Calm Down, Calm Down

As someone who has benefited from having a plan in place beforehand, I agree with the general approach Levitin suggests. However, potentially due to the needs of fitting his point into the length of a TED talk, there seem to be a couple of missing details: targeting and analysis.

First, while many people might infer it, he never explicitly states that this is about targeted forethought rather than having a rigorous plan for any and all stressors that you can conceive. Having a plan to stop you losing your keys, and further steps if you do, is a sensible step. Continuing to plan because you don’t have a solution to losing your keys and the spare set you carry around your neck on the same day your partner loses both their sets of keys and takes the emergency spare set from the hiding place near the house, might be a step too far.

So, part of preparing to avoid odd thinking is keeping a list of risks which are too extreme to be worth the stress of maintaining a foolproof solution against.

Second, while asking about the chances of something happening is a good question, saying the chance of side effects is fifteen times higher than the chance a treatment will help ignores disparity in the level of effect. To continue the medical examples, chemotherapy doesn’t guarantee survival but does almost always cause hair loss, so the chance-of-good-to-bad ratio is tipped towards bad; however, the impact of avoiding death compared to the impact of avoiding hair loss is strongly tilted the other way.

So, both the chance of something happening and the impact if it does are necessary parts of balancing positive and negative.

As I said earlier, I suspect these omissions are more due to Levitin needing to fit his general point into under 15 minutes than him not considering them relevant to the detailed process.

What methods do you use to mitigate the irrationality of stress? Do you believe decisions made under stress aren’t worse than those made when relaxed?


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