Wednesday, August 10, 2016

10 Keys to Survival

10 Keys to Surviving, Even Thriving

Separations, divorces, deaths in the family, economic hardships, illnesses…many of our Sixty and Me community have made it through difficult times and are survivors. We have learned from our experiences and from the experiences of others.


One of my favorite TV shows is the History Channel’s Alone, a reality show that starts by putting ten survival experts each about five miles apart on the shores of Vancouver Island, basically an uninhabited jungle, and awards half a million dollars to the contestant who quits last. They are given some standard survival gear and can choose a limited amount of additional stuff, but they will have to weather the rainy Vancouver climate and try to find food from the ocean and in the jungle, while coping with complete solitude. The first year had five of the ten contestants quit within the first week, and the winner won by enduring for 56 days. The second year’s crew did much better, the new group having learned from watching films of the first bunch.

Relatedly and recently, an exciting and dramatic adventure novel, Paul Draker’s New Year Island, examines the question of what qualities are crucial to successful survival under very unusual conditions. It made me wonder to what degree these qualities might be important in our everyday lives.

Draker’s book presents an Alone-like competition on an isolated island. Early on, novelist Draker has a lecturer tell the competitors what characteristics psychologists have found to be common among the exceptional one-tenth who survive extraordinary, life-or-death situations:

Survivor Characteristics:

1. WILL TO LIVE - survival is as much mental as physical.
2. RESILIENCE - flexible in the face of adversity.
3. SELF-CONFIDENCE - feel no need to prove anything to anybody.
4. PLAYFUL CURIOSITY - experiment, break rules, test limits.
5. ALERTNESS - appraise changing situations rapidly, read people well.
6. UNPREDICTABILITY - combine opposing characteristics for flexibility and surprise.
7. EMPATHY - care about others without being paralyzed by concern.
8. INTUITION - trust their feelings, their instincts.
9. SYNERGY - combine dissimilar elements, making hard problems easier.
10. SPIRITUALITY - have faith and believe they will survive.

How can these attributes contribute to our own lives, even outside of crises?

Will to Live

This is the basic version of what the French call joie de vivre, an exuberant, energetic appreciation of the gift of life, a gift that comes with an expiration date unknown to us. We enjoy life fully, while we can.


Resilience helps us cope with ups and downs, twists and turns…at work, at play, at home. We don’t sweat the small stuff, don’t fuss about minor matters. We accept that life is change. Defeat is temporary.


Self-confidence fuels our moving forward. It attracts others to us, as long as we do not become smug or over-confident. We succeed partly because we believe we can.


Playfulness adds to our enjoyment of life and to the enjoyment felt by those with whom we interact, helping us to attract allies. Competition in business or school or even in love can be seen as a game, and we can take an attitude of “win some, lose some” to temper our elation at winning or our dejection at losing. Playfulness can stimulate creativity.


We must be alert, aware of our environment and the people around us. Opportunity may knock, but we must be listening to hear it. Prudent early action can prevent major problems.


“Unpredictability”? This surprised me. What author Draker meant was that we should not bring the same approach to all our situations. We need to be able to be rational or emotional, sweet or acerbic, soft or firm, even gentle or rough, as appropriate. Varying your style can reveal new options to you. If your only approach is to be a hammer, you will misjudge problems to be nails.


Empathy is not just nice, it is a component of success. Our consideration for the feelings of others will often be returned through their consideration for us. Teamwork is fostered, allies gained and maintained. Shared success is more likely and more valuable than individualistic failure.


We know more than we can prove. Can you trust him? Is she a true friend? Going with your gut has merit, although one needs to apply it cautiously. The heart has reasons the mind cannot grasp. However, if we get solid information that contradicts our gut feelings, it is time to reconsider.


Synergy occurs when the combination of two things produces results much greater than the simple sum of the two would predict. When two people do more than just fill gaps, they have synergy. When each improves and reinforces the other, this pairing out-performs prediction.


Spirituality has been found helpful, often crucial, in sustaining those in terrible situations. In our daily lives, a belief in the benevolence of the universe or a faith in the guidance of a Supreme Being helps propel us through adversity and contributes to confidence, resilience, empathy, and enjoyment of life. Besides, God might just give us a helping hand.

Beyond Surviving

You can be thriving, not just surviving. Skills that have gotten you this far can be honed to take you farther still. Play on!

Have you weathered a situation recently that made you feel like a survivor? Did some of these listed skills come into play?


A former Harvard environmental science professor, Dr. Cooper is an author who helps others write and publish their books, via his business  His life's central theme has been a half-century romance ( with Tina Su Cooper, his wife, now quadriplegic due to multiple sclerosis and receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, as discussed at their website here.


First published, somewhat edited, in ezine:

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