When I spend the weekend working on a portrait I find it impossible to sit politely with anyone for days after without analyzing their facial bone structure and how I would translate that onto canvas. “Hello?” my patient husband asks when he catches me just staring at him across the dining room table rather than answering a question. After reading Shawn Achor’s book “The Happiness Advantage” I realized this is the Tetris Effect, and I plan to put it to use in my life, my business, and my relationships.
He explains that when we play video games for long stretches our brains habituate. He describes a study wherein students were asked to play Tetris for several hours three days in a row after which they found they couldn’t turn it off. The students describe seeing Tetris blocks falling and fitting into the landscape around them be it buildings on the horizon or cereal boxes on the grocery shelves. Think about what that means to those of us who tend to focus on the negative - the bad, the sad, or the people who irritate the snot out of us. Achok talks about the problem that professionals face when they are trained to find problems (lawyers, accountants, IT network troubleshooters…): If all day every day you’re looking for problems you’re playing Problem Tetris. And not only is it less fun than Happy Tetris, it reduces your creativity, raises your blood pressure, and comes home with you - oh joy - Mom’s home with another suggestion for how to improve domestic efficiency!
The good news is you can retrain your brain. Achok reminds us that our brains have very sophisticated spam filters to protect us from having to absorb the bazillions of data bits coming at us every day. So we can (with focus) take charge of what get’s our attention and what gets filtered out. And when we train our brain to focus on the positive, screening out the unnecessary crap we benefit in three important ways: Happiness, Gratitude, and Optimism. And if having more happiness, gratitude and optimism in your life isn’t reason enough, studies demonstrate that these emotions lead to greater material success as well.
A simple method for retraining your brain is to make a daily list of the good things that happened at work and at home. By writing down just three positive things you’re forcing (retraining) your brain to scan for the positive. Or rather than journaling about the problems you’re facing spend 20 minutes writing about a positive experience. Studies show that not only do changes in your happiness quotient appear quickly, they last. Count me in!
The Happiness Advantage explores six other principles of positive psychology and how it applies to home and work. Read it and smile :>)