Struggling to Reach a Goal? Turn it into a Boss Battle.

When was the last time you had a real boss battle in your life?

If you’ve played board or video games, it might seem obvious that competition and “survival of the nerdiest” can help us hone our skills:

  • Playing Call of Duty or League of Legends with an elite squad and watching your kill/death ratio climb.
  • Playing Mario Kart against friends and enjoying the rollercoaster of emotions that comes from climbing from last to first just before crossing the finish line.
  • Leveling up high enough in World of Warcraft to get to take on dragons and guild raids.
  • Playing chess online to see if we can rank up in our skills.
  • Playing Magic the Gathering, CarcassonneSettlers of Catan, or Cones of Dunshire with friends or in actual competition.

So, the idea of a boss battle might be something you are familiar, but as nerds, it tends to be with a controller or board game.

If you want to stay on target, and level up your life (and make some friends in the process), taking these boss battles into the physical realm creates the kind of positive stress that can lead to growth in our body and mind.

Boss battles (and the treasure that comes with victory) can help you level up your life.

Why Should We create boss battles?


When we set ourselves up with a real life Boss Battle, it makes the day-to-day exercise we perform that much more meaningful. 

Whatever it is, a great boss battle has three specific things:

  • It’s challenging. It’s something that will make you push and reach and sacrifice and work hard to actually complete. Nobody likes a boss battle you can defeat without breaking a mental sweat. The satisfaction from defeating a boss that took all of your energy and brought you to your final heart container is thrilling.
  • It has a specific date and time or place. Regardless of the challenge, the boss battle is going to happen in a certain place at a certain time. When you put all three pieces of the Triforce in the right place, Gannon will show up. When you enter this room, the door will lock behind you and you need to defeat a particular boss. You know it’s coming, so you better be prepared for it.
  • There’s a treasure associated with it. Yeah, boss battles are fun, but they also serve a purpose. When you defeat a boss, you earn something rewarding: the key to the next dungeon, a new item, a better sword, stronger armor, and more.

Now, you may be thinking: “But Steve, why should I care about having real life boss battles?” Boss battles can help keep us on track with our goals, ensure we’re moving forward, and set us up for success:

  • Boss Battles give us a unifying goal to work to build our workouts and nutrition around. “Ugh, another workout” becomes “I am gaining strength points to level up my avatar until my powerlifting boss battle.” Like the game Journey, you can always see the top of the mountain in the distance, guiding you towards the goal like the North Star guided sailors. Every workout, every meal, every decision is done in the name of leveling yourself up to be as prepared as possible for the boss battle.
  • Boss battles give us instant accountability. We can lie to ourselves all we want, and we can listen to our friends tell us “come on, you look fine, skip this workout.” We can skip the end of our workouts and make up excuses to ourselves justifying poor eating. But when you sign up in advance for a boss battle, the accountability of “I have to do this, whether I’m ready or not” can be the reason that gets you off the couch.
  • There’s a reward! Completing the boss battle is an opportunity to give yourself positive rewards to keep you on track (aka treasure): a new pair of running shoes for a marathon completed, a one-month training mentorship with a great teacher if you actually test for your next belt, new lifting shoes if you hit your 6 month goal, etc.
  • It’s a good kind of stress. Whether it’s the morning jitters before a race, or that moment before you step on the stage to complete your complex training routine for judges, those extra beats per minute in your heart are telling you you’re doing something important that you care about. This is called eustress, and it’s good for us 🙂
  • Because of the added stress and anticipation, you learn what you’re truly capable of. You’ll always push yourself harder in a boss battle. You’ll run faster, lift more, and perform at higher levels because of the atmosphere and situation.

So what does a “real life boss battle” look like? It could be a formal competitive atmosphere, like a 5k, an IRONMAN competition, or completing your first power-lifting competition. It might be also be a major milestone, like testing for your blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Heck, it might even be a decision to summon 20-seconds of courage and go out to finally play that first ultimate frisbee game with new friends. Or maybe you set a goal to nail a 225 deadlift or 8 minute mile by May 31, and that’s your boss battle.

Are you in? Great. Let’s create some bosses.

How do i build a boss battle?

Bronwyn Deadlift

Okay, ready to compete in your very own boss battle? Grab your Master Sword, put on your green tunic, and use the Master Key to go fight Gomha. Kidding. It’s a little bit different than that, but the sentiment is the same. What’s important is that is has the three parts of a boss battle:

  • A specific date and time for completion – “yes I succeeded” or “no I didn’t.”
  • Some level of accountability (public competition, friends, etc.)
  • There’s a reward associated with it!

