November 29, 2010 by Bob Livingston
Do you have the personality to stay alive in times of crisis? Believe it or not, psychologists have studied the personalities of those who have survived life-threatening events to see what set them apart. It turns out they all had common traits.
In her book The Unthinkable, Amanda Ripley writes that people go through three basic steps when confronted with a life-or-death scenario: denial, deliberation and decision. During the denial stage, it is not unusual for people to continue performing mundane tasks while chaos reigns around them. The brain is processing information, delaying its decision-making process and assessing the risk.
In the deliberation phase, the mind begins to put together possible courses of action. It’s not unusual, Ripley writes, for people to describe this period as having time almost stand still. They remember in great detail the words or images that would not normally be significant.
It’s this stage, and the decision stage that follows, that usually determines whether the outcome will be a good one.
In his book, 98.6 Degrees, The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive!, Cody Lundin writes that survivors all have common personality traits which take over in the decision stage:
- The ability to keep calm and collected. This is the ability to prevent fear and panic from taking over your world, as both possess the power to incapacitate the body and mind. Prior training can help you deal more effectively with “this ugly pair.” Sometimes you have stop and regroup to allow clarity to surface.
- The ability to improvise and adapt. This allows you to improvise and make use of every opportunity. For instance, it allows you to pack survival gear with more than one function or gear that allows for creating other gear. It can also be thought of as the ability to understand what all can be accomplished with limited resources.
- The ability to make decisions. Rather than getting lost during the decision-making process — or having your brain freeze, forcing you into inaction — this ability allows you to thoroughly yet quickly formulate a game plan then follow through with it. Lundin recommends you be decisive and take responsibility for your decisions.
- The ability to endure hardships. A survival situation is not comfortable. It will tax you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Your ability to endure hardship will be tested. The two greatest enemies to survival are a desire for comfort and complacency. Desiring temporary comfort can spur you into making decisions that are irrational, and this impulse must be overcome.
- The ability to figure out the thoughts of others. How can intuition work to your advantage? Put yourself in the shoes of your rescuers. Which direction will they come from? Where might they look first? What will they expect you to do? These are crucial questions to consider if you’re expecting rescue. As for those in your group who are looking to you for leadership, be mindful of their condition. Are they experiencing panic, in danger of hypothermia or dehydration or exhibiting an inability to cope? Remember that what befalls one member of the group spreads to others.
- The ability to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Hoping for the best means maintaining a positive attitude regardless of the difficulties thrown your way. Proper preparation is an essential part of survival. Practice both before and during any outdoor excursion.
- The ability to maintain a sense of humor. Lundin believes humor has a great effect on the human psychology and physiology.
The way you handle the three phases of the crisis, and whether you exhibit the traits mentioned here, may determine how long and how well you survive if you suddenly find yourself on your own.