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Laurence Gonzales won the 2001 and 2002 National Magazine Awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors for National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Since 1970, his essays have appeared in such[…]

The characteristics that increase your chance of survival in extraordinary situations can also help you manage the daily trials of life.

Question: What knowledge about survival could we use to deal with panic and challenging situations we confront on a daily basis?

Laurence Gonzales: One of the things that I found about Deep Survival is that people from all walks of life are interested in it because the principles apply in every day life and in business and every way you look, they apply.  The reason for that is because, at the heart, it’s about how you think and how you make decisions. The better you are able to stay calm and not panic, the better you are able to make good decisions.  Reason and emotion work like a seesaw, the higher the emotion, the lower your ability to reason.  So in a high state of stress, you literally can’t remember your own phone number.  So these things apply whether you’re losing your business, getting a divorce, being diagnosed with cancer.  All of these situations produce stress and so you have to learn to be calm and think clearly.

Question: Are there any techniques that can help people remain calm in the face of extraordinary situations?

Laurence Gonzales: The best way to put these things into practice is to put them into your daily life.  You can’t suddenly find yourself stranded on a mountain and say, now’s a good time to become a good survivor and learn how to be calm.  You have to be doing it day by day.  So if you find that you are the kind of people who, oh, let’s say you’re in a traffic jam and you find yourself pounding the steering wheel and screaming at the other drivers, this is not a good sign. 

You can begin to learn to approach life’s challenges calmly and think through logically what you should do, how can this benefit you?  This is another trait of survivors; they are always looking for opportunity even in adversity.  So when bad things happen, the real survivor is going to say, okay, I got it, this bad thing happened, now how can I turn that to my advantage, or how can I learn from this, and how can I come out the other end even better. 

Question: Is gut instinct more important than reason for survival?

Laurence Gonzales: One of the other things that survivors do is that they tend to find a good balance between their gut instincts and their ability to reason.  Sometimes people will go into a situation and they will get a feeling something’s not right here on this ski slope.  I don’t like the look of that mountain.  I’ve heard this from firefighters a lot, they approach a fire and they say, “You know?  There was something just – I didn’t like about it, I couldn’t say why.  We didn’t go in and then the house exploded.”