The playful way to develop willpower and resist cravings

If you’ve ever suffered an irresistible craving for a food that’s way off your diet, you know how those urges can overwhelm your willpower. But here’s the thing that, with a little practice, will make you the hands-down champion at self-control, no matter what your trigger.

The thing about cravings is they’re practically impossible to put it out of your mind. And putting it out of your mind is exactly the secret that’s been proven to work. Easier said than done, right? Well, not exactly… at least not if you enjoy playing games.

If you are a hard-core gamer, or even just someone who enjoys playing games on your smart phone to pass the time, you can actually make your gaming habit a useful defense against binge eating.

Now before you think I’ve just given you the worst advice in the world by suggesting you drop one habit by adopting another, think of it as willpower training.

Researchers at the University of Plymouth in England have found that three minutes of playing the video game Tetris on your phone can weaken your food craving into submission. In fact, the scientists also say that it can be used to dodge an urge for doing drugs, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, too.

According to the researchers, losing yourself in Tetris, the video game that involves fitting together different shapes of blocks as they descend across the screen, works as a kind of bait and switch with your brain. You get so involved in manipulating the make-believe blocks of the game, that the parts of your brain suffering a craving lose their focus.

“We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity,” says researcher Jackie Andrade, who teaches at Plymouth’s School of Psychology and the Cognition Institute. “Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery; it is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time.”

When the researchers tested the Tetris effect on more than 30 people for a week, they found that its power to distract from cravings maintained its potency for the entire length of the study.

“The impact of Tetris on craving was consistent across the week and on all craving types,” says researcher Jon May. “People played the game 40 times on average but the effect did not seem to wear off. This finding is potentially important because an intervention that worked solely because it was novel and unusual would have diminishing benefits over time as participants became familiar with it.”

So if you’re having trouble fighting off food cravings or some other habit that plagues you, see if Tetris helps. If may be just the solution to helping you get over your initial craving, becoming a stepping stone to helping you develop the mind power you need to just say no. Ideally you’d be able to stand on your willpower alone and only resort to playing games for fun.


Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.