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How past failures can actually boost your future performance

Writing about your past failure can help boost your future performance by reducing levels of stress hormone cortisol, according to a study.

more lifestyle Updated: Mar 26, 2018 16:46 IST
Press Trust of India
Thinking deeply about a past failure as it improves the body’s response to stress and enhances performance on a new task.
Thinking deeply about a past failure as it improves the body’s response to stress and enhances performance on a new task.(Shutterstock)

Writing about your past failure can help boost your future performance by reducing levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, according to a study. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, is the first to show that writing and thinking deeply about a past failure improves the body’s response to stress and enhances performance on a new task.

This technique may be useful in improving performance in many areas, including therapeutic settings, education and sports, researchers said. “We didn’t find that writing itself had a direct relationship on the body’s stress responses,” said Brynne DiMenichi, a doctoral candidate from Rutgers University-Newark in the US.

“Instead, our results suggest that, in a future stressful situation, having previously written about a past failure causes the body’s stress response to look more similar to someone who is not exposed to stress at all,” said DiMenichi. People are often advised to “stay positive” when faced with a challenging task. However, a vast body of research suggests that paying close attention to negative events or feelings — by either meditating or writing about them — can actually lead to positive outcomes.

The researchers, including those from the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University in the US, examined the effect of writing about past failures on future task performance in two groups of volunteers. A test group wrote about their past failures while a control group wrote about a topic not related to themselves.

The researchers used salivary cortisol levels to provide a physiological readout of the stress experienced by the people in both groups. These levels were comparable across the test and control groups at the start of the study. The researchers then measured the performance of the volunteers on a new stressful task and continued to monitor their cortisol levels.

They found that the test group had lower cortisol levels compared to the control group when performing the new challenge. The researchers also found that volunteers who wrote about a past failure made more careful choices on a new task, and overall performed better than the control group. “Together, these findings indicate that writing and thinking critically about a past failure can prepare an individual both physiologically and cognitively for new challenges,” said DiMenichi.

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