An 8-Bit Kick in the Ass

Mega Man is going to blow your mind today.  

Well, him and dozens of his side-scrolling friends.

Last week, a friend of mine emailed me a link to a video that instantly made my day and almost brought me to tears (seriously).  If you’ve ever played an old school NES game, or grew up with a Sega or Super Nintendo, this video will take you on a nostalgic adventure down memory lane.

On top of that, if you’re anything like me, it’ll inspire the HELL out of ya.  

Now, if you’ve been reading Nerd Fitness for a while, you’ll understand my obsession with drawing thought-provoking life lessons from the most random of places (Underpants Gnomes, Shawshank Redemption, and Mike Tyson’s Punchout!! to name a few).

Today, we’re going to learn how to level up our lives from 8-bit video game characters.


Go Right Video

If this isn’t the best 2.5 minutes of your day, email me and I’ll send you a free NF t-shirt.  Just kidding, we’re almost completely out of stock (though more are coming in the next week).  And if they WERE in stock, you’d have to do something way cooler than just complain to get one 🙂

Enough about shirts though, let’s get back to the epic awesomeness that is “Go Right.”  Make sure you watch it at least once, but preferably 10-250 times.

I’ll wait.


Great! Time to get educated by Mario and company.


Old school games ruled because they were deceptively simple.

A directional pad and two buttons.  Only one direction to run – right!

Take somebody with ZERO videogame experience, give him an NES controller, and put him on Level 1-1 in Super Mario Bros. – within a nanosecond he’ll start walking right, jump on a Goomba, pound the ? block, etc.

Now, hand that same person an Xbox controller and drop him in the middle of a Halo:Reach 16-player battle without any explanation, and they’ll probably tell you “this is stupid, I have no clue what I’m doing, I don’t want to play.”

I realize this makes me sound like a crotchety old grampa, but games will simpler back then!  Two buttons.  Two dimensions.  One direction to walk.  Up hill, in the snow, both ways, buck naked.

Wait, what?

Anyways, anybody with half a brain can figure out how to play a side-scrolling game very quickly.  No instruction necessary – just figure it out as you go along!

What does this have to do with real life?

Have you ever been had so many options that you instead decided to do absolutely nothing?  We call this “paralysis by analysis,” and it happens to the best of us.  Yeah, even Chuck Norris.  (Kidding, Chuck…please don’t hurt me!)

I can’t tell you how many emails I get from terrified people who ask “should I do 3 sets of 8 or 4 sets of 7 or 5 sets of 5?” or “is 2200 calories too many or should it be 2100?” or “if I do these 7 ab exercises will I get abs?” or “I eat 185 grams of protein but should it be 180 and how many ounces of water specifically and is four slices of apple enough or should it be five?”

These people drive themselves absolutely insane by wondering about every tiny little detail; they fail to see the importance of just simplifying everything and getting started!  They want to collect piles and piles of underpants because Phase 2 scares the crap out of them (inappropriate pun definitely intended, unfortunately).

Make your life 8-bit.  Stop playing Halo and start playing Mario – simplify!  Stop worrying about the small stuff, stop adding confusing plans and complex workouts and convoluted diet solutions to your problems.  KEEP IT FREAKING SIMPLE:

  • You don’t need a gym and a trainer and fancy equipment.  A simple playground will do.
  • Want to strength train?  Squats, Deadlifts, Overhead Presses, Push ups, Pull Ups, and Dips. That’s it.  No tricep extensions, no cable bicep curls, no calf raises, no ab-rollers.  Build an entire routine out of these few exercises, combine it with proper eating, and get ridiculous results – it’s how the Barbell Battalion operates in the Rebel Strength Guide.  Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s not effective or fun – ask Mario.
  • Want to lose weight?  Start eating right!  Don’t worry about diet pills, protein shakes, timed meals, exact portions, or any of that nonsense.  Learn to start eating real food!  The less steps your food had to go through to get from nature to your stomach, the healthier it probably is for you.
  • Want to change your job/start a business/get out of debt?  Think in two dimensions!  Decide how you can simplify the process down into just the key steps.  Forget everything else, and get started on the simple stuff that will produce the greatest results.

One step at a time

Kirby's Dreamland

When you play through Super Mario Bros the very first time, are you expected to beat Bowser right away?

Eff no, you’d get your butt kicked!

When you play Legend of Zelda, you’re handed a wooden sword and shield – are you supposed to march straight into Death Mountain and defeat Gannon?

Of course not, little Link would pee his pants if he had to do that!

Fortunately for these characters (and those of us that control said characters), video games are broken into different levels that increase in difficulty as you progress.

