Happiness Advantage Part III

The Tetris Effect: Training your Brain to Capitalize on Possibility

A study conducted at Harvard Medical School had 27 participants to play Tetris for multiple hours, three days in a row. When the study was concluded something interesting happened; the students could not stop dreaming nor invisioning shapes. Shawn Achor writes, “some participants literally couldn't stop dreaming about shapes falling from the sy. Others couldn't stop seeing these shapes everywhere, even in their waking hours. Quite simply, they couldn't stop seeing the worlds as being made up of sequences of Tetris blocks.”  

It is the idea that our mind thinks in patterns. When we are forced to focus on something for a somewhat significant amount of time, our brain becomes accustomed and rewired to do so. 

What does this have to do with the Happiness Advantage? Some people through one way or another, have become wired to focus on the negativity. They scan the world and see what is wrong with it rather than what is right. This is the person who goes on a vacation to a beautiful part of the world and complains that it rained for a couple days or that the food was not up to par. If students' brains can rewire in a couple days of playing tetris, what is to be said of people who have been training their brain to focus on the problems, the negative for most of their lives?  

Negative Tetris Effect: “A cognitive pattern that decreases our overall success rates”

The good news is that our brains are resilient and can be retrained. It does take practice but still, quite possible to break the habit of looking for the bad and missing out on the good.  

Inattentional Blindness: “Our frequent inability to see what is often right in front of us if we're not directly focusing on it."

  • Gorilla Study: 200 Particpants were asked to watch a video of two basketball teams passing around the ball. Twenty five seconds into the video, a person wearing a gorilla suite walks from the right of the screen (crossing the teams passing the ball) all the way to the left in about 5 seconds. If you were watching the video, do you think you would have noticed? 

46 percent of the 200 people did not see the gorilla. After the experiment, some of the participants refused to believe they could possibly miss such a thing. But in fact, they did. 

The lesson here is: when tend to not see what we are not looking for. The reverse is also true. When we are looking for something, we see it everywhere! This self-fulling prophecy is noticeable when we find a new car we want. Are you looking at getting a new Fiat? Its likely that if you are, you are going to notice a substantial increase of Fiats on the road. 

Positive Tetris effect: “Instead of creating a cognitive pattern that looks for negatives and blocks success, it trains our brains to scan the world for opportunities and ideas that allow our success to grow.” 

“Studies have shown that consistenly grateful people are more energetic, emotionally intelligent, forgiving, and less likely to be depressed, anxious, or lonely. And it's not that people are only grateful because they are happier, either' gratitude has proven to be a significant cause of positive outcomes.” 

Being optimistic means you tend to find the positivity in situations. Since your brain habitually does this, you will continue to expect such good events to occur. Thus, you will become more and more optimistic. (I am not talking about irrational optimism in which you think everything is perfect all the time but to have a realistic sense). 

Predictive encoding: “Priming yourself to expect a favorable outcome actually encodes your brain to recognize the outcome when it does in fact arise.” 

So I have discussed why it would be helpful to become more positive. But how do you break the negative Tetris effect?

  • Three Good Things: Make a daily list of good things in your job, your career, and your life. (Studies show that this works! Participants who wrote down three positive things every day for a week were found to be more happy for up to 6 months later). 
  • Positive Experience Journaling: write an entry about a positive experience for 20 minutes, 3 times a week.
  • Ritualize these practices! Make a set time and day when you can complete the tasks. The more you do it, the easier and more ingrained it becomes. 
  • Have your spouse, significant other, or friend do it with you. The more social support you have, the easier it becomes.