Ultimately, it comes down to you having a big goal to complete or milestone to cross on a specific date and a reward associated with it. I’m a big fan of public accountability and pre-paying for an event so you’re “pot committed.”

Let’s start building your boss battle! 

  • Identify the discipline you want to learn, the milestone you want to reach, or the type of tournament you plan on competing in.
  • Get pot committed as quickly as possible. Build up your 20 seconds of courage and sign up before you can start thinking too much about it and back out.  Mail your check and figure out the rest later! The competition/event/whatever is infinitely more real when you have financial skin in the game. Is your Boss Battle free? Then find another way to get committed: tell friends, have others help keep you accountable, etc.
  • Identify your reward for completing the boss battle. As Legend of Zelda taught us, reward yourself with things that reward you back. A new pair of shoes, a shirt you’ve always wanted in a smaller size (or a larger size), a month pass to a rock climbing gym, a new video game, whatever works for you!
  • Reverse engineer your training plan. If your boss battle is 10 weeks from now, then you can determine how often you need to train and what level you need to be after 2 weeks, 5 weeks, 8 weeks, etc. If you are going to deadlift 405 at the next Powerlifting meet, you can figure out what sort of strength increases you should be making weekly in order to bring it to life.
  • Get started. If possible, start yesterday. As that’s not an option, today will have to do.

Once you have built your boss battle, suddenly every decision you make each day carries just a bit more importance. With a boss battle looming, is skipping your workout today a smart decision? Sure, if you eat two entire pizzas nobody will be the wiser…when the battle comes your armor might not fit and you’ll get squashed by Bowser!

We never leave our post in the Rebellion 🙂

Public boss battles


While boss battles don’t have to be public and competitive, there is a huge benefit in making your boss battle something that can be experienced with others.

Remember: It doesn’t matter if you take first place or compete perfectly. After all, when you finish a boss you don’t expect to come out with 100% life. All that matters is you killed the bad guy.

Public competition can work in your favor – helping you to stay accountable and to put your best foot forward when the time comes to slay the dragon. The types of competition listed below are the good kind – the kind in which you might be competing against others…but really your boss battle is like the Water level in Level of Zelda Ocarina of Time: you are battling yourselfIf you’re interested in public boss battles, look below: 

Powerlifting competitions: we have a ton of NF rebels who compete regularly in powerlifting competitions. Our very own Brownyn, mother of two who lost a ton of weight while gaining strength, now competes in powerlifting competitions.We even have quarterly virtual powerlifting competitions on our Message Boards if you don’t live near a place that you can compete. Search here for lifting competitions in your area.

Running races: 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, sprint triathlons, etc. Sure you’re competing against the racers around you, but you’re actually competing against your previous best time for that distance! Never run one before? Your boss battle can simply be completing the race. Races can be a serious part of your journey to a healthy life! It worked for Robin!

Adventure races: Spartan Races, Obstacle Courses, Tough Mudders, Glo Runs, Warrior Dashes, …it’s the type of race I can get behind. Scared to try? Level up and turn your boss battle into a group raid! Gather a team of friends, put on matching themed costumes, and run together.

Martial Arts: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a favorite of Baker, the Gamification Juggernaut on Team NF. There’s a belt ranking system, regularly scheduled tournaments and good natured competitions. Plus, it’s one hell of a workout. Karate, Tai Kwon Do, Muay Thai, Capoeira – there are so many different martial arts style to choose from, and many boss battle opportunities within each!

Boxing: Just because you don’t plan on making it to the level of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao doesn’t mean you can’t box for fun! We have a success story from Dave who now competes as an amateur boxer!

Crossfit competitions: If you love to lift and miss collegiate athletics or simply want a supportive community, Crossfit is a great place to look. Heck, they’re even televising the CrossfFit games on ESPN these days. (Our thoughts on Crossfit are explained thoroughly here.)

Other competitions: Ballroom Dancing, Swing Dancing, etc!

WHAT’s Your boss battle and treasure?


You know the drill at this point. I want to hear from you – what’s a Boss Battle you can add into your life to keep you focused and targeted? And what’s the treasure earned upon delivering that satisfying fatal blow?

