Monday, October 1, 2012

Who Lives, Who Dies

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Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (True Stories of Miraculous Endurance and Sudden Death) by Laurence Gonzales (278pp., 2005, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, NY)

If you look at the book jacket illustration and say to yourself, “I’m never going to be on top of Mount Everest, so I don’t need this book,” you are wrong---and could be dead wrong. If you are planning a paddling or camping trip, going backpacking, or getting into a train, plane, or automobile, planning on going to work, or planning on getting out of bed, you need this book.

Deep Survival is about developing mindsets that allow people to analyze their environment, their situation, to remain cool, develop a plan, and execute bold, decisive steps to survive. These steps help the survivor deal with the wilderness, mountain blizzards, plane crashes, situations like the World Trade Center, the jungle, but more importantly, survivors learn to survive stressful situations everyone encounters in daily life. The same things that save a person in the jungle, could also save them in the office or at home.

The book begins as a clinical explanation of how emotions and the brain work. It seems a bit too analytical at first, but it moves quickly into real life situations that show how these physiological aspects come into play in a crisis. Almost every kind of emergency is picked apart to show where the victim’s world flew apart, while the survivor managed to pull it all together.

Only about 10-20 percent of people can remain cool in an emergency situation. The rest will get into trouble and possibly die. The minority are those who can assess their situation clearly, plan and take corrective action, confront their changing environment and quickly adapt to it. Many survivors find they actually find a thrill and joy in the life-threatening situation. Acting like Rambo isn’t the solution. Those stereotypical super-hero types are usually the first to die. This doesn’t mean you are doomed if you don’t now fit into that 10-20 percent, but it does mean you may have to make some changes and train yourself in ways you may not have anticipated.

You need to understand that as soon as you find yourself in a survival situation, you immediately lose half or more of your intelligence, logic, ability to accurately analyze your situation, and take corrective action. “Your IQ rolls back to that of an ape.“ Just as you immediately acquire tunnel vision, all your other perceptive and cognitive abilities shrink as well. Your abilities will be dictated by what you have managed to hard-wire into your brain through training and roll-playing. Just as with a gun-fighter, or his modern counterpart, or a martial arts champion, there is no time to think or reason in a crisis situation. You can only perceive and react, and in a real Catch 22 model, your ability to perceive is likewise determined by the same preparation. Your mistakes first come from seeing less, hearing less, and making wrong moves that spiral into ever greater mistakes.

The book analyzes how and why people get lost, why they react as they do under stress, why they’re unable to think clearly or solve problems, and why they get rattled and panic.  No one is immune to stress, but how you respond to stress is what determines your survival or loss.

For anyone who enjoys the outdoors, or wilderness, or being in alien environments like water, snow, cold, heat, mountains, caves, or just confronting daily life, this book is essential. It is also invaluable for policemen, firemen, pilots, the military, and all those that routinely confront danger. The universal nature of the lessons to be learned is supported by Josh Kaufman’s recommendation of their application in business. Kaufman is author of “The Personal MBA: Master The Art of Business.“ There is just way too much of value in this book for me to explain all you can find here. You just need to survive long enough to check it out for yourself.

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