We’ve heard that failure is a necessary part of success. (Tweet it!) Now a study in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience adds a new twist. It finds that reflecting on past failures—by writing about them—may help us stay calm in the face of new challenges.
According to an article in Forbes researchers from Rutgers, The University of Pennsylvania and Duke predicted that writing about a past failure would actually reduce a person’s stress level during a stressful situation in the present, whereas writing about a random topic would have no effect.
To stress the participants, they subjected them to well-known social stress tests, such as preparing a speech in five minutes, which they had to deliver in front of a “speech expert.” As predicted, people who’d written about a past failure didn’t show the typical stress response (measured by the stress hormone cortisol) compared to the control group, who’d written about movie plots. The former group also did better on the tests of attention.
Why does this connection exist? The researchers say that “writing about failures may make a new stressor seem subjectively less stressful by comparison.” In other words, reflecting on past stresses makes new ones seem not so bad.
Have you ever used expressive writing to help you process a disappointment at work or in your personal life? What was its effect? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion