Reminding yourself of your own strengths and values could help boost your problem-solving skills when you’re under duress, according to a new study.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, included 73 college students who reported high levels of stress over the course of a month. Then, researchers had half of the study participants do a self-affirmation exercise (where they had to write about why certain values, like an emphasis on family and friends or the importance of art were important to them) and the other half do a control exercise. Following that exercise, all participants were asked to complete a task that measured problem-solving abilities.
Researchers found that that the students who did the self-affirmation practice scored higher on the problem-solving task.
“The present study provides the first evidence that self-affirmation can protect against the deleterious effects of stress on problem-solving performance,” researchers wrote in the study. “Specifically, we show that chronically stressed individuals have impaired problem-solving performance and that self-affirmation can boost problem-solving performance under pressure.”
Previously, a study in the journal Psychological Science showed that self-affirmation was associated with higher levels of a particular brain response called error-related negativity, which occurs right after a person makes an error. The researchers of that study said the findings suggest self-affirmations are linked with receptivity to making errors, which in turn leads to better correction of those errors.