  • You don’t need to worry about the final level or last boss, all you have to focus on is the NEXT level and the NEXT boss.
  • You don’t need to worry about the massive gap at the end of the level you’re supposed to clear, just the NEXT gap.
  • You don’t need to worry about Dr. Wily yet, just get through BubbleMan, and then Air Man, and so on…

One level at a time, one step at a time.

Make your life 8-bit – If you’re trying to lose 200 pounds, your goal probably seems impossible.  So how do you do it?  One pound at a time.  One meal at a time.  One workout at a time.  One step at a time.  One day at a time.  Just focus on being better today than you were yesterday.

Stop worrying about the grand picture if that scares the crap out of you, and just focus on what you can change today.  As we’ve learned from Optimus Prime, a bunch of tiny changes, when combined in the proper order, can result in big transformations (see what I did there?).

Take it easy!  Focus on moving towards the flag/goal/end.  Focus on the next jump.  Focus on the next obstacle.  Hell focus on just putting one foot in front of the other.  Do this repeatedly and eventually you find yourself, completely leveled up, ready for a boss battle of epic proportions.

Suck less each time.

Super Ghouls'n Ghosts

You know what I loved about old school video games?

They were mercilessly difficult.

Dying a ridiculous number of times trying to clear a level, cross a particularly huge gap, and/or defeat a boss happened dozens of times in most games.   However, they were as well designed as they were difficult (the good ones, anyway): if you died, it was because your hand slipped, or you jumped half a second early or late, or you timed running past the lasers incorrectly.

You could scream and yell, blame the controller, blame the pizza grease on your finger that slipped on the A button, or blame the bad guy who inexplicably changed his pattern (he didn’t, by the way), knowing full well that when you died it was because you sucked.

When the screen says “CONTINUE?” you jump right back into the fray and try to suck a little bit less than before.

Life is no different.

When trying to acquire a new skill, you are going to suck…and you are going to suck a lot.  You are going to fail, and you are going to fail a lot.  Fortunately for you, the only thing that’s separating you and total victory is YOU.  Unfortunately this means that blaming outside sources for what’s gone wrong is a tremendous waste of time, energy, and resources.

If you’ve tried to lose weight in the past and failed, does this sound familiar?

  • “I was doing well until the holidays came around!”
  • “I lost a bunch of weight, but then got sick and couldn’t exercise and now I’m back at square one.”
  • “I was kicking but until work got busy and I had to stop.  When things slow down…”

As my buddy Tyler will tell you, “nobody believes your excuses except for you.”


This game of Life is freaking hard – nobody gets out alive.

Make your life 8-bit:   You might try and get in shape and fail a few (dozen) times before you succeed – you might have some success losing weight before putting it all back on!  That’s life, and it doesn’t make you a failure, or a bad person, or a lazy bum.

Those things are only true if you continue to “blame the controller” or keep trying to beat the same level in the exact same way that resulted in your “death” on the last time through.  

Your goal is to suck less each time.

We play videogames because of the tremendous amount of satisfaction we get from sucking a little bit less each time and getting a little bit further.  It’s fun to fail in different ways, trying different paths and strategies and tactics until we finally discover the perfect combination of buttons that allow us to cross the finish line.

Getting in shape is NO DIFFERENT – if you sucked at getting healthy last time, learn from it and TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT.  If you tried to count calories and starve yourself while running on a treadmill to get in shape and failed miserably, then attempting to get in shape the same way this time is the video game equivalent of running into that first Goomba in Mario and expecting the result to somehow be different.

Write down what you did last time and identify why it didn’t work for you. And then move onto the next option and track that one too.  Repeat as necessary.

Go right

Super Mario flying in SMW

Videogames can be brutally tough, but damn they’re fun.  

They test you, challenge you, frustrate you, and then have the audacity to dare you to try again.

And you do.

Every time you miss a gap, get clipped by a bullet, or accidentally jump half a nanosecond too soon, you scream every four-letter expletive you can think of before picking up the control and saying “THIS is the time.”

Start looking at your life in two dimensions.  You’ll face challenges that you probably don’t have a solution for quite yet.  You will get stuck on the same part of a “level” for days and weeks at a time.  You will set goals that make you think “I’m being incredibly unrealistic with this.”

Stop worrying about the next level.  Don’t worry about that final jump.  Who cares if you’ve “died” a million times?  Try again.  Try differently.  Try smarter.

Hit continue.  

Go right.



PS – Yeah,  after seeing “Go Right” I realized that I DEFINITELY ran the wrong way in my video.  Sigh.

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  • Brandon Scott Dobson

    “PS – Yeah,  after seeing “Go Right” I realized that I DEFINITELY ran the wrong way in my video.  Sigh.”
    Looks like you have to start all over again, Steve. 

  • Bigm141414

    Solid article Steve. And honestly probably top 5 NF articles in my book. 

