We all, in our day to day life, need to take decisions, make choices under different circumstances. Sometimes we make good decisions while other times bad. Especially, when we are in a stressful situation and need to take quick decision, we may end up with a wrong move. Does this sound familiar? If your answer is yes…congratulations you are human and still living on planet earth.

Thanks to nature of life, our lifestyle, and society that we live in today, we constantly feel that we have dearth of time, abundance of work (all necessary) and to add to our dilemma we have enough choices available as well. Almost every decision making situation we are forced into has two things in common; pressure and confusion. Pressure because we need to make decision fast and confusion because lots of choices are available at our discretion leading to stressful situation.

Is being stressed always bad?

Stress is a natural mechanism to prepare our body and mind to react to any kind of demand or situation. Good news is that stress is not always bad. If handled properly, it can help us stay focused, motivated, and can challenge us to man up to do our best in any situation. It even alerts and protects us in situation commonly known as “Fight or Flight”.

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”- Hans Selye

When stress is not handled well, it becomes overwhelming and adversely affects our body and mind function and coordination. Our health, relationship, mood and overall quality of life get derailed. Biologically, in high pressure situation, our mind tends to releases a hormone called cortisol, which interfere rational thinking and cloud our ability to judge and make critical choice when it really matters.

So the question is, how can we remain calm and mindful under stressful situation, so that we take best possible decision and make better choices?

The key is to “Plan when you are calm”.

Neuroscientist, Musician, author and Ted speaker Dr. Daniel J. Levitin who is an expert in incorporating findings from neuroscience into daily life recommends lifehack for decision making under stressful situation in practicing “prospective hindsight” also termed as “Pre-mortem” by famous psychologist Gary Klein.

What is pre-mortem?

Like “post-mortem” is an examination of body by experts after death to determine the cause of death. Similarly “Pre-mortem” is a process of looking ahead in time, hypothesizing about certain situation to figure out what all can possibly go wrong in it.
“Pre-mortem” is practiced when you are calm, level headed and not really in a situation you want to plan ahead for. It’s like training one’s mind for future situation by simulating, injecting all possible complexity and exceptions in it. It helps take account of best-case as well as worst-case scenario well in advance and consider it for better planning and decision making.
The biggest advantage of this process is that, it allows us to look at any situation in right state of mind, the state when our mind is cool and calm and when chances are very high that decision or choice we make would be right.

Applying pre-morem?

You have the freedom to use pre-mortem practice to virtually look at any life situation, task or project in hand. Pre-mortem enables you to make strategic decision by asking tough questions, imagining future, virtually experiencing various scenario and putting control plan in place before it is too late. It helps you minimize or prevent impact of not being able to make the right choice when you are stressed.

While idea of practicing pre-mortem may sound intimidating to certain ideological group as it, kind of, sounds like over-planning for future and not living in a moment. However, in order to embrace the idea of pre-mortem, first we need to accept the fact that we are normal human being and under stressful situation we are not at our best. Hence, we need to plan ahead for future situations a little bit more when we are calm and even minded.

While the science behind human brain; how it works, how we think, react and choose etc, in itself is a huge subject, thanks to the continuous research and books/white papers published on this subject by eminent scientist/authors, every passing day we are learning tips and tricks related to these subtle aspects of our existence and how to get better at it.

All said and done, we need to

  1. Understand: that stress and pressured situations are a part of life that cannot be avoided. So practice farsightedness a.k.a pre-mortem approach to be better prepared to handle those.
  2. Learn: not to get overwhelmed by situation/choices and results out of it. Glide smoothly by practicing even-mindedness in any situation (good or bad). Every situation has something to teach, just learn your lesson: go to setp-1.

So be happy and fetch your dreams. Design your life the way you want, with things that matter in life.