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Writing about negative events and past failings is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress and give you a new lease of life, new research claims. Acknowledging and analyzing what went wrong during prior setbacks gives people insight which helps them cope better in future stressful situations, researchers found.

Writing and meditating on past failures reduces stress and enhances performance, new research claims

People are often advised to ”look on the bright side’ when they fail and move on, but the new study suggests thinking critically about these negative events can actually lead to better outcomes in the future.

Instead, researchers at Rutgers University-Newark found that simply thinking about negative events could be used to help people manage stress better, and improve performance in many areas, including therapeutic settings, education and sports.

Previous studies have shown that paying close attention to negative events or feelings — by either meditating or writing about them — can actually lead to positive outcomes.

Researchers of the current study, wanted to know what’s behind this counter-intuitive approach.

‘Acute stress can harm performance,’ said researcher Brynne DiMenichi, doctoral candidate at Rutgers University-Newark. ‘Paradoxically, writing about stressful events – such as past failures- has been shown to improve cognitive functioning and performance, especially in tasks that require sustained attention.’

‘Yet there is little physiological evidence for whether writing about past failures or other negative events improves performance by reducing stress,’ she added.

In collaboration with researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University, DiMenichi examined the effect of writing about past failures on future task performance in 86 people.

Researchers split the volunteers into two groups: the test group and the control group. People in the test group wrote about their past failures while those in the control group wrote about a topic not related to themselves.

The stress hormone cortisol was measured in their saliva at the start of the study.

The volunteers then performed a new stressful task while their cortisol levels were continuously monitored.

Researchers found that those who wrote about their past failures had lower cortisol levels compared to the control group when performing the new challenge.

‘We didn’t find that writing itself had a direct relationship on the body’s stress responses,’ DiMenchi said.

‘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 isn’t exposed to stress at all,’ she added.

The study also revealed that those who wrote about a past failure made more careful choices while performing the new stressful task, and overall performed better than the control group.

Previous studies have found that analyzing not-so-great events in the past can make people more resilient.

A study published in a 2015 issue of the Journal of Cognitive Psychology found that reflecting on failures made reduced error rates on cognitive tasks and enhanced perseverance.

Researchers of the current study, published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, said their findings suggest that writing and thinking critically about past setbacks can prepare a person, both physiologically and cognitively, for new challenges.

However, they said more research is needed to examine whether this technique is effective on athletic performance since ‘it is difficult to compare laboratory measures of cognitive performance to performance on say, the Olympic track.’

Daily Mail