By: Jessica Stillman
Not a natural optimist? Use these simple exercises to train your brain to more easily pick out the positive.
You know how when you play Tetris for awhile, even after you stop, you can still see those little falling blocks in your mind’s eye?
The persistence of Tetris isn’t simply an annoying effect of a cleverly designed game, according to scientists. Instead it’s a reflection of something deeply positive about our brains–their plasticity.
That’s a according to a recent post by iDoneThis founder Walter Chen on productivity blog buffer. He cites studies on Tetris (yes, there is such a thing, and yes, this is going somewhere helpful to non-video game addicted entrepreneurs), which found that playing the game for a few hours a week over a period of months, actually changed the brains of players.
“Every time you reactivate a circuit, synaptic efficiency increases, and connections become more durable and easier to reactivate,” Chen writes, before summarizing the importance of the findings: “Whenever you do specific tasks over and over again, they take up less of your brain power over time.”
That’s probably not a shock to anyone who has learned to play the piano, speak a foreign language or even hit a tennis ball roughly where you want it to go. So what’s the big deal? This same brain plasticity allows you to master simple skills or sports, also allows you to train yourself to be more positive.
Chen quotes Shawn Achor, the author of The Happiness Advantage who has previously spoken about his work on the brain and happiness to Inc. Just like we can train our brains to more easily recognize the patterns of Tetris, “we can retrain the brain to scan for the good things in life—to help us see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels,” Achor says, dubbing this ability “the positive Tetris effect.”
So how do you do this? Chen offers four very simple interventions that can, over time, actually rewire your brain to see things more positively:
•Scan for the 3 daily positives. At the end of each day, make a list of three specific good things that happened that day and reflect on what caused them to happen. The good things could be anything — bumping into an old friend, a positive remark from someone at work, a pretty sunset. Celebrating small wins also has a proven effect of powering motivation and igniting joy. As you record your good things daily, the better you will get and feel.
•Give one shout-out to someone (daily). I love this technique. Take the positive things you’re getting better at recognizing and let people know you’ve noticed. Take a minute to say thanks or recognize someone for their efforts, from friends and family to people at work. A great way to go about this is by sending 1 daily email to someone. It can be your old school teacher, whose advice you are now appreciating every day. A co-worker or someone you’ve only met. Show courage and say thanks.
•Do something nice. Acts of kindness boost happiness levels. Something as small and simple as making someone smile works. Pausing to do something thoughtful has the power to get you out of that negativity loop. Do something nice that is small and concrete like buying someone a coffee.
•Mind your mind. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Opening our awareness beyond the narrowness of negativity can help bring back more balance and positivity into the picture.
Looking for more details? Chen’s post has much more on the science and what actually happens physically in your brain. You can also check out Achor’s interview about how happiness affects brain function (hint: it doesn’t make it worse), or get tips on how to reframe situations more positively in the moment from my colleague Geoffrey James. Finally, if you’re looking to add more mindfulness to your day, check out this post on how many entrepreneurs incorporate meditation into their lives.