Asking for compliments and recognition can boost our chances of success in the future, a new study suggests, because being reminded of times when we've done our best work can motivate us to attain those same levels of performance again the next time around. So according to science, it's a good idea to start fishing for as many compliments as you can get.
The study was concerned with reaching "best self-activation", which essentially equates to us performing at our best. That could be out on the sports field or in the boardroom, and the research carried out by researchers at Harvard Business School in the US focused on both workplaces and day-to-day social settings.
In one study, 123 volunteers were given a mock job interview. Those participants who had been given positive notes from close friends immediately beforehand performed better in the interviews than those who had been given neutral notes or asked to write out their own accomplishments and qualities.
Another study involving 75 individuals asked them to solve puzzles or come up with creative answers, such as different uses for an old newspaper. Again, those who had been encouraged by others before the test began ended up having more success in the tests themselves.
"[The studies] indicate that best-self activation improved participants' positive emotions and physiology, buffered negative physiological arousal associated with stress-inducing tasks, and increased problem-solving performance under pressure," the researchers report in a recently published working paper.
The same effect was seen in a third test involving employees and employers: when bosses frequently remind their staff of their 'best selves', burning out or quitting becomes less likely - the study noted that work becomes less of a transactional relationship. However, the available data was less concrete in this case, because it was conducted in the field (using surveys in real-world businesses) rather than in a controlled lab setting.
The report authors suggest that while it's often assumed that "the best way to improve performance is to focus on people's weaknesses", the exact opposite may be the case.
"People whose best-self concepts were activated felt better and were more resilient to stress, more resistant to disease and burnout, better at creative problem solving and performance under pressure, and formed stronger long-term relationships with their employer," the study concludes.
So you know what to do the next time you've got a creative problem to solve or you're waiting for a job interview - ask someone you know to tell you how great you are.