    (For your video invert the whole shebang! ) Go RIGHT! 

  • Perry Shelton

    Absolutely fantastic article! Thank you for everything, Steve.

  • Ry Simmons

    Best thing I’ve seen all day!

  • JD

    “This game of Life is freaking hard – nobody gets out alive.”

    Ultimate big picture reality check right there – great post Steve!

  • Amy Clover

    Seriously, that video is genius. Who knew you could rangle that kind of emotion out of a montage of side-scrolling games?!

    This is one of my favorite posts that you’ve written so far, Steve.  So many people get caught up in the details and end up giving up because “There’s just too much.”  Why not give yourself a break?  Take every step at a time.

    Bravo, man.  Excellent post and way to drive it home with the video game analogy. It always helps me to think of life in terms of Earthworm Jim. 😉

  • Casey Stephenson

    From the beginning. No save points here.

  • Charlotte Nauert

    This post was bad ass! Definite NF hall of famer, if you ask me. Going right and hitting continue with a “hell yes!” each time is what levels up my life every single day. Love it!

  • Stephanie Virardi

    This is my favorite article ever… right next to “How To Not Suck at Working Out.”  SOLID, Steve!!!!  🙂

  • Jean Michel Brunet

    Great article. Go Right and hit continue. Can’t get much simpler than that.

    You may have run the wrong way in terms of Go Right but you ran your way which is always right. Keep daring to be different.

  • Liz Ohlhausen

    Love it! Thinking about the next level is such a sane way to approach it.  Sometimes when I get stuck on anything, I get out an index card and write down “the next physical step” (which I didn’t make up, but I’ve repeated it so much in my head that I don’t remember where I got it). Then I take a break and clear my mind, and come back the same day and take the next physical step.

  • Eric Williams

    Anyone else amused by the irony of a “keep it simple, stupid” article after the introduction of a challenge that requires an advanced degree to understand? What’s the learning curve for RPG character generation? 😉

  • Pingback: Simplification: It's catching on! | S.P.E.E.D. - Evidence Based Weight Loss()

  • empeg9000

    Epic post!

  • Kelly

    Oh, man. I totally forgot about that karate game. I miss it!

    This article was awesome. I want to share it with everyone I know! Maybe I’ll see if I can get those two people to read it. 😉

  • Steve Kamb

    hahahaha, you got me there.

    don’t you worry that pretty little head of yours though, Mr Funky Dung.  We’re building something that will automate that process 🙂


  • ducatisteve

    Your video was an easy mistake to make.  You’re actually so used to 8-bit video games you instinctively went right from your point of view!

  • Topher Fangio

    Steve, you didn’t run the wrong way! You just flipped the movie during editing silly man! Just flip it back (don’t worry, no one will notice the signs are backwards…most of them are in another language anyway)!

    Regardless man; excellent post! I was stoked last night when you mentioned it on Twitter, and it’s WAY better than what I expected.

    Keep them coming my man!

  • Ashley F.

    Yoga is my 8-bit video game. Every time I suck a little less and it’s enough to keep me coming back for more. Love the video – love the metaphor!

  • James Parker

    I’m making a Will-Do Wall (ideally will be a wall-sized collage composed of pictures and words that depict my dreams, goals, motivations, inspirations, etc).  I’m stealing a few lines from here to stick on the wall.

    I have OCD (like legit, as in medicated and everything), so I have a tendency to obsess over the details to a fault.  as such, I need to be reminded of much of the above everyday.  so thanks.

  • Shane Carmody

    This is truly an inspiring post, thanks so much Steve!

  • Kris

    An 8-bit workout can be very effective. But for those who need a little help, there aer so many articles and so many options and so many “experts” that you can get paralyzed trying to figure out how to do everything, and do it right away! At some point you just need to stop thinking and start doing…

  • Jsylvia

    Along the same lines, this is one of the reasons I like the recent trend of gamification of life. Your LevelUp concept is similar. One thing that’s really worked for me is taking what I’ve learned from NerdFitness and applying it to the point system at When you can break it down into simple steps and just worry about the points, if takes stress off of worrying about the bigger end result (the boss!). I wrote about my experience here if anyone is interested in checking out. 

    It’s worked so well for me in fitness that I’d really like to see this gamification idea applied to more and more areas of life.

  • The Queen Athlete

    you know what helped me 8-Bit my weight loss plan right now? the 6 week challenge. because it is required to have only 4 simple goals, my mind automaticaly goes to them every day and forgets all the other details. thanx

  • Joel Zaslofsky

    VIdeos games can be brutally tough indeed Steve. Your screen shot of Ghost ‘N Goblins (or is it Super?) reminded me that Nintendo made what I feel are impossible to beat games even though I know a number of people beat them.

    I was writing a blog post earlier today which will feature Vile and Dark Link. Sure, they are minibosses, but the Mega Man and Legend of Zelda references here fit in perfectly. Looks like I just found a new article to link to in the one I’m finishing up!

  • Primal Toad

    He actually went right. It just looks left to us…

  • Jake Vander Ende

    Steve, I think you really need to try Dark Souls. It really emphasizes a lot of what you’re saying, in terms of sucking less after each attempting, only doing one area at a time, not needing fancy tools, and so on. It’s the one game I played where I feel like it directly prepared me psychologically to succeed at Tough Mudder and one of very few games where I feel like I have been measurably improved as a human being.

  • Daniel Apostol

    This is excellent. I gain a ton experience surfing NF, thanks so much for the time and effort you put into these articles!

  • Keinan MIller

    hate to be Grammar police but  “I realize this makes me sound like a crotchety old grampa, but games were simpler back then!”

  • JefftheCow

    Just sneakily flip the video XD

  • Brendon Held

    Steve, I am at a loss for words… This is an absolutely
    brilliant article, and I love the analogy to gaming. You certainly know how to
    spot an opportunity for a great post (with the go right video), and run with


    I am really loving your site mate! Keep up the
    hard work… and living life large…

  • Albert Park

    First thing, I love NES games. Secondly, your absolutely right about simplifying things. When it comes to fitness and getting in shape, everything out there often times confuses people even more and can even prevent them from ever getting started. Keeping it simple can help you “suck less” and start leveling up more. Well put steve. 

  • Red1263

     Tell that to Mario, Link, Megaman, Samus, etc etc

  • Sarah_D

    I work in a kitchen and often think how dodging all that easily available food is a little like the game Journey Escape for Atari.  The goal of the day is to keep avoiding the groupies (aka food) and manage to get to the escape vehicle (aka my car) without sabotaging myself along the way.

  • Twitterfree

    Hey, Steve! Saw your tweet about Premium Web Cart but don’t have Twitter account to reply. A friend of mine has been doing online shopping through her site for years. When we were talking about storefronts not too long ago, she recommended BigCartel. If you haven’t given it a look, you might want to.

    Keep up the awesome!

  • Megamania

    I really needed to hear this today. Awesome.

  • TheFatNurse

    This was absolutely beautiful article. Thank you

  • JackH

    Great article, exactly what I preach to my family, friends and clients. It’s amazing how many people, (personal trainers included) have a tendancy to overcomplicate exercise and nutrition.

  • Nicholas Joslin

    Great article – and it got me thinking this morning out on my long run.  You see while I love computer games and have for years, my son makes fun of me because I’ve never became a “multi-console” gamer.  That’s right its PC gaming or nothing else.  If Ian wants to compete against me it’s got to be on the PC – I tried his XBOX and he totally killed me….. (what the heck do I do with all these funky buttons?  Arghhhh!)  So I’m competitive – so now when we play we play on the PC (which I can totally win at!) and ONLY the PC.
    So while I was out running (one of my favorite fitness activities) I got to thinking about how I’ve been approaching fitness and was disturbed by what I found.  While I’m not as bad in the fitness arena as in the gaming arena – I definitely focus on the fitness activities that I can “win at”.  I know doing any kind of fitness is better than nothing, but how much better would I be if I became a “multi-console” fitness guy?  So next week I’m going to keep my running up (after all I do still want to run my first marathon this year), but I’m going to try and expand the rest of my fitness routine and add some activities I haven’t tried before.
    Again – thanks for the great post!

  • Natassha Halverson

    Good god! The amount of inspiration I can pull from your blog is remarkable! Thank you for writing  these!

  • Paul

    What makes you a nerd is not that you play videogames, or that you understand some of the mechanics of them. It’s that you talk like the stereotype of a 13 year old American kid who doesn’t even get culture in their yoghurt. ‘Sucked’- I bet grown ups say that in America don’t they. ‘You suck!’ It’s the most infantile of phrases.

  • Andreas Kopp

    Awesome article! This is the article I wanted to right! I am really into pixel and 8-bit a the moment, learning and experiment a lot. This article made my day!

  • Ruegan80

    Don’t feel bad. Technically you went right. It just looked left to us.

  • 50 Lbs. to Normal

    It was great, Steve, but the best part of my day was getting a new job. 

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  • Abercrombie and Fitch

    I love reading your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation. Wishing you the best luck for all your blogging efforts.

  • Martyn

    Your right!!! Instant buzz when this plays through…. Epic!!!

  • Felix Navarro

    Awesome article!!!! Brought me to the good old days when games were truly fun. Of course there were short cuts and cheats but what fun was that just made the game shorter. Anywho thanks for the great article.