Share it in the comments below. Feel free to add an epic name to your boss battle, and dress up the treasure, and give it some character. I mean, come on, this is Nerd Fitness! Also, feel free to share your favorite game boss battle of all time!

“As a scout, I will battle my fellow competitors for the sacred running of the Spartans. Upon completion of this test that will challenge me mentally, physically, and emotionally, I shall finally earn the Boss Battle’s treasure: the winged Sandals of Mercury (new Nike running shoes).”

Bonus points for being creative.



PS: This boss battle/treasure stuff works outside of fitness too! I’m currently using it to level up on my Troubador quests in my Epic Quest 🙂

photo source: Steven Mosel: Bowser, Zelda Wiki: Ganon

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  • Ann Caldwell Adair

    One of my goals that I set during my last epic weight loss was to learn fencing. I did it and it was ridiculously awesome! It’s the only exercise I think I’ve ever really loved, probably because you get to stab people in sword fights and brains are just as important as brawn! Unfortunately, I fell off the wagon and have gained it all back. I’m pretty sure that if I had prioritized my fencing nights and stuck with my personal trainer, I wouldn’t be back in this wretched position. It’s been 5 years, so now I’m beginning again and hope to get back to fencing by summer’s end.

  • Sarah

    It’s me versus the Wedding Dress. I look pretty in it now, but I want definition in my arms, I want to be twenty pounds less, and I want my back to be one of my most outstanding features in it! I”m going to be able to dance in it for four hours and not die from my bad fitness…. and to be honest, that accomplishment is a reward in itself!

  • SamB

    I want to learn a cartwheel by the end of the year, which is more of a fear-conquering goal than a physical one, although the training session I did learning the basic progressions made me more sore than I think I’ve ever been before. By the time I was eager to learn one, I was 5’8″ and terrified of throwing myself to the ground. It doesn’t help that I grew another 3 inches, 20 years, and 150 pounds since then.

  • Dylan Lawrence

    I always liked the Bosses of Shadow of the Colossus. They were a technically and mentally challenging puzzle, and they frequently required you to look at them from different angles. That was one of the first video games that really inspired me

  • Michelle Knowles

    This really has me excited to set up a boss battle of my own! Now I just need to figure out which one. I’m leaning towards doing an obstacle course. I know that there are some running tracks in my area at large that have things to do with this. But we’ll see for sure. Such a cool thing to come up with!! 😀

  • Meggrz

    Easy. I joined a dance team. We are performing in June. I’ve done performances before, so the performing isn’t the Boss battle. The boss battle is (1) getting put in the front row, and (2) being selected by the choreographer for his small, training team. *puts on hardhat*

  • Erik

    One main story Boss that I’ve known I need to fight for a while is my weight. I’ve been avoiding it by doing guild quests and side quests to get bigger and stronger. I have no trouble going to the gym and working hard to add weight to the bar 5 times a week, but watching the amount that I eat seems like a huge challenge. I also dread that if I’m not able to add weight to the bar I’ll quickly lose my motivation to work out at all (silly, I know). I’m not sure about the details yet, but I think this will be my main goal for the upcoming 6 week Challenge. I can make it through 6 weeks I think…

    Favorite video game bosses: Fable 1’s Lost Chapters fight against Jack of Blades, Bane in Arkham Origins, and… Mass Effect had a bunch of boss fights that were super frustrating but awesome to complete.

  • Kylie

    I entered myself into a power lifting competition. I did one while I was deployed, but doing one in the states felt more out of reach… So like you said, I just bit the bullet and flipped on that 20 seconds of courage.

    Now that I did it though, I’m mad stoked!

  • Roy C.

    Ganondorf in Twilight Princess. I just love that epic battle

  • JeanG

    Good luck to ya! I used to fence in HS.(it was a gym class) It was fun 🙂 punctuated graduation by defeating a friend of mine wo was on the fencing team 🙂

  • Alexander Tomsho

    I’m going to make it a boss fight to do 5 pull-ups in a row with no assist and do a full handstand. To put it in jazzed up Nerd Fitness language:

    “I shall realize my lycanthropic heritage by completing feats of strength such that I have never before performed. Upon this realization of my new-found power I shall dress in raiments befitting a man of stature (new outfits).”

  • Ann Caldwell Adair

    Thanks! I have found kindred souls at fencing and wanted to remind people that yes, people do that!

  • Ethan Myerson

    Fencing is a fantastic sport. I’m back in it now after a 20 year hiatus, and, while I’m not as good as I was in high school, I’m getting there.

