Worrying doesn't work, and recent neuroscience research opens the door to understanding why. 

Let me explain. As it turns out, our brains can't distinguish between what's imagined and what's real - at least not from an emotional perspective.  So if you spend a lot of time imagining and reimagining (in graphic detail, if you're like most of us) the worst case scenario, you're constantly putting your brain in a threat state.  Because the brain and the body are one system, this causes a release of cortisol - otherwise known as the 'stress hormone' - and adrenaline. Your blood pressure goes up, your field of vision narrows, you start to sweat, and you are completely unable to think of any kind of solution to your dilemma.

Welcome to your 'amygdala hijack': a guided tour.

Your amygdala is a part of your limbic system - one of the most primitive parts of your brain, and the seat of your emotions. It is also the part of your brain that detects potential danger, dedicating all of your resources to the 'fight or flight' response that will promote your survival. As we are highly social creatures, 'danger' includes threats to our status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and sense of fairness.

Let me give you an example. Imagine you are meeting your future in-laws for the first time.  You've been playing out all the horrifying ways you could embarrass yourself for weeks now, so when you show up you're so nervous you can barely function.  Your knees go jiggly, your jaw tenses, and you're sweating through your cute new dress.  Not to mention your memory's gone to pot.

And then this happens: "Hi, Mom. I'm so excited to pee!"

Wait, what? Somehow, "Hi Jake's Mom - I'm so excited to meet you!" and "Oh my god I'm going to pee my pants - why didn't I go before we got in the car?!" just turned into one sentence, and your worst fears have been realized.

So what happened? 

You just witnessed a battle between your pre-frontal cortex (PFC) and your limbic system - and your PFC lost.  This matters because your PFC is the more evolved part of our brain that handles things like rational thinking, planning, and emotional regulation.  Unfortunately, it shares resources with the limbic system - and, because evolution is a bitch, the limbic system gets them first. 

So when you fire up your emotions by dragging your primitive brain through a terminal case of "what ifs", you're diverting all traffic towards the limbic system.  Like an athlete who forgot to eat before the race, your PFC is now starved for resources and unprepared to help you think through the situation.

So if your goal is actually to set yourself up for success, what do you do instead?

It's simple: imagine the BEST case scenario!  Since your brain can't tell the difference between envisioning a positive outcome and experiencing it, you can essentially rehearse success.  And as we all know - 'practice makes perfect'!  The more frequently you replay the positive outcome in your mind, the more hardwired it becomes, and the less stressed out you'll actually be in the moment.

So take a few minutes to really visualize your desired outcome. What will you be wearing?  Where is everyone standing in the room when you arrive?  Imagine your confidence - the exact amount of fuck it you need to be a badass. Make a sensible plan (engaging your friendly neighborhood PFC, and reclaiming those limited resources).  How does everyone react when you pull it off?  How does that make you feel?  

Now you're relaxed, calm, and PRESENT, which it just so happens are the exact conditions your brain needs to discover new insights and possible solutions.

Steve had it right: let's go invent tomorrow!