Getting Beyond Survival Mentality


We live in probably the most comfortable time in history. We can control air temperature, the time tv programmes are on, and schedule and cancel meetings up to a minute before hand. Really the world is more customisable or tailorable than ever before.And yet when I look around me I see so many who are so tired, so stressed and so exhausted by the mere act of breathing. Making it through 12-14 hours awake seems like a monumental feat. I’m not talking about those with genuine challenges like clinical anxiety, significant grief or chronic fatigue. I’m talking about normal everyday young people for whom life just seems to be one eternal uphill climb.

One great giant prolonged exasperated sigh. They rise from bed thinking about the moment they get to return.

This is people in their late teens and twenties who are snoozing their way through the time of greatest energy and freedom they will ever have in their lives. A friend put it well earlier this year, remarking that mine is a generation that is ‘15 going on 50’.

Now I’ll acknowledge that I am an unusually high capacity person. This isn’t about expecting the same of others as I expect of myself. This is also not a critique of times of rest and recreation either of which I'm a huge advocate.It’s about asking how even with time to hang out with friends regularly, watch a few tv episodes, go out for dinner and shopping many still have this deep sense of exhaustion. Life doesn’t seem that busy, so what’s going on?

Here’s what I think. The problem is that many of us think the problem is our circumstances: our job, our home/flat, our study or our relationships. We divert responsibility away from our own survival mentality and onto how tough everyone and everything else is making it for us. Here’s the truth, if you are exhausted now you will still be exhausted next year unless you change your mentality.

Until you accept and lean into the reality of struggle, inconvenience and discomfort as the norm of living you will always be trying to get back to a sense of rest and peace that doesn’t exist anywhere within this world. It can only exist within you.

Here’s some ideas about how to break your survival mentality. You might need counseling, mentoring or some good friends to help you work it out.

Live like the future version of yourself. If you can’t stand to be alone and continually surround yourself with people then it will inevitably become even harder to be alone. Equally, if you take an hour or two each day to be alone you will become accustomed to the comfort of it. When that moment of cultivated solitude is interrupted (and it will be) life will seem overwhelming and it will begin to seem more and more like people and demands are encroaching on your health. If you create in your life a low resilience to interruption and inconvenience then life will only be more and more exhausting to you, particularly when a spouse and kids enter the equation. If you want to have issues being alone, surround yourself constantly with people – if you want to have issues relating to people, then hide away. These are self-perpetuating cycles so you will need to fight for a balance that allows you to do day-to-day life without being overwhelmed by it.

Cultivate inner-peace The world will only get noisier. We are not living in a culture that is going to allow us to craft peaceful space within it like it used to. With this in mind the expectation of finding places and experiences that perfectly nourish our desires for tranquility is fleeting. Your environment will not change, so you’re going to have to. There will need to be a peace that is deeper than having everything in its proper place and being able to ‘escape’. We each need to work at the spiritual level to have an anchor that sits deeper than the waves around us. One that is more than a tidy room or a beautiful walk in the woods.

Accept that this is life M Scott Peck begins his well-known psychology book with the declaration that life is pain. He says that once we accept this, we can then begin to problem solve it. I think many of us could move on from survival mode if we accepted that our surroundings are not optimal for us to flourish in and got on with it. Expect to stub your toe at some point this year, expect to be heartbroken, expect car repairs to cost more than you thought they would – this is life. We have very little power on how these things unfold, but we do have a choice about whether we let them unsettle and disturb us. It’s not that these things don’t hurt, but that we need to reframe these not as interruptions to life but as simply the reality of being alive.