Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What It Takes To Survive

Link to Newsweek excerpt of book by Ben Sherwood

Why do some people live and others die? Why do a few stay calm and collected under extreme pressure when others panic and unravel? How do some bounce back from adversity while others collapse and surrender?

The best survivