The Tetris effect (also known as Tetris Syndrome) occurs when people devote sufficient time and attention to an activity that it begins to overshadow their thoughts, mental images, and dreams. It is named after the video game Tetris. (Wikipedia)
Shawn Achor in my favourite book, The Happiness Advantage, notes that the Tetris effect, or pattern of thought, can often be negative. We all know of people who seem to find something to complain about no matter what. Life is a series of complaints and negativity.
But what happens when we focus on only the negative?
It is that same thing that happens when you buy a new car. All of a sudden you are noticing the same make and model all over the place when you didn’t notice it before. When you focus on the negative you start to notice and seek out only the negative and as Shawn Achor states, “even paradise can become hell.”
What happens when people don’t see the positive? They are often not nice to be around. They become what I call, the “energy vampires,” sucking the happiness out of others.
Unfortunately the negative Tretris effect can happen in the workplace when managers focus on only the negative things about an employee even when that employee has many positives. When managers constantly scan for the negative at work “it undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation AND our ability to accomplish goals.” (Shawn Achor) In other words, it is not a very happy, healthy, or productive workplace.
Can this kind of negative thinking be changed? I hope it can. It all starts with self-awareness. Try this exercise:
Day one: Make note of every negative comment or thought you have in a day. Assess how you feel at the end of the day.
Date two: Every time you have a negative thought, make note of it, but reframe it from a negative to a positive. Have an internal dialogue, “Come on, that person can’t be that bad. Last week they …..” Measure your happiness level by the end of the day.
After a few days of noticing and reframing your thoughts, your happiness level should increase. And it is worthwhile to strive to make a change because research shows that negative folks are more susceptible to depression, stress, poor physical health and even substance abuse.
So what can you do if your whole organization is infected with the Negative Tetris effect? Well that is a topic for another blog post!
Try the exercise I suggested above, and let me know how you make out.
Photo credit: Flickr: Sebástian Freire