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Want to Succeed at Work? Focus on the Future

Want to Succeed at Work? Focus on the Future
Credit: Almeida/Shutterstock

Rather than dwelling on past mistakes, employees are much better off focusing on what they can do better in the future, new research finds.

Employees who are prone to worrying about past transgressions, as opposed to those who focus on the future, are more stressed, don't sleep as well and are less proactive on the job, according to a study recently published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Specifically, 30 percent of who those focused on the past experienced higher job stress levels than those more concerned with what lies ahead. Meanwhile, 40 percent of past-oriented workers had more problems sleeping, and 25 percent were less proactive at work.

In addition, 35 percent had more-frequent strained relations with co-workers, and 50 percent experienced higher levels of depression at work, such as sadness and isolation. [What's Keeping Workers Stressed? ]

"It's natural and expected for employees to look back at things at work to see what went right, what went wrong and what can be improved upon," Wayne Hochwarter, one of the study's authors and a professor of business administration at Florida State University, said in a statement. "But at some point, both the good and bad need to be whisked away, and the future needs to be the priority."

The study was based on surveys of 600 employees in both blue- and white-collar professions. Among those surveyed, 20 percent were considered "ruminators," while 40 percent were classified as "forward thinkers." The rest of those surveyed combined both qualities to varying degrees.

To help those who tend to be stuck in the past, the study's authors offer several pieces of advice, including:

  • Give yourself a set amount of time to deliberate over the day's event.
  • Develop relationships with fellow employees who are more forward-thinking rather than with those who also focus on the past.
  • Pick one or two positive nuggets from any interaction to build upon in moving forward. Focus on those positive nuggets, rather than on what is causing grief or harming work performance.

The study was co-authored by Christopher Rosen, an associate professor at the University of Arkansas.

Originally published on Business News Daily

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.