Do you often worry about your unfinished assignments in office?
Do you find yourself constantly sweating about the pending chores at home? The answer could be a big ‘yes’.
Why is it that the time we spend worrying is more than the time we are happy?
Is there a reason behind this? Psychologists believe that our brain has limited resources. We look at the things as we see them. A person focused onto the negatives will only see the bad things and debacles in life rather than the good ones. This trend of looking for the negatives continues until the brain gets programmed only to see the negative. As a result, a person finally becomes pessimistic or even chronically sad.
Can we re-design our brains to be optimistic?
Yes! We can reprogram our brains to be better off, thus believes Shawn Achor, the author of the bestseller ‘The Happiness Advantage’. The key to make our brains happier lies in harnessing the powers of ‘Tetris effect’.
What is Tetris?
Tetris is a puzzle and a video game designed by Alexey Pajitnov in 1984. In the game of Tetris, the falling pieces of bricks have to be arranged in real time along the bottom of the playing field, in order to create a line of bricks without gaps. Over the years, many variants of the game have hit the market. Studies have shown that playing games like Tetris leads to a thicker cortex and increased brain efficiency.
What is Tetris effect?
Even after a player had stopped playing Tetris, the brain creates images of falling bricks and will try to place the bricks in order. In other words, the brain will still play Tetris (though involuntarily), even though the player would have stopped playing it.
The Tetris effect is not just restricted to the game of Tetris. This effect can occur to any person who plays a computer or video game or even a puzzle continuously or repeat anything over an extended period of time.
Tetris effect and Optimistic outlook
By deliberately and constantly focusing on the good and the progressive, we can re-program our mind to shed its pessimism and make it happier and optimistic. Many psychologists are of the view that any habit to get imprinted in our brain should be done at least for 60 days. When an activity is constantly done, the brain gets to learn that the activity is important and it should focus on it more.
Tips to induce positive using Tetris effect
1. Meditate: Meditation leads to an enhanced level of neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin, commonly termed as the happy neurotransmitters. These happy neurotransmitters lead to an elevated level of happiness in meditators. It has also been proven that regular meditation leads to lesser stress and anxiety.
Regular meditation leads to constantly high levels of happiness and low levels of stress and anxiety. So a mind used to high levels of happiness through meditation will be programmed to look for more joy and less of stress.
2. Journal: Start writing a journal. But instead of jotting down your bad moods, find something encouraging or grateful to write for every day. Keep a fixed time to write this journal. It could be either in the morning before you start your day or even in the evening after your office hours. But ensure that you write only encouraging things. Describe it in detail. Visualise it. When you describe the event in detail, the brain can be tricked into thinking that the event is now happening at the present. When positive events constantly nourish your brain, the brain gets rewired slowly and gradually and will automatically scan for positive developments and moods in life.
Ensure that you continue this journaling at least for a month or so to enjoy the tetris effect of positive journaling.
3. Laugh: Laughter is the best medicine, thus goes the age-old saying. Laugh as much as you can, even if it is a stimulated one. Our body is unable to distinguish between real and stimulated laughter, and hence, both kinds of laughter are beneficial to us.
Start a laughter group in your area, if you don’t have one. Make sure that you practice your laughter exercise every day and continue it at least for 21 days. When you laugh, you forget your worries for a while. An International research team, led by the University of Oxford, found out that the physical exertion, which accompanies laughter makes the brain trigger endorphins, which in turn, promotes happiness and manages pain.
When you practice laughter exercise regularly, the brain gets re-programmed and will start looking for more of happiness and less of sadness and pain.
5. Positive ‘Satsangi’ Circle: Spend more time with people who are honestly upbeat. Stay away from people who are pessimistic and are constantly sad. When your mind gets used to the constant joy around it, it will automatically start being joyful and optimistic.
Studies have now proved that our brains are not hardwired. It keeps on changing till our last breath. So however damaging the thought pattern is, it is indeed possible to change it by constantly focusing on the constructive and good. This in turn, re-programs the brain to automatically scan for the joyful and positive things in life. So in short, rewire your brains and remain optimistic and confident for your life.
6. Exercise: Studies have proved that exercise cannot only stop brain shrinkage, but also lead to its growth. Prof. Fred Gage of the Salk Institute, U.S.A., has shown that exercise can create new brain cells in certain areas of the brain and make them survive too. According to Art Kramer of the University of Illinois, exercise leads to neurogenesis (the birth and development of new nerve cells) in the hippocampus.
7. Develop an interest in music: A study by Christian Gaser of Harvard Medical School and Gottfried Schlaug of University of Jena, Germany on 20 male professional musicians, 20 male amateur musicians and 40 male non- musicians, published in 2003, revealed the following:
- A very high grey matter volume was found in professional musicians
- An intermediate level of grey matter volume was found in amateur musicians
- A low level of grey matter volume in non-musicians.
8. Eat healthy food: The researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University, U.S., after a study of 104 healthy volunteers with an average age of 87 and with few known risk factors for Alzheimer’s in U.S., found out that those with high level of trans fats had a smaller total brain volume. Trans fats are usually found in processed foods.
The study author, Gene Bowman of the Oregon Health and Science University, believes that one could stop their brains from shrinking by adjusting dietary patterns.
9. Learn: Dr. Bogdan Draganski of the University of the Regensburg in Germany found out that extensive learning of highly abstract information could trigger plasticity in the brain. Dr. Draganski and his colleagues imaged the brains of medical students three months prior to their exams and right after the exams.
These were compared with the brain images of students who were not studying for the exams.
During the learning period, the grey matter of the students preparing for the exams increased considerably in the posterior and lateral parietal cortex and posterior hippocampus – the regions of the brain associated with memory and learning. The researchers observed that these structural changes in the brain did not change even three months after the exam.
Studies have also shown that learning a second language increases the density of grey matter in the left interior parietal cortex.
10. Puzzles: Exercising your brain is one of the best ways to improve one’s brain plasticity. Solving crosswords or numerical puzzles like sudokus or playing games like tetris can ensure that your brain remains as efficient as ever. A study even found out that playing tetris leads to cortical thickening.
11. Juggle: Even learning to juggle leads to structural changes in the brain, using this intrinsic property called neuroplasticity. Dr. Bogdan Draganski proved this after his study on people who learned juggling. He found out that there was a 3% increase in grey matter volume in the mid-temporal part of the brain after three months of learning the new art. The mid-temporal part of our brain plays a pivotal role in our perception of moving objects.