In one of my favourite studies some Harvard professors paid students to play Tetris all day for a few days. Obviously the students could not believe their luck and played Tetris solidly for 3 days. The snag came to what it did to their minds afterwards. 

Participants noted seeing coloured shapes everywhere, they saw buildings and immediately wondered what way they would need to flip them to fit them all in one row. They looked at walls with different coloured bricks and could not leave until they had mentally rearranged them all. Their sleep was taken over by flipping shapes. 

Apart from amusing the investigators, it shows how our brains wiring is not fixed and can be altered by repetition, the concept of neuroplasticity. It is called the Tetris effect. 

Most of us can see this in our own lives. The things we do all day in our jobs, creep into the rest of our lives. Lawyers find themselves cross-examining their children. Psychiatrists diagnose their family and everyone they meet with personality disorders. Accountants, who spend all day looking for errors, find errors in their spouses. There is a story of one accountant helpfully listing all his wife’s faults so she could identify and work on them, this turned out to be a mistake! 

So how can we use the Tetris effect for good not evil?
We need to practice seeing the positives. Exercises like noting down good things that have happened that day create pathways in your brain. You can literally train yourself to see the positives in life. People who deliberately do this for a few weeks find they naturally do it long after. By seeing positives in life we see the whole world in a happier way.


Steve Young

@steveyoungmedic See the happiness advantage book for more by Shawn Achor