Reflecting on Failure Can Lead to Success and Less Stress
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    Reflecting on Failure Can Lead to Success and Less Stress

    Recent research from academics at Rutgers, University of Pennsylvania, and Duke has found that taking the time to critically reflect about past failures seems to reduce stress and lead to more careful decision making when confronting future stressful situations. Specifically, these researchers had half of their subjects write about a past failure, while the other half had to write about a topic not related to themselves. Additionally, they measured cortisol (the major stress hormone) before and after the writing as well as after completing a novel, challenging task. Those who wrote about the past stressful experience showed lower cortisol levels after the new stressful task. These subjects were also more judicious in their decision making on the new task.

    For anxious communicators, this research suggests that taking time to reflect and dissect past stressful communication situations (e.g., the meeting that did not go as expected or the presentation that did not hit the mark) might help you feel less nervous in future high stakes communications.

    Further, this research reinforces what I argue are the three critical elements to developing and honing effective, confident communication: Repetition, Reflection, and Feedback. Taken together, these three activities are what can transform your ability to communicate. Leading up to a high stakes communication, be sure to practice or role-play several times in environments that mimic the situation you will communicate in. After the communication is over, take time to both (1) reflect on and document what worked and what could have been better, and (2) solicit feedback from trusted others who witnessed your communication.

    Reflection is a powerful tool for reducing speaking anxiety and improving your communication. Please consider taking time to think about your past communications.