The 12 Rules of Survival

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The 12 Rules
of Survival has been out of a couple of years now, but it never
hurts to reread them. Read the whole book Deep
Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why
if you get an opportunity!

By Laurence Gonzales

As a journalist,
I’ve been writing about accidents for more than thirty years.
In the last 15 or so years, I’ve concentrated on accidents
in outdoor recreation, in an effort to understand who lives, who
dies, and why. To my surprise, I found an eerie uniformity in the
way people survive seemingly impossible circumstances. Decades and
sometimes centuries apart, separated by culture, geography, race,
language, and tradition, the most successful survivors – those
who practice what I call “deep survival” – go through
the same patterns of thought and behavior, the same transformation
and spiritual discovery, in the course of keeping themselves alive.
Not only that but it doesn’t seem to matter whether they are
surviving being lost in the wilderness or battling cancer, whether
they’re struggling through divorce or facing a business catastrophe
– the strategies remain the same.

Survival should
be thought of as a journey, a vision quest of the sort that native
Americans have had as a rite of passage for thousands of years.
Once you’re past the precipitating event – you’re
cast away at sea or told you have cancer – you have been enrolled
in one of the oldest schools in history. Here are a few things I’ve
learned that can help you pass the final exam.

1. Perceive
and Believe

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.

Many people
who in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, died simply
because they told themselves that everything was going to be all
right. Others panicked. 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.

Survivors see
opportunity, even good, in their situation, however grim. After
the ordeal is over, people may be surprised to hear them say it
was the best thing that ever happened to them. Viktor Frankl, who
spent three years in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps,
describes comforting a woman who was dying. She told him, “I
am grateful that fate has hit me so hard. In my former life I was
spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.”

The phases
of the survival journey roughly parallel the five stages of death
once described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in her book On Death and
Dying: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In
dire circumstances, a survivor moves through those stages rapidly
to acceptance of his situation, then resolves to do something to
save himself. 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. Aron Ralston, the hiker
who had to cut off his hand to free himself from a stone that had
trapped him in a slot canyon in Utah, initially panicked and began
slamming himself over and over against the boulder that had caught
his hand. But very quickly, he stopped himself, did some deep breathing,
and began thinking about his options. He eventually spent five days
progressing through the stages necessary to convince him of what
decisive action he had to take to save his own life.

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

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

3. Think,
Analyze, and Plan

Survivors quickly
organize, set up routines, and institute discipline.

When Lance
Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer, he organized his fight against
it the way he would organize his training for a race. He read everything
he could about it, put himself on a training schedule, and put together
a team from among friends, family, and doctors to support his efforts.
Such conscious, organized effort in the face of grave danger requires
a split between reason and emotion in which reason gives direction
and emotion provides the power source. Survivors often report experiencing
reason as an audible “voice.”

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. Lauren Elder
was the only survivor of a light plane crash in high sierra. Stranded
on a peak above 12,000 feet, one arm broken, she could see the San
Joaquin Valley in California below, but a vast wilderness and sheer
and icy cliffs separated her from it. Wearing a wrap-around skirt
and blouse, with two-inch heeled boots and not even wearing underwear,
she crawled “on all fours, doing a kind of sideways spiderwalk,”
as she put it later, “balancing myself on the ice crust, punching
through it with my hands and feet.”

She had 36
hours of climbing ahead of her – a seemingly impossible task.
But Elder allowed herself to think only as far as the next big rock.
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.
Elder said that once she had completed her descent of the first
pitch, she looked up at the impossibly steep slope and thought,
“Look what you’ve done…Exhilarated, I gave a whoop
that echoed down the silent pass.” Even with a broken arm,
joy was Elder’s constant companion. A good survivor always
tells herself: count your blessings – you’re alive. Viktor
Frankl wrote of how he felt at times in Auschwitz: “How content
we were; happy in spite of everything.”

the rest of the article

13, 2010

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