Thursday, October 9, 2008

The 12 Rules of Survival

A friend recommended reading the book "Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzales. The book looks at how various explorers, soldiers, pilots, and (seemingly) Average Joes have survived grave situations.

"Survivor" is defined as "one who survives or outlives another person, or any time, event, or thing."

Every one of us faces times in our lives when we have to fight for survival. Sometimes it's a fight for life, as when you're in a severe accident. At other times, it's a fight to save your business or your company. In the case of coaching, it's a fight to survive a difficult season.

On his website for the book, Gonzales lists the "12 Rules of Survival." During the course of his research, the author found that survivors have these traits in common.

The next time you're in a fight for survival, think about some of these:

1. Perceive and Believe: Don't fall into the deadly trap of denial or of immobilizing fear. Admit it: You're really in trouble and you're going to have to get yourself out. Panic doesn't necessarily mean screaming and running around. Often it means simply doing nothing. Survivors don't candy-coat the truth, but they also don't give in to hopelessness in the face of it.

Survival depends on telling yourself, “Okay, I'm here. This is really happening. Now I'm going to do the next right thing to get myself out.” Whether you succeed or not ultimately becomes irrelevant. It is in acting well–even suffering well–that you give meaning to whatever life you have to live.

2. Stay Calm – Use Your Anger: In the initial crisis, survivors are not ruled by fear; instead, they make use of it. Their fear often feels like (and turns into) anger, which motivates them and makes them feel sharper.

When Lance Armstrong, six-time winner of the Tour de France, awoke from brain surgery for his cancer, he first felt gratitude. “But then I felt a second wave, of anger... I was alive, and I was mad.” When friends asked him how he was doing, he responded, “I'm doing great... I like it like this. I like the odds stacked against me... I don't know any other way.” That's survivor thinking.

Survivors also manage pain well. As a bike racer, Armstrong had had long training in enduring pain, even learning to love it. James Stockdale, a fighter pilot who was shot down in Vietnam and spent eight years in the Hanoi Hilton, as his prison camp was known, advised those who would learn to survive: “One should include a course of familiarization with pain. You have to practice hurting. There is no question about it.”

3. Think, Analyze, and Plan: Survivors quickly organize, set up routines, and institute discipline.

Steve Callahan, a sailor and boat designer, was rammed by a whale and sunk while on a solo voyage in 1982. Adrift in the Atlantic for 76 days in a five-and-a-half-foot raft, he experienced his survival voyage as taking place under the command of a “captain,” who gave him his orders and kept him on his water ration, even as his own mutinous (emotional) spirit complained. His captain routinely lectured “the crew.”

Thus under strict control, he was able to push away thoughts that his situation was hopeless and take the necessary first steps of the survival journey: to think clearly, analyze his situation, and formulate a plan.

4. Take Correct, Decisive Action: Survivors are willing to take risks to save themselves and others. But they are simultaneously bold and cautious in what they will do.

Survivors break down large jobs into small, manageable tasks. They set attainable goals and develop short-term plans to reach them. They are meticulous about doing those tasks well. Elder tested each hold before moving forward and stopped frequently to rest. They make very few mistakes. They handle what is within their power to deal with from moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day.

5. Celebrate your success: Survivors take great joy from even their smallest successes. This helps keep motivation high and prevents a lethal plunge into hopelessness. It also provides relief from the unspeakable strain of a life-threatening situation.

Viktor Frankl wrote of how he felt at times in Auschwitz: “How content we were; happy in spite of everything.”

6. Be a Rescuer, Not a Victim: Survivors are always doing what they do for someone else, even if that someone is thousands of miles away. There are numerous strategies for doing this.

People cannot survive for themselves alone; their must be a higher motive. Viktor Frankl put it this way: “Don't aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target,the more you are going to miss it.” He suggests taking it as “the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself.”

7. Enjoy the Survival Journey: It may seem counterintuitive, but even in the worst circumstances, survivors find something to enjoy, some way to play and laugh. Survival can be tedious, and waiting itself is an art.

