Writing down your failures is a way to become more successful in the future

American researchers have found that writing a critical description of past failures leads to lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and more careful choice of actions when tackling important new tasks, which contributes to increased productivity. Such a method can be useful for improving performance in many areas, including education and sports.

Negative events can lead to positive outcomes

People are often advised to “stay positive” when faced with a difficult situation. However, a vast body of research shows that paying close attention to negative events or feelings—by meditating or writing about them—can actually lead to positive results.

But why does this counterintuitive approach lead to benefits? To explore this question, Brynn DiMenici, a doctoral student at Rutgers Newark University, along with other researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University, studied the impact of writing about past failures on future task performance with two groups of volunteers.

The test group was asked to write about their past failures, while the control group wrote about a topic unrelated to them. The scientists assessed salivary cortisol levels to determine the level of stress experienced by people in both groups and compared them at the start of the study.

DiMenici and colleagues then measured the performance of the volunteers in the process of solving a new stressful task and continued to monitor the level of cortisol. They found that the test group had lower levels of cortisol compared to the control group when they completed the new task.

Reducing Stress Levels After Writing About Failure

According to DiMenici, the writing process itself does not directly affect the body’s response to stress. But, as the study showed, in a future stressful situation, previously written about a past failure changes the body’s response to stress so much that a person practically does not feel it.

The researchers also found that volunteers who wrote about a past failure made more careful choices when they took on a new challenge and performed better overall than the control group.

“Taken together, these results indicate that writing and critically reflecting on past failure can prepare a person both physiologically and mentally for new challenges,” notes DiMenici.

We all experience setbacks and stress at some point in our lives, and the results of this study give us insight into how we can use those experiences to better manage our tasks in the future.

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