Successful Memories Can Help You Achieve Your GoalsScientifically Proven Life Hacks

Hundreds of hot air balloons floating over the grand canyon amid a lovely sunset

Sports coaches often ask their players to visualize past successes before big games. The coaches may not be scientists but a recent scientific study has proven their hunch right.

A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology examined how recalling past successes or failures impacted self-control when it came to achieving certain goals. They set out to ask the question “Does recalling our past always help us make the virtuous decisions that are likely to lead to a better long-term future?”

The researchers conducted a number of experiments asking participants to think about or write about past events, and then made them do different exercises in self control ranging testing their appetite to take on debt to buy a much desired item, or persevering on an unsolvable puzzle.

The study yielded interesting results:

  • When successes are easy to recall, people showed a tendency to display more self-control

  • When successes were harder to recall, the participants weren’t able to demonstrate as much self-control in the tasks

  • Prompting participants to recall failures, however, prompted indulgence and giving in, regardless of whether the failure was easy to remember or not

Essentially if we can easily remember our successes, we feel more confident and have a better shot at achieving our goals. If we are being reminded of our failures, it lowers our self-esteem and has a meaningful outcome on our next tasks. Perhaps this explains why we see winning and losing streaks in sports, and in our careers.


This study shows that thinking positive thoughts isn’t just for athletes. Whether we are trying to lose weight, prioritize our families, work, get up earlier, or take on more initiative at work — we are so often helped and hurt by how we view ourselves and the baggage of our past.

Our suggestions

  • Keep handy reminders of successes and things that give you confidence. Whether it’s a congratulatory email, a photograph of your graduation, or a souvenir from the vacation with your family — have a lot of handy reminders of you at your best.

  • In fact, one our favorite confidence hacks is to keep an “acclaim folder” in your email. Have a prominent folder in your mailbox where you save emails anytime someone compliments your work. When you are feeling low, or facing a challenging task ahead of you, going back to that folder can give you the confidence boost you need

  • These same rules apply when building team culture. It’s useful to have handy reminders of team successes whether in the form of deal tombstones, big certificates, or awards. Make your work environment one that celebrates each victory — big or small.

  • Put reminders of failures away. The too tight t-shirt isn’t going to make you hit the gym, it might make you indulge more. The angry customer feedback lingering in your mailbox isn’t going to help weeks later. Do what needs to be done to address those problems and then put them behind you. Don’t let souviners of stumbling blocks trip you up as you conquer new heights in your job and life.

Did you find this helpful? Subscribe to our newsletter

Advice Annie is a team of Tapwage writers and guest contributors who help answer career and workplace questions