Survival Mode

Your eyes blink, they are slow. Your breath is heavy and you dare not open your mouth. It’s cold and your fingertips are numb, the toes and soles of your feet are numb. The sweat underneath your shirt reminds you that you are still here. That’s the body in extreme cold conditions, I felt this in Russia – but what of the mind?

Sculpture park

Photo courtesy of astrid westvang

In extreme cold, the body has developed a priority survival strategy, when dealing with extreme conditions. Blood is reduced in what is called vasoconstriction. Blood flows to the core where the more vital organs reside. As you know, these vital organs are necessary like your brain and heart – crucial for survival.

Unfortunately, the body sacrifices non-vital parts of the body first, the organs on the periphery, like your toes, finders and ears. As your body continues to endure these conditions, it keeps sacrificing body parts. That’s why you usually can’t feel your fingers or your toes in the cold.

What of the mind

That is the body and how it reacts to the cold. However, the mind does not need to be effected by temperature alone, to be in a survival mode.

When we face problems, especially of the extreme kind. There are various ways the mind chooses to respond. This subject is not taught in school, nor is it easily found in Wikipedia or an encyclopedia.

Examples of these types of extreme problems could be; moving home, loosing your job, finding a job, starting a business, what’s my purpose, what’s the meaning of life. Right through to the very extreme like loosing your house, loosing a family member or friend.

One begins to focus on the problem, but what if you do not have a solution? What if you try to speak to others and they don’t have an answer? What happens if you don’t know where to look? What happens if you keep searching and still don’t find an answer?

Problems you can deal with

Dealing with death, not even I would be presumptuous to advise, so let’s leave these types of problems. But what problems can we deal with?

Problems are just concepts that require solutions. In order to have solutions, one needs to know, in order to know – one requires knowledge. So it’s all about knowledge. It could be reasoned that the simpler the solution, the more knowledge is possessed to solve the problem. Whether you want to start a fire or build a space rocket, if you knew how to do it, you would.

So most problems can be solved, put another way problems are just waiting for a solution.

Survival experience

Back to the mind. I’ve found that when I’ve been in “survival mode”, I’ve shut down completely. Gone inward, stopped contacting friends and in extreme circumstances let people go. Not a good person to hang around with.

Some things I’ve tried include going on monthly or fortnight solitude retreats, travel, meditation and in extreme cases given everything up. Books, magazines or video – what ever the medium, these were consulted. But some problems require empirical experience and there is more meaning and understanding necessary.

But I’ve realised, my approach has been all wrong.

Or perhaps, I’ve just gotten closer to knowing by my will to keeping on trying.

There has been one challenge in my life, that I kept on facing over the years and every time failed. But now I have found it’s a lot to do with how you see or think.

Let’s reduce all this into a single term, and call it “perception”.


So here’s a fun, empirical experiment which tests your perception. Take a look.

There is a particular field of science called Visual Perception. Why is this highly relevant? This is because we have limited facilities to process everything. So we focus on what we deem is necessary or rather what we choose to deem necessary – that is key.

The above eloquent, experiment captures this and it’s creators won a Nobel prize for the underlying science. You can go further down the rabbit hole by reading about Inattentional blindness. In a nutshell, since we cannot process each and everything, we decide on what to focus on – otherwise our heads would be in an elongated shape of an alien (you know the ones seen in alien B-movies) because that’s what you would need to house, all that visual processing facilities.

So what’s the above got to do with “Survival Mode”?

Just like the body that sacrifices body parts when in extreme cold, your mind can choose to be in “Survival mode”. You start sacrificing habits, activities and friends. Draw inward and circle the wagons. In extreme cases even sacrifice loved ones.

How to survive

Now we understand that we have inattentional blindness or in other words choose what to focus on. Everyone has this ability, so we are not alone.

So then if it’s a choice, then why focus on what can go wrong? Why focus on the problem of the problem? Why think it’s all going to go wrong? Why focus on the negative?

Start to employ gratitude. This allows you to see what you have, take stock and realise how much you have. By starting with gratitude, your perception changes. You realise what you are capable of or what your capabilities are.

Next, focus on what it would be like to have that desired outcome. Ask yourself simply, “What would it be like…”.

Your journey may vary, depending where you are – start to create order in your life. If you haven’t already, start taking care of the little things, like making your bed, brushing your teeth, eating and so on. Move on to examining your posture, stand up straight, there is some real lobster science behind this too.

Start to discipline yourself. Set a routine that works for you. For me it’s having a Long weekend, Every week. What that implies, is that I compress a 7 day work week into 4 days. I work like hell and employ various focusing strategies to keep me on track.

I also meditate and go on long purposeful walks, to help me focus and remind myself what I want and would like to achieve because we all can improve.

By doing, you will feel more fulfilled, less anxious or depressed. What to focus on depends on you. I use a custom tool to help me with this called “Time bombing” and you can find it here at It’s advised you focus on 5 of the most important things only, leave the rest – say “no” to the others, until you have completed these.

This has helped me tremendously and now I don’t view problems in the same way. I don’t need to be in “Survival mode” anymore.


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