When stressed, our brain releases cortisol, a chemical that helps us navigate potentially harmful situations but also inhibits rational, logical thinking. Unfortunately, this also can cause us to make critical mistakes as our thinking becomes clouded. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, in his TED talk: How to Stay Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed, believes there is a way to avoid these mistakes in order or us to be more successful when placed in stressful situations.
This thinking is called “the pre-mortem” and basically describes thinking ahead of your actions to anticipate possible stressful scenarios and their associated failures. You then brainstorm how you might potentially avoid or minimize the effects of these through possible solutions. An example to explain this concept in a simple way that everyone can understand: consider designating a space in your home in which you place everything that is easily lost. This may include items such as car keys, glasses, wallets, cell phones, etc… By doing so, you have anticipated a potential stressful scenario (not being able to find your keys) and diffused it before it was ever a problem.
Since being under stress has you thinking at less than your best, and clouds your decision-making processes, consider this problem-solving technique to provide you with solutions before you even have a problem. Taking pictures of important documents to replace in case they are lost, making lists of what to pack prior to a trip or having important medical questions jotted down in case of emergency are all ways to help avoid or lighten the load of a future stressful situation.