How Playing 10 Minutes of Tetris a Day Has Made Me More Focused

And it turns out, there's actual science supporting this.

a screenshot from tetris effect on the Xbox Series X

A screenshot from Tetris Effect on the Xbox Series X

I was never a big video game person, let alone a devotee of a particular video game like, say, Tetris. Nintendo made that game of falling geometric pieces hugely popular in the ’90s — and it’s now one of the best-selling video games of all time. As with Seinfeld and The Sopranos, my introduction to Tetris came way late. Although I’ve watched others play the game in the distant past, I played my first game of Tetris just this year.

Last Christmas, my wife and I struggled with what fun thing(s) to get the kids, who are 15 and 17. But then I saw a good sale on the latest Xbox and decided to take the plunge. We’d never owned a new video game system. On occasion, we still play the original Wii we scored at a yard sale ten years ago. (Favorite games: Wii Sports Resort and Rhythm Heaven Fever.) And the old Xbox 360 a friend gave us went kaput a few years back.

So on Christmas morning, the kids joyfully opened their brand new Xbox Series X. Soon, they were playing Microsoft Flight Simulator, Minecraft, Goat Simulator, and Forza Horizon 5. The flight simulator is tricky to learn. I think I’m too old to “get” Minecraft. Goat Simulator is cute and amusingly gory in places but, eh. As for Forza, I quickly became bored of driving fast cars.

But then one day in January, I noticed a logo on the Xbox home screen for Tetris Effect. It so happened that Gisele Fetterman had just mentioned Tetris to me in an interview. It seemed to be fate, and I figured, why the hell not.

Tetris Effect is not the Tetris of yesteryear. The general concept is still the same. But the visuals, sounds, music, and haptics are mind-warping. There’s definitely a psilocybin vibe.

Have a look:

There are different modes you can choose from, with Journey — a series of connected “worlds” — being the main one. Each world has its own look and sound, ranging from an underwater scene where you’re surrounded by swimming whales to interstellar experiences. You have to clear one world before you can move into the next. The Journey mode is great if you have a lot of time on your hands and are really into gaming.

But for me, the Effect mode is where it’s at. The Tetris games in Effect mode are less random and more puzzle-based. And they’re also shorter, allowing for quick play a.k.a. get in a game or two while I’m eating lunch in my work-from-home setup. Also, it didn’t take me long to realize that there are Relax and Focus sections under Effect mode. In Relax, you play Tetris without worrying about dying. There is no “Game Over” — you just play Tetris. Where I found my calling was under Focus, with quick games that seem to help me do just that.

I now religiously play the Focus section of Tetris for one solid block of 10 minutes per day, sometimes bumping that up to 20 minutes if those annoying Microsoft Teams pings don’t keep interrupting me. Doing so clears my head, refreshes me, and gets me ready for whatever is about to come my way. I feel like the game also sharpens my brain a bit, helping me to tackle my next project in a more effective way.

And guess what? It turns out there’s actual science behind some of this Tetris business.

My former therapist had suggested I develop some good mindfulness habits. And what I realized after playing Tetris for 10 minutes a day was that doing so yielded some of the results she told me a mindfulness program could help me achieve. Wondering if there was anybody else out there like me in the same boat, I Googled “Tetris mindfulness.” And, voila.

According to a 2019 UK-based study, people who played Tetris for 10 minutes a day (that’s me!) felt more relaxed than they did after participating in a traditional mindfulness activity. And study participants simultaneously felt more energized after Tetris while reporting no increase in energy after their mindfulness session.

“Even if you had a lot racing through your mind after a busy day at work, it was a good way to actually switch off from that,” one participant told the research team. “And once you’d finished the game, you felt as if you were actually relaxed and actually out of that work zone.”

One of the lead researchers on that project tells me she has some exciting follow-up work she plans to release in the coming month.

Meanwhile, my kids have taken to asking me “Did you play your Tetris today?” the way they ask me if I’ve taken the one daily medication I’m prescribed. They aren’t particularly into Tetris themselves. But judging by the way my 15-year-old daughter loves to beat the living crap out of people in the recently-downloaded boxing game Fight Night Champion, I’d say she’s found her own digital path to stress-relief. Though, it probably helps that her older brother is Player Two.