Focusing on past successes can help you make better decisions

Shot of a senior woman looking thoughtful in a retirement home

People with anxiety or depression often have trouble making sound decisions. But a study suggests their judgment can improve if they focus on past successes instead of mistakes. The findings were published online Dec. 22, 2020, by the journal eLife.

Researchers recruited 86 adults, divided into three groups. In one group were people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder or major depression. Another group consisted of people who showed anxiety or depression symptoms, like excessive worrying and not feeling good about the future, but were not clinically diagnosed. The final group included those without anxiety or depression.

Everyone played a computer game in which they repeatedly chose between two shapes or colors. Their choice either delivered a mild shock for a wrong selection or gave an award for a correct one. The probability of a shape or color providing a reward or a shock was predictable at some points and volatile in others. According to the researchers, this exercise was intended to simulate real-life probabilistic decision-making situations, where people use past positive or negative results to guide their current decisions.

They found that the people who had depression or anxiety or common symptoms of either had trouble keeping pace with the changes and thus made more wrong choices. In comparison, those in the group without depression or anxiety consistently made right choices.

The researchers believed the findings were related to how people use their past decisions. They proposed that people with depression and anxiety focus on what they did wrong and worry about making another mistake, whereas people without the disorders use their past choices as guidance to make better ones. The researchers noted that treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy could help people with anxiety and depression — and anyone who struggles with decision making — gain more confidence by learning to focus on past successes instead of failures.

Shot of a senior woman looking thoughtful in a retirement home

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren’

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jeremiah 29:12 NIV

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12 NIV

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Matthew 6:7 NIV

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18 NIV

‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ Jeremiah 33:3 NIV

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20 NIV

 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16 NIV

who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:6 NIV

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