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The greatest advice I was ever given – practice what could go wrong

I was 16 years old and I’d just landed my first paid job. I was going to be a clerk at the local gas station in my hometown. Doing my first day I was taught the different segments of a normal workday by another young employee. Greeting my first costumers I realized that the job came with an unexpected level of stress. I was only 16 and I was suddenly holding other peoples credit cards in my hand. An extra zero typed into the machine would mean an upset the costumer. I didn’t want to admit it but I was sweating bullets. I started making small mistakes at an increasing rate. When this happened I became nervous that I’d lose the job. So let’s have a look at what was really going on.

  • What happens to you’re stressed?

    Under pressure your brain produces cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone, it increases your heart rate and your adrenaline levels. On top of these effects it also clouds your thinking.

My colleague who was a couple years older than me at the time, saw what was happening. When the boutique was empty he gave me some of the best advice I’d ever gotten. This is what he said :

  • Whenever you get stressed, start doing everything you do twice as slow. Pretend that you just pushed the slow motion button.

  • Sometimes you’ll find yourself alone, without costumers in the boutique. Use these moments to go through what could go wrong. Then you’ll be better prepared when it happens in real life.

  • When you encounter a new kind of problem. Make a small note of it and leave it next to the register. Come back to it and go through it when the boutique is empty next time.

  • Realize that everything behind the counter has it’s own designated place. When you’ve used a pen, put it back where you took it. Otherwise you’ll spend half your workday looking for things.

As I’m sitting here over twenty years later I can’t help but reflect over how wise this young man really was. Let’s have a look at the brain again.

  • The hippocampus :

    This part of the brain was developed over tens of thousands of years. It’s where we keep track of important things. This is where we store information on locations, where to find food, water, enemies and friends. This part actually grows bigger when someone starts working as a taxi driver in a big city. It’s great at locating things that doesn’t move around much and bad at things that do. That’s why we often lose keys, sun glasses and wallets etc.

How can we use this knowledge to our advantage? Here’s some examples that I can think of right now :

  1. Create designated spots for keys, wallets, passports etc.

  2. At all times ask yourself : What could go wrong?

    – Use it when it’s time to face things like relationships, medication, drugs, clinical operations, work situations… What could go wrong, is there another solution, what are the success rate, is it worth it and how could it be solved?

  3. Practice the art of thinking ahead. Make up your mind on how you will act in different emergency situations. Realize that if you don’t you might end up forced by your clouded thinking to make poor decisions.

  4. Put simple systems in place that will minimize the damage or prevent bad things from happen.

Organizing your life will help you avoid stress, could lead to increased life quality and above all longevity.

Let me know what type of tricks you use to stay organized in your life, leave a comment!

Have a wonderful day!

//Björn

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