You’re not at your best when you’re stressed. In fact, your brain has evolved over millennia to release cortisol in stressful situations, inhibiting rational, logical thinking but potentially helping you survive, say, being attacked by a lion. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin thinks there’s a way to avoid making critical mistakes in stressful situations, when your thinking becomes clouded — the pre-mortem. “We all are going to fail now and then,” he says. “The idea is to think ahead to what those failures might be.”



  • fumble – do or handle something clumsily
  • recline – lean or lie back in a relaxed position with the back supported
  • hindsight understanding of a situation or event only after it has happened or developed
  • designate – officially give a specified status or name to
  • proxy (for sth) – (here) one thing to represent other things
  • debilitate – make (someone) very weak and infirm


Think about it

Answer the questions below. Pause at times indicated in brackets.

  • Summarise Daniel’s story. How did it end? (pause @ 2:22)
  • What happened next? (2:40)
  • What is “prospective hindsight” or the so-called “pre-mortem?”(3:45)
  • What have you learned about hippocampus? (5:00)
  • What does the number “300” refer to? Why does Daniel present the audience with the medical decision example? (8:15)
  • What does the number “15” refer to and how is it significant in the context of taking statin? (9:30)
  • What is the conclusion of the talk?


Practice makes perfect

Use the verbs in brackets in correct tenses and forms.

A few years ago, I ________ (break) into my own house. I ________ (just drive) home, it was around midnight in the dead of Montreal winter, I________ (visit) my friend, Jeff, across town, and the thermometer on the front porch read minus 40 degrees — and don’t bother asking if that’s Celsius or Fahrenheit, minus 40 is where the two scales meet — it was very cold. And as I ________ (stand) on the front porch fumbling in my pockets, I found I ________ (not have) my keys. In fact, I could see them through the window, lying on the dining room table where I ________ (leave) them. So I quickly ________ (run) around and tried all the other doors and windows, and they ________ (be) locked tight. I ________ (think) about calling a locksmith — at least I had my cellphone, but at midnight, it could take a while for a locksmith to show up, and it ________ (be) cold. I couldn’t go back to my friend Jeff’s house for the night because I ________ (have) an early flight to Europe the next morning, and I ________ (need) to get my passport and my suitcase.

So, desperate and freezing cold, I found a ________ (find) rock and I broke through the basement window, ________ (clear) out the shards of glass, I ________ (crawl) through, I found a piece of cardboard and taped it up over the opening, figuring that in the morning, on the way to the airport, I could call my contractor and ask him to fix it. This was going to be expensive, but probably no more expensive than a middle-of-the-night locksmith, so I figured, under the circumstances, I was coming out even.


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