Trying to Learn From Your Mistakes Is a Big Mistake

Dwelling on the past can negatively impact how you behave in the present
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 29, 2015 7:30 AM CDT
Trying to Learn From Your Mistakes Is a Big Mistake
In this courtroom sketch Lindsay Lohan is seen during a hearing at the LAX Airport Courthouse, Friday, April 22, 2011 in Los Angeles. Don't dwell on this, LiLo.   (AP Photo/Mona Edwards)

Trying to learn from your mistakes isn't such a good idea, according to new research out of Vanderbilt University. Reporting in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, scientists say that focusing on the past appears to put people in worse moods and may even be self-fulfilling. "Be very careful when you ask anybody to dig up the past," says Kelly Haws, an associate professor of marketing and coauthor of the study. Looking forward tends to be far more effective, she tells Fast Company. "You don’t buy the $700 boots, because you want to go on that trip to Europe. You study instead of party because you want a good score on the test. It’s generally a more effective way to try to make decisions."

To study this, the team divided subjects into two groups, asking one to remember their self-control "successes," the other their "failures," reports Futurity. They also asked participants to remember different numbers of stories—some recalling many, others only a few. Finally, participants were given a budget and asked them how much they'd spend on something they can't afford—shoes or a video game, say. Turns out that those asked to remember a couple successes stuck to their budgets, while those asked to remember past failures or lots of successes all splurged. So if you want better self-control, Haws says: "Look forward. Don’t look back." (Need to work on your self control? Apparently watching reruns helps.)

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