How Thinking of Failure Can Help You Succeed

by Rodney Daut on October 26, 2010

I know the title of this post sounds strange and may even be impossible to believe.  However, recent research shows it’s true – thoughts of failure can help you succeed.  And more surprisingly thoughts of success can help you fail.  It all depends on how many successes or failures you are thinking about.

In one study conducted by Leila Selimbegovica, Isabelle Régnerb, Rasyid Bo Sanitiosoc and Pascal Huguetd participants were divided into four groups.

Members of each group were asked to think about math memories before taking a math test.

One group was asked to think of one time they succeeded in math.

Another group was asked to think of one time they failed in math

A third group was asked to think of several math successes.

A fourth group was asked to think of several math failures.

Which groups did best on the test?

The group that thought of several successes in math AND the group that thought of only one failure in math did better than the other groups.

But why?

Researchers explain that when a person thinks of just one failure or one success they think that the event was produced by external factors.  So the failure or success was caused by something other than the person’s traits.  This means that thinking of one success makes you think that you are not responsible for the success which lowers your confidence and performance.  And thinking of just one failure makes you feel you are not responsible for that failure which surprisingly raises your confidence and performance.

However, when you think of several successes or failures, the only thing in common with all those experiences is that they happened to you.  And your mind infers from this that something about you produced those successes or failures.  As a result, thinking of many successes makes you confident and thinking of many failures makes you lose confidence (no surprise there).

So how do you use this information to better your life?

Before an important meeting or performance, think of the many times in the past you have succeeded or if you don’t have any past successes, think of one and only one time you failed.

You’ll give yourself a confidence boost that will increase your chances of success.

Reference:

Influence of general and specific autobiographical recall on subsequent behavior: The case of cognitive performance.
Leila Selimbegovica, Isabelle Régnerb, Rasyid Bo Sanitiosoc and Pascal Huguetd.

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