remember this: put helping others first, and the clients will follow. You still have to do your marketing, of course. But you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how helping others can also help you succeed. Here’s a quick recap of how the Seek to Serve lifeview works:

1. Be genuinely interested in others.

Gecko looking straight into camera


Take interest in what other people are doing, in what their business is about, and in what their interests are. Because when we are “aware of what others are doing, applaud their efforts, acknowledge their successes, and encourage them in their pursuits… [and] we all help one another, everybody wins” (Jim Stovall).

2. Truly listen.

Two women talking, Photo by Trung Thanh on Unsplash

Study good active listening skills and practice them daily. Listen to what others are saying, don’t interrupt, truly take in information, and think about how you could help them based on that information.

3. Always be thinking about how you can help people.

two older women talking and laughing on a bench, Photo by Dario Valenzuela on Unsplash


As you truly listen to others, always be thinking about how you could help them with resources you know about, be those resources people, information, or places. Tell people about things that could help them in their business: not unsolicited advice about how to do things, but things they may be interested in researching or checking out. This actually provides people with useful tips, without making you seem like a know-it-all or a bossy person.

4. Wait for those referrals (don’t ask for them—yet).

man sitting at airport looking at plane taking off, Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash


I rarely ask for referrals, yet I frequently get them. I believe this happens because people tend to remember those who help them, and subconsciously, at least, they want to help them, too. Again, I don’t help people just to get referrals. I truly take joy in connecting people with resources, because seeing others succeed makes me happy. 

So, remember: seek to serve, and you’ll see success.

How do you seek to serve?

Setting Goals That Actually Work—FREE Worksheet!

So… you’re a procrastinator. It’s OK, you can admit it.

Most of us had no issue calling ourselves out in school. When we were up all night finishing an assignment that was due the next day, we’d just say it: I procrastinated. Then we became adults, and realized adulting is hard. Missing deadlines now have bigger consequences than failing a class. Especially if you’re a freelance writer. Or a mom who’s also a freelance writer. If procrastination is getting you down, it’s time to make things right by setting some goals that actually work.

Continue reading “Setting Goals That Actually Work—FREE Worksheet!”

Accountability in Practice: How I Stay Accountable with My Personal Goals

I’m not great with accountability. Let me rephrase that. I’m an accountable person when it comes to my work. But when it comes to personal goals, I often don’t do well with accountability strategies, such as checking in with an accountability buddy. But I think that’s just because I hadn’t found “my people” yet.

Continue reading “Accountability in Practice: How I Stay Accountable with My Personal Goals”