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Image: a close up of someone coaxing smoke from moss trying to start a fire

Deep Survival: The Qualities That Make a “Survivor”

Survival skills are not just for those infinitely rare occasions when we find ourselves alone in a lifeboat. Turns out that “survivors” can teach us about everyday life!

We’re going to have some fun with our instincts for survival today, and share some fascinating facts you can use daily.

Image: a close up of someone coaxing smoke from moss trying to start a fire
Source: Wikimedia Commons

First, a series of three questions to prime the pump on your impulses:

  • If six people wind up in a lifeboat and 50 days later, only two survive, what do you think was special about those two? Why did they survive?
  • If six friends go snowmobiling in the backcountry and cause an avalanche, what’s different about the two who survive the ordeal?
  • If 10 Smoke Jumpers are caught in a forest fire when the conditions call for a split second decision, and only two survive, how did they negotiate their situation differently from the eight who perished?

The answer to those questions can inform our day to day challenges because the way these “survivors” think happens to be really positive and it is, most definitely, “learnable.”

These kinds of questions (and many, many more) are answered in an insightful, gripping but fun book called Deep Survival, written by Laurence Gonzales.

We won’t recommend books very often at the Goodness Exchange, but this one is a special – adventure mixed with amazing insights – both personal and professional. There’s no better way to learn! It’s one of those books you could read again every three or four years and take away different, useful pearls every time.

Now I should tell you from the outset, I’m not particularly interested in this subject of “survival” – and this book is not in that genre  –  but a friend of mine recommended this book because he found the insights so compelling and very useful in our stressful daily lives. 

He was absolutely right.

No matter who you are or what your interests are, if you have daily stress creeping into your life that seems outside your control, this book will be helpful and all the while, a remarkable read. I read the entire book with a pen in hand and starred sections I wanted to re-read periodically for reminders. Now I keep it bedside for a quick peek from time to time.

Here’s a short interview with author Laurence Gonzalez that we found on BigThink.com, which gives you a taste of the book. It’s not an incredible quality video, but you’ll get the gist of things to get started:

Via: Big Think 1

About Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales

Image: The cover of "Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzales. A picture of a man on top of a cliff. "Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why"
Source: Amazon

The essence of the book is that after studying survivors from a myriad of situations, it turns out that there are some essential characteristics common to almost all survivors. In fact, it’s very rare that “luck” is part of the equation.

In short, emotions can hijack our brains and take over our behavior. How we react in the moment and the decisions we make can change everything.

But we’d like to take this tremendous read a step further. For example, how might the insights change our challenges: getting along with a mother-in-law for a week, handling an obnoxious colleague at work, or dealing with a teenager who is looking at his texts while you are trying to talk to him?

Deep Survival brims with solid tips for survival in general and compelling stories that drive home every point.

A Wonderful Review of Deep Survival

Deep Survival was the first scientific book on survival. It set the bar and started the trend that spawned a spate of imitations. Since its publication, this best-seller has been embraced by everyone from the head of training for the Navy SEALs to the Sloan School of Management at MIT. Its appeal has been so broad and deep because the principles in Deep Survival apply to any challenge that life poses, from coping with a financial crisis to battling a life threatening illness or dealing with addiction and recovery. And psychologists, oncologists, business executives, and clergy have brought the principles of Deep Survival to their clients to help them face adversity, to manage risk, and to enhance decision making in every form.”

Challenges and Considerations Gleaned From Gonzales’ Book

Deep Survival is a page-turner for anyone. And, if you wish you could find a good book for a teenage boy or a man in your life, this one’s the ticket! I gave the book to my brother Alex, a former F-15 fighter pilot, and today an airline pilot, for Christmas and he had it within arms reach for the next four days.

Most of us are not going to find ourselves in a lifeboat, but we will have to face bitter complexities of emotional survival almost daily. You might easily write in the margins of this book as you read and help yourself prepare for the next moment that requires quick thinking. How will we negotiate that moment with a boss or co-worker who is out of line? How about a teenager who comes home 2 hours late or someone you hire for a job that gets very poorly done?

Here is Laurence once again with a perspective on how we can take the lessons from Deep Survival and apply them to daily life.

Via: Big Think 2

More ways this book is relevant

We used the book in our staff meeting to diagnose some old, failed situations. Have you had personal or professional experiences in which emotion was so high that you couldn’t actually see the facts? In retrospect, how might that situation have turned out better?

What about trusting our gut feelings?

Gut feelings are an essential ingredient of being aware enough of your environment to survive. Do you think you follow your gut? Can you think of important decisions you’ve made based on intuition or gut feeling?

In the appendix, Gonzales discusses the twelve traits of survivors. 

After reading this book, you might have ample inspiration to go through each of those traits and ask: do I practice this trait in my everyday life? How can I improve my ability to survive both the small and large events in my life by doing a better job of acting like a survivor?

Browse more of Laurence Gonzales‘ work on his website, and be sure to pick up a copy of Deep Survival through your favorite retailer (or again, you can order it directly off Amazon.) Enjoy!

Meanwhile, stay open, curious and hopeful.

~ Dr. Lynda

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  1. Big Think. “Laurence Gonzales on Deep Survival.” YouTube, 23 Apr. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2RULLIv9_o. Accessed 29 July 2022.
  2. Big Think. “Laurence Gonzales: Extreme Survival Tips for Everyday Life.” YouTube, 23 Apr. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MFHDBWNW8o. Accessed 29 July 2022.
Published: August 3, 2022

Image: Dr. Lynda


Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world.

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