Military and law enforcement officers have been intimately familiar with the idea of survival mentality for decades and train extensively to hone that skill. But the concept can be applied to a much broader audience when it comes to our day to day lives, particularly our finances.
Survival mentality centers on the goal of having sufficient mental fortitude to maintain perspective, adaptability and self-motivation to succeed in even the most dire of circumstances.
To do so requires the ability to make difficult decisions under high stress, harnessing our base fight response, yet battling our brains natural reaction to take in less information.
There is a mantra amongst law enforcement officers that accompanies the survival mentality: “Better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6”. The saying stems from the understanding that in those most pivotal of moments, hesitation to act could be the difference between life and death. Better to act and face the subsequent judgement of your actions, than hesitate and find yourself six feet under.
Although our day to day lives rarely require us to make decisions of that magnitude, knowing when and how to act decisively and possessing the ability to push through in the face of fear, adversity or unexpected outcomes, are traits that will vastly improve your likelihood of financial success.
Survival mentality can be found in the most innocuous of moments. It’s an attitude, or mindset towards life. Whether you strike out at baseball, or miss out on the promotion you’ve been working so hard to get, the way you react to life’s curveballs will heavily dictate your overall ability to succeed.
Do you throw your head back in dismay, and dread the next at bat, or do you sharpen your focus, dig in and get ready for your next opportunity? Do you throw in the towel at work because you feel you’ll never get recognized for your hard work, or do you take it instead as a chance to up your game even further, to shine for the next promotion that comes along?
Survival mentality means taking what has happened, good, bad, or ugly, and using it as ammunition to inform your decisions moving forward. To take the situation you have and turn it to your favour. People who embrace this mentality to it’s fullest rarely travel the path originally planned, but they have a way of finding their end goal anyway. This approach to life sharpens your view, enabling you to focus on what is in your control and to let go of what isn’t.
The diametrically opposed mindset is one of a victim mentality. I’m talking about the “woe is me” people who proliferate a good portion of our society. People with this mentality dwell on the past, on what they feel life has done to them rather than what they have made of life. Whether they feel unlucky, cheated, or overlooked, they’re go to response is that they lack control over their own lives. This mentality is the furthest thing from empowering, it’s defeatist by nature and can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed. If you find yourself naturally trending toward this mindset, shed the habit as quickly as you can and look to build your survival mentality tools.
People who exercise strong survival mentality aren’t waiting for the next thing in life to hit them, they take what they have available to them and use it to craft their desired environment or outcome. That type of empowered outlook can be the difference between embracing failure or adversity as learning opportunities on your path to success, rather than allowing them to stop you in your tracks.
Like any worthwhile skill set, survival mentality takes practice, but it can be honed in just a few simple ways.
1 – Visualization
A great place to start is by visualizing upcoming events or key decisions. When I was a kid, I used to love the “choose your own adventure” books. When I got to a pivotal choice, I would mark the page and pick a path. If I got it wrong, I would quickly turn back to that marked page and choose a different option, until I got it right. Some people might call that cheating, I called it persistence. But applying that type of “choose your own adventure” approach to your visualizing will help you work through scenarios until you find a path that meets your desired outcome.
Imagine a decision or scenario you may find yourself in, perhaps a business negotiation, or maybe a conversation with your boss about a promotion you want to pursue. Play out the impact of a variety of different decisions or actions and use the varying scenarios to identify what is likely to work, and what isn’t.
While you will never know exactly how things are going to play out, walking through possible scenarios ahead of time can help you identify and consider many of the influencing factors involved, as well as potential pitfalls to avoid. This exercise will also help you feel more comfortable when you’re actually in the situation, almost like you’ve already been there before. You’ll be better prepared to answer tough questions or make necessary decisions seemingly on the fly.
While at first blush it may seem onerous to exercise this habit, think of all the mental downtime we often have in our day to day lives. Whether it’s commuting to/from work, taking kids to activities, working out, or buying groceries, there are a lot of opportunities to think that don’t negatively impact our usual schedule.
2 – Train Your Rational Brain
Another excellent way to build your survival mentality is to push yourself to try new challenges. Moving outside our comfort zone creates an environment where our body experiences physical or mental stress, which usually results in a push of adrenaline. Stress and adrenaline trigger our bodies natural fight or flight response, directing our bodies resources to only the most necessary purposes, such as our ability and stamina to run. In doing so, it shuts down many of our rational brains cognitive processes, restricting the amount of information we are able to take in, and impairing our overall judgement. While we can’t alter our bodies most base instinct, we can desensitize ourselves to that physical reaction by frequent exposure to new and challenging situations.
Keeping focussed on the task at hand and resisting those base instincts can allow us to train our rational brain to maintain calm in even the most stressful of situations. Calmness allows us to maintain composure, facilitating critical analysis, and sound judgement.
It’s the art of exercising the rational brain to overcome the base reactive signals sent out by the more primitive parts or our brain. While the signals can never be stopped entirely, we can reach a point where our rational brain is so well trained, that it essentially takes over even before our fight or flight response activates.
Whether it’s bungee jumping, taking a public speaking class, or learning how to negotiate your next car purchase, all it takes is a slight push outside your comfort zone in order to practice this habit.
3 – Master Your Breath
This third habit seems simple, but it will probably help you the most in all aspects of day to day life. Whether you practice yoga, meditation, or combat breathing, it’s all an exercise in controlling the depth and pace of your breath. In times of high stress breathing rates tend to jump, and right behind follows a spike in heart rate. Increases in heart rate, much like the impact of adrenalin, prevent you from taking in and retaining as much information as you otherwise would. It also inhibits your ability to have a clear train of thought, or fully articulate yourself.
There are many breathing techniques designed to focus and slow your breath. Finding one that suits your personality and practicing it regularly can keep you cool headed and focused in the most intense of circumstances, even when those around you are losing their heads. It can also keep you from overacting, snapping, or otherwise losing your cool with the people around you. A skill your co-workers and spouse will all appreciate.
These are just a few suggestions for improving your survival mentality. But implementing even one of them will help keep you sharp, focussed and at the top of your financial game in the times when you need it the most.