Training your mind to look for errors and problems (as happens in careers like accounting and law) can lead you toward a pervasive pessimism that carries over into your personal life.
We discovered if you play Tetris for too long you start parsing the world into “How do I make straight lines.” It’s great if you’re playing Tetris, but maladaptive if you’re not. This is called The Tetris Effect. It’s the same thing if I take a flash photograph of you. That flash should leave a blue or orange dot in your vision.
The same thing happens to us on the cognitive level. I’m working with a very large accounting firm right now, working with tax auditors on how to make them happier. I discovered the tax auditors who are the most successful sometimes are the ones that for eight to 14 hours a day were looking at tax forms, looking for mistakes and errors.
This makes them very good at their job, but when they started leading their teams or they went home to their spouse at night, they would be seeing all the lists of mistakes and errors that were around them. Two of them told me they came home with list of the errors and mistakes that their wife was making. This is what makes me so good at work.
They were stuck in a negative Tetris Effect. We’re finding the same thing with lawyers. Lawyers have three times the level of depression of most of the other occupational groups in America. We discovered that many of the lawyers were coming home and started deposing their children or thinking about their quality time with their loved ones in terms of quantified billable hours.
Why are lawyers 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression and more likely to end up divorced? They have trained their minds to seek out the bad in life because pessimists excel at law.
Is there a way to get your mind out of these negative loops? Yes.
You must train your brain to seek out the good things in life:
- It can be as simple as counting your blessings. Merely listing three things you are thankful for each day can start training your mind to focus on the positive. This technique has been proven again and again and again. One of the reasons old people are happier is because they remember the good and forget the bad.
- Retrospective judgment is a technique naturally happy people unknowingly use. It’s putting a positive spin on negative past events so you remember them as good. It’s very effective.
- Expect things to get better. Optimism can make you happier. Even the army teaches soldiers to be optimistic because it makes them tougher and more resourceful.
This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
Join over 161,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.
TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.