Given that people lead busy lives in the modern world, it`s no wonder that stress is everywhere and in everyone. You have probably noticed that it permeates virtually all conversations, haven’t you? As a matter of fact, about 20% of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It seems impossible to relieve stress and lead anxiety-free lives! So, what can be done to stay immune to stressful situations?
Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin May Have a Practical Answer
Dr. Daniel Levitin earned his B.A. in Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Science at Stanford University before earning his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Oregon. He is currently working as a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal. If you haven’t heard about his career as a doctor, you might have heard of with his best-selling books: This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, and The Organized Mind.
A few years ago, Dr. Daniel Levitin gave a TED talk titled, “How to Stay Calm When You Know You’ll Be Stressed.” He talked about stress, stress relief, and offered tips on how to deal with it easier. Unfortunately, we cannot remove stress from our lives no matter how much we wish we could. But, on the other hand, there are various prevention strategies and practical stress relief methods that are of great help.
The Story That Started Dr. Daniel Levitin on This Journey
After hanging out with a friend, Daniel reached his front door in negative 40-degree weather to realize that he had forgotten his keys. He started exploring his options and soon realized that calling a locksmith or going back to his friend`s house is not an option. The reason: he needed his luggage and passport for a flight to Europe early in the morning.
What option he was left with then? Smashing the basement window. But, what he didn’t plan for was the stress of calling a contractor to fix the window. In the morning, he arrived at the airport only to realize he had forgotten the passport! Do you see the problem with stress here?
While retelling this story months Dr. Levitin learned of a stress-reducing strategy from Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize winner.
The strategy? Prospective hindsight, also known as the premortem.
The Premortem: Key Insights from Dr. Daniel Levitin
“Now, you all know what the postmortem is: whenever there’s a disaster, a team of experts come in and they try to figure out what went wrong, right? Well, in the premortem… you look ahead and you try to figure out all the things that could go wrong and then you try to figure out what you can do to prevent those things from happening, or to minimize the damage.”
“Remember, when you’re under stress, the brain releases cortisol. Cortisol is toxic and it causes cloudy thinking. So, part of the practice of the premortem is to recognize that under stress, you’re not going to be at your best and you should put systems in place.”
“The idea of the premortem is to think ahead of time to the questions that you might be able to ask that will push the conversation forward. You don’t want to have to manufacture all of this on the spot.”