Even as Callahan's boat was sinking, he stopped to laugh at himself as he clutched a knife in his teeth like a pirate while trying to get into his life raft. And Viktor Frankl ordered some of his companions in Auschwitz who were threatening to give up hope to force themselves to think of one funny thing each day.

Survivors also use the intellect to stimulate, calm, and entertain the mind. Singing, playing mind games, reciting poetry, counting anything, and doing mathematical problems in your head can make waiting possible and even pleasant, even while heightening perception and quieting fear.

Lost in the Bolivian jungle, Yossi Ghinsberg reported, “When I found myself feeling hopeless, I whispered my mantra, ‘Man of action, man of action.’ I don't know where I had gotten the phrase... I repeated it over and over: A man of action does whatever he must, isn't afraid, and doesn't worry.”

Survivors engage their crisis almost as an athlete engages a sport. They cling to talismans. They discover the sense of flow of the expert performer, the “zone” in which emotion and thought balance each other in producing fluid action. A playful approach to a critical situation also leads to invention, and invention may lead to a new technique, strategy, or design that could save you.

8. See the Beauty: Survivors are attuned to the wonder of their world, especially in the face of mortal danger. The appreciation of beauty, the feeling of awe, opens the senses to the environment. (When you see something beautiful, your pupils actually dilate.)

Debbie Kiley and four others were adrift in the Atlantic after their boat sank in a hurricane in 1982. They had no supplies, no water, and would die without rescue. Two of the crew members drank sea water and went mad. When one of them jumped overboard and was being eaten by sharks directly under their dinghy, Kiley felt as if she, too, were going mad, and told herself, “Focus on the sky, on the beauty there.”

9. Believe That You Will Succeed: It is at this point, following what I call “the vision,” that the survivor's will to live becomes firmly fixed. Fear of dying falls away, and a new strength fills them with the power to go on.

[Said one survivor]: "I felt rested and filled with a peculiar energy.” And: “It was as if I had been granted an unlimited supply of energy.”

10. Surrender: Yes you might die. In fact, you wil die–we all do. But perhaps it doesn't have to be today. Don't let it worry you. Forget about rescue. Everything you need is inside you already.
One survival psychologist calls that “resignation without giving up. It is survival by surrender.”

The Tao Te Ching explains how this surrender leads to survival:

The rhinoceros has no place to jab its horn,
The tiger has no place to fasten its claws,
Weapons have no place to admit their blades.
What is the reason for this?
Because on him there are no mortal spots.

11. Do Whatever Is Necessary: In the black of night, Callahan dove into the flooded saloon of his sinking boat, at once risking and saving his life. Aron Ralston cut off his own arm to free himself. A cancer patient allows herself to be nearly killed by chemotherapy in order to live.

Survivors have a reason to live and are willing to bet everything on themselves. They have what psychologists call meta-knowledge: They know their abilities and do not over–or underestimate them. They believe that anything is possible and act accordingly.

12. Never Give Up: When Apollo 13's oxygen tank exploded, apparently dooming the crew, Commander Jim Lovell chose to keep on transmitting whatever data he could back to mission control, even as they burned up on re-entry.

Callahan, Kiley, Stockdale, Ghinsberg – were all equally determined and knew this final truth: If you're still alive, there is always one more thing that you can do.

Survivors are not easily discouraged by setbacks. They accept that the environment is constantly changing and know that they must adapt. When they fall, they pick themselves up and start the entire process over again, breaking it down into manageable bits.

Survivors always have a clear reason for going on. They keep their spirits up by developing an alternate world, created from rich memories, into which they can escape. They see opportunity in adversity.

In the aftermath, survivors learn from and are grateful for the experiences that they've had. As [one survivor] told me once, “I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. And sometimes I even miss it. I miss the clarity of knowing exactly what you have to do next.”

Those who would survive the hazards of our world, whether at play or in business or at war, through illness or financial calamity, will do so through a journey of transformation. But that transcendent state doesn't miraculously appear when it is needed.

It wells up from a lifetime of experiences, attitudes, and practices form one's personality, a core from which the necessary strength is drawn. A survival experience is an incomparable gift: It will tell you who you really are.