The Tetris Effect
Be careful what you own.
Be careful what you own. The way you present yourself can end up influencing who and what you are. Here's what that means.
I have a friend that became very ill when she was in her 40s. The diagnosis was sudden and debilitating. Fortunately, my friend survived. But the decade she spent struggling with her illness became her defining characteristic.
Today, 20 years later, my friend's core identity is based around being that sick person. Whenever treatments provided a breakthrough, she did something to sabotage the results. She stopped taking the pills, binged on harmful foods, and quit doing what her doctors said would eliminate much of the problem.
My friend had become a master at being sick. She did it for so long that it became an essential part of her personality. Sickness was an excuse to use when things didn't work out the way she wanted.
It's an easy trap to fall into. Consider the video game Tetris. The object of the game is to move differently shaped pieces or tetrominoes into complete lines. Researchers found that when people play the game for hours, they start to see the tetrominoes in real life. They think about how random objects would fit together. They imagine brightly colored blocks filling in skylines, grocery store shelves or anything they're staring at on the horizon.
It's called the Tetris effect or Tetris syndrome. When someone devotes a significant amount of time or attention to an activity, it begins to change how they think and act. A lawyer may become overly critical because they were trained to point out flaws in arguments. An engineer may obsess about making everything more efficient. My friend craved those feelings of love and sympathy people gave her when she first got sick.
She took ownership of the identity of a sick person. Every day she practiced doing the things that got her attention. Her brain began rewiring itself to become more efficient at being an ill victim. Over time, being sick became a skill she mastered.
The trick now is to change what she owns. She has to strip away that protective layer of sickness she's surrounded herself with. Instead of focusing on the negative, she must be taught to see the positive and act on those better impulses.
I asked my friend to set the alarm on her watch. During the day, it goes off once every three hours. I told her to make a note of something good that happened since the alarm last rang. Something as simple as no red lights going to the grocery store, someone saying hi to her in the neighborhood or her dog being extra affectionate.
Over 20 years, she had trained her brain to see the world as a place that made her sick. She now needed to see the world as a place that could be good to her. Instead of looking for things that kept her a victim, she needed to learn how to identify available opportunities. Every time she wrote something down, I asked her to set the alarm for 60 seconds and relive those good things that happened.
As she writes things down, it's sending a signal to her brain that what she experienced was important. She gets an emotional high five that slowly rewires her brain to keep looking for the good stuff.
The next step is her environment. I explained that we start each day with a limited amount of willpower. So I helped her build a schedule that takes some of the destructive decisions away from her. We put together pre-planned meals and got rid of the junk food that she doesn't have the willpower to avoid. She started meeting someone to exercise with three days a week.
My friend was constantly getting validation on social media for being sick. So I asked her to look for a productive habit that she could share with her online friends. It turns out she likes getting a good deal. So she started going through the weekly ads from the local supermarkets. She compared the prices and matched the best deals up with manufacturer's coupons. Then she shared the impressive finds with her friends online.
Instead of getting sympathy for her latest medical condition, friends are thanking her for the savings she's giving them. Rather than sinking into a chair and eating whatever's at hand, she's following a schedule of healthy meals. The more she acts on those healthy impulses, the easier they are to do.
You are more than how you appear today. You can remake yourself. You need to quit owning anything that you don't want to become a part of you.
Video games can change your brain
Neural Basis of Video Gaming: A Systematic Review
Marc Palaus, Elena M. Marron, Raquel Viejo-Sobera and Diego Redolar-Ripoll
frontiers in Human Neuroscience 22 May 2017 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00248
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