Book Review | Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

When confronted with a life-threatening situation, 90% of people freeze or panic, says Laurence Gonzales in this exploration of what makes the remaining 10% stay cool, focused and alive. Gonzales (The Hero's Apprentice; The Still Point), who has covered survival stories for National Geographic Explorer, Outside and Men's Journal, uncovers the biological and psychological reasons people risk their lives and why some are better at it than others. (Publisher’s Weekly)

Laurence Gonzales has written a page-turner of a book, not about survival technique, but survival philosophy. Why do some of us survive, take action in a crisis while others become the stereotypical “deer in headlights?”  He delves into brain science and emotional capacity.  The points he makes can be applied to any situation in which you find yourself stressed physically, mentally, or emotionally. The key takeaway is that survivors don’t deny the catastrophe is happening.  On the contrary, they embrace it, accept the reality of the situation and make a plan to survive. Age and/or gender matter little. The child survives the plane crash into the mountains while the adults on board freeze to death in the snow. The old lady survives the hotel fire while the strong young man stands in the hotel bar holding a cocktail while the fire engulfs him.  You see, the mentality of “giving up” and “accepting your fate” isn’t an option for survival but for so many of us that is our brain’s first reaction – to freeze – in the face of danger.  Once our brain has accepted that we are in deep trouble (and that might take only a second or two), our body listens and we are doomed.

We must learn to train our brain to not freeze, but to plan, react, think in the face of danger.  Practice crisis situations, and rewire our brain for survival. On 9/11, many of the survivors of the World Trade Center didn’t listen to the recording over the loudspeakers telling them to remain in their offices.  They used their company’s fire drill training and headed to the staircases.

This book’s lessons can help in even everyday stress situations, even at work.  When a PR crisis happens, our first reaction might be to freeze, panic – and indeed there are many case studies in which companies do just that.  But with the acceptance of the crisis, we can plan and act appropriately to pull our companies or our clients out of the  situation at hand and survive.  

By, Kira Perdue  |  @KPerdue

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