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What to Do When You Can’t Catch a Break

“There’s research that shows the more negative and intense an event is, the more likely we are to replay from a first-person perspective,” Dr. Kross said. However, when the experience is less negative, we tend to adopt the role of an observer. Again, people tend to remember the negative more than the positive.

“But you can manipulate this and replay the scene from a fly-on-the-wall perspective,” Dr. Kross said.

In other words, if you had a particularly bad day at work and blurted out something silly during a meeting, try visualizing the incident from someone else’s perspective rather than from your own. Instead of watching the scene play out through your own eyes, watch yourself in the scene as a fellow co-worker.

Rituals can be an effective way to regain stability after a series of bad luck. Rituals can help reduce anxiety and even alleviate grief, as a 2013 study found. In that study, researchers said that “although the specific rituals in which people engage after losses vary widely by culture and religion,” the results suggested “a common psychological mechanism underlying their effectiveness: regained feelings of control.” Because rituals give us a sense of control, they can also make us more resilient from setbacks.

“Having rituals is a reliable way to come back to something that is comforting, familiar and meaningful — no matter how out-of-control our life feels,” said Nick Hobson, a behavioral scientist. “The outside world may be buzzing with confusion and uncertainty, but a person can take comfort knowing that their ritual is there for them when they need it.”

In a study published in the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences (PeerJ), Dr. Hobson and his colleagues asked participants to take a test. The researchers measured the participants’ brain activity during the test and found that those who had performed a daily ritual at home did not experience as much anxiety and also did better over all on the test than participants who had not performed a ritual. What’s more, when subjects made errors on the test, performing a ritual helped them refocus and avoid making further mistakes.

“Even when it feels like nothing is going our way, rituals can be grounding as they remind us about the things we value most in our life,” Dr. Hobson said. “They’re unwavering symbols of action that cannot be taken away, regardless of how bad things may be for us.”

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