  • Ethan Myerson

    My boss battle will be to compete in a fencing tournament. Coach thinks I’ll be ready for the Arizona fall tournament, so that’s what I’ve got my sights on. Along the way, I’ll plan to keep losing weight, shedding body fat percentage, and gaining muscle.

  • Ethan Myerson

    I have been reading about the Warrior Dash races… I’d love to do one of those sometime, I think.

  • Keisha

    I will achieve Muscle ups by Christmas!

  • Sarah

    I will be ready to run the Great Columbia Crossing in October. Actually, I will probably compete in something before that, but I have to get my breathing under control first. We just discovered that our bedroom was hiding a TON of mildew (think all new furniture, new paint, new flooring, hopefully not new subflooring). Once we tackle that problem, I shouldn’t be knocked for a loop so much every time I even think about getting a cold.

  • Anna W

    I’m in a knee surgery recovery battle right now. 4th ACL replacement, this time with some arthritis sprinkled in. Sometimes the toughest battles are the ones where you have to relearn patience, ask for help, and fully appreciate all of your outstanding mobility. To go from 110% (Soccer, BJJ, epic pullups, triathlons, and golf) to 0% (Non weight bearing for six weeks) makes for a long, slow, and steady climb back up. I’m starting to walk again, and will be diving just back into golf for a while to get back to and surpass my best skill level.

    The battle for relearning to walk is just about over.

    The battle for getting back to shooting in the 70s/80s in golf is about to begin.

  • Alright, you have thrown down the gauntlet and I must rise to the occasion.

    I am setting out to perform an epic quest to eliminate the foul and contemptible troll of fatalism. If I can prove my worth to this hideous beast by setting an example and becoming the paladin who fights for the goodness to be found in this world, and to cut out negative assumptions, and precursory judgments about people who struggle to lose the mead-belly they’ve put on, then I will have succeeded in my quest and the troll will be slain by a piercing bolt of bright white light known only as the holy scimitar. This troll has been key in keeping me from practicing my archery daily, or doing my other daily runs through our medeival obstacle course by deliberately bringing me down. He can do this no longer. I will band together with my party, a half-elf cleric, a night-elf sorcerer, a human thief, and my dearest companion Pookie the ogre, who I saved as a babe from a life of brutality. Wish us luck on our rolls, and a successful campaign, we shall end this foul beast forevermore.

    My favorite boss fight incidentally had to be this guy: Trema was an utter pain in the behind to attempt to fight without all the proper preparations, and I have to say, Vegnegun had nothing on this guy… nothing.

  • Amanda M (@mommygorun)

    Ok, I finally figured it out. My BOSS battle will be Cosplaying Wonder Woman at Comicpalooza Houston 2016 (that gives me a full year) My reward will be Steve Dressed as my Superman 😉
    Strength training comes back TONIGHT!

  • Nano

    Boss Battles 2015! PNW!

    5/2 Haggen to Haggen 5K Bellingham
    5/10 Color Run 5K Seattle
    5/23 Electric Run 5K Puyallup
    6/6 Spartan Sprint Vancouver 5 km
    7/18 Warrior Dash 5K Bonney Lake
    9/19 Tough Mudder 20 km Seattle
    9/26 Spartan Beast Sun Peaks 21km
    10/10 Cosmo 7K Kirkland
    10/17 Spartan Super Seattle 10K (Trifecta!)

    I already posted this to the camp site with no luck, but maybe there are Nerd Fitnessers who live in my area that would like to form NF teams! Message me to let me know! I’ve already registered for everything except Cosmo (registration page not up yet for that one).
    I should also add that I started weightlifting 3 weeks ago. I have alot of training to do- but the only way I personally am going to be able to complete these things is to just do them!

  • Rae

    Those are awesome Boss Battles! I’m currently signed up to do the:
    Tough Mudder Whistler 06/20
    Spartan Sprint Calgary 08/09
    I know several people doing the Vancouver Sprint and the Beast at Sun Peaks you will be in good company 🙂

  • Gus

    Dude, I might regret this… This article made me finally take my “20 seconds of courage” and sign up for the Dublin Marathon in October and it’s freaking scaring :’D anyway, just felt like sharing it. For the Rebellion!

