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The Tetris Effect

I have recently finished re-reading The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.  In the book he talks about a number of ways to improve your performance at work based on positive psychology principles.

One of the areas that Achor discusses in the book is what he calls The Tetris Effect.

Tetris is an addictive computer game that requires the player to find ways to move falling shapes in such a way as to create an unbroken horizontal line – which then disappears. Research has shown that after playing a game such as Tetris for an extended period, the player’s brain undergoes a change through the creation of new neural pathways tuned to playing Tetris and spotting patterns.  As a result they start to imagine moving objects and shapes in ‘real life’ – so accustomed have they become to doing this in the Tetris game.

The point Achor is making is that if we focus on a particular activity or way of thinking over a period of time, our brains become ‘wired’ in that direction.

He talks about the fact that people whose job role requires them to identify problems or flaws and mistakes on a regular basis will start to do this in their non-job roles too.  Examples would be roles such as lawyers (who are looking for the flaws in an opposing lawyer’s argument); auditors (looking for errors or omissions in financial accounts); and IT professionals (testing for errors in computer programmes). These are all examples of the kind of roles in which, through applying a particular way of thinking (which is very necessary for the role these people perform) people start to think differently about other elements of their lives.

In this way, Achor argues, people can become quite negative in their thinking, looking for the things that are not working, rather than noticing the things that are.  It can also lead to people overestimating the significance of problems and issues they face day-to-day.  At the extreme, this kind of thinking can ultimately lead to anxiety, distress and depression.

The good news is that, in the same way that The Tetris Effect can cause people to look for the negatives, our brains can also be ‘rewired’ to look for the positives.  Making a conscious decision to start to notice the good things that are happening around us; to look for and acknowledge good performance in our team-members; to choose to expect things to work out well, are all examples of what Achor terms a Positive Tetris Effect.

A couple of practical ways of changing your focus to become more positive, include:

  • Every day to simply list out ‘three good things’ that happened that day
  • Every day to write down five things you are grateful for in your life/work

Through doing these exercises we are rewiring our brains to start to notice good things rather than always noticing the errors/bad things.

As with all changes, for the change to stick you have to practise it.  Do not expect to change your perspective overnight.  You will need to practise long enough to allow new neural pathways to form.  However, along the way, you are likely to start to notice an increasing sense of optimism and ‘clarity’ which will hopefully keep you on track to create a Positive Tetris Effect.


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