A new study found that failure can help motivate you to do better in the future, but the key is how you process your missteps.
Inherently, humans distance themselves from the uncomfortable feelings associated with failure. Growing up, we are told that dwelling on failure isn’t productive or healthy. But new research finds that allowing yourself to experience the full brunt of feelings after a failure can be a great source of encouragement to improve.
The research was conducted by Selin Malkoc from Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, Noelle Nelson of the University of Kansas and Baba Shiv of Stanford University.
The authors found that emotion was the important determining factor in the learning process.
“When faced with a failure, it is better to focus on one’s emotions—when people concentrate on how bad they feel and how they don’t want to experience these feelings again, they are more likely to try harder the next time,” said Malkoc.
The researchers asked college students to participate in several studies that would weigh emotions and cognitive thinking in the face of failure.
In one experiment, the students were asked to search online for the lowest prices blender, if they found the lowest price they could win a prize. But the experiment guaranteed all participants would fail.
Before finding out if they won or not, the researchers asked half of the students to focus on their emotional response to losing, and the other half were instructed to think about how they thought they did. In other words, one group was asked to look at the emotional ramifications of losing, and the other had a more cognitive response to an unknown outcome.
After several similar experiments, the researchers found that emotions were a better motivator than cognitive responses.
“When the participants focused on how bad they felt about failing the first time, they tried harder than others when they had another similar opportunity,” said Malkoc.
The study shows that dwelling on failure can have a positive effect, even though focusing on painful and embarrassing emotions correlated with failure can be difficult.