  • Think how your performance can be improved when your energetic picture is most balanced:
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  • wow!!! such a pleasure to read this type of article. Thank for sharing. <3

  • Tricia

    I’m passing my assassination initiation ritual by running a Tough Mudder on Aug 15th. It’ll be my 4th one, but this time to prove I am worthy I am determined to make it across the bars and not fall into the water pit. For a successful completion I am rewarded with the branding of honour (new tattoo)

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  • Zoglug

    September 12th I will be facing my boss battle when I tackle tough mudder North West (uk). I need these challenges to get me into the gym as without them I struggle for the motivation to get my backside off the couch and into the gym.

  • BasilLeopard

    Looking to hone my skills, I’ve entered myself in a test of skill with other adventure-seekers. We will embark on a 5k course laden with challenges: climbing, swimming, balancing, etc. Should I return successful, I will be rewarded with new footwear (hopefully I’ll get to buy my first pair of VFF’s!).
    As for video game boss battles, I have fond memories of the BioLizard and Final Hazard in Sonic Adventure 2, but right now Goht from Majora’s Mask is my favorite battle.

    Thank you, Steve, because I never would have even looked into these types of races without this article. I can’t wait to discover what class I am!

  • jcmc

    I’m a noobie at the gym (been there for the last two weeks). I’ve been reading your posts lately. This one definetly inspired me.


  • Rizzy Ocean

    ….Why do I do this to myself? It’s done, I sent off the payment, I’m in. I am running a Spartan Stadium Sprint in November. Reward for completing: buying next 5 state flags for my goal of visiting all 50 states.

  • Antonio Stevens

    As a kid, I remember playing the old dos PC game Karateka. The last guy seemed impossible to beat. You’d low kick, hed low block. You’d go in for a high punch, he’d high block. I remember beating it but I don’t remember how. But looking bad it seems impossible. Right now I’m trying to get my motivation back to finish two weeks of working out. Just two damn weeks without giving up. So my boss battle is to finish two simple weeks of working out despite having utterly no motivation.

  • Sarita

    Most EPIC boss battle I’ve ever played has to be these two superbosses and both of which probably took about four hours each to defeat, with a ridiculous number of game overs!
    I LOVE this post, it’s motivated me to continue with my weight loss goals (which I’ve only just begun because summer is looming) even through exam period, which is usually when all the excuses start for me! ‘I have ‘revision’ to do’ usually results in me watching an entire season of supernatural plus consuming my body weight in chocolate. When I know I have to go to the gym, or go to a fitness class at a specific time, I plan my revision and meal times around these sessions so that I’ll actually get work done, eat properly AND stay on top of my weight loss goals. Thanks for keeping me motivated!

  • Runner Five Niner

    Love this!! I’ve been using gamification as a motivation technique for a while (about as long as I’ve been reading NerdFitness). My overarching storyline is living in the zombie apocalypse. So for my Boss Battle:

    “A fire has destroyed all food stores in the compound; it will take months to grow, hunt and gather enough to replace them before winter. During this time I must ration my food intake while carrying the same workload as before. As a result, I reach a lean 128 lbs by the time the stores are replenished and rations return to full scale.”

    Translation: lose 20lbs of fat by Nov 1 by eating paleo and working out. 🙂

  • Jennifer Putnam

    Hiking and bagging a peak is a great boss battle. There’s nothing more satisfying than summiting that first one and then realizing you can one day defeat some of the greater monsters like Mt Washington in NH (hint – that is my boss battle 🙂 )

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  • Catwoman

    I ran tough mudder with friends this year however because I had an issue affecting my performance from the start I was told after the event a few days later that they were angry with me that they didn’t get the finishing time they wanted and that I should have apologised to them for this on the day as well as feel remorseful. I thought their attitude sucked and was surprised that my friends would be like that as if it happened to them on the day I would be there for them and not angry or frustrated neither would I care about the finish time. I saw a side of them I didn’t like and it put a negative spin on my first tough mudder. It shouldn’t be like that with friends in a team so I’m not running with them again and sadly it is affecting my choice to be friends with them as I can’t abide such attitudes. I am not sure how to go forward from here. On the plus side though I’m proud of making it to the finish line despite being unwell on the day and I am proud of walking through the electric wires obstacle by myself and I made it look easy as this one knocks men to the ground who are bigger than me. Also proud of doing the walls that were three times my height I’m 5ft so coming down the other side I fell to the ground but got on with it.

  • paul dave

    Just in case anyone needs to fill out a NF form, I found a blank form in this site PDFfiller. This site also has several related forms that you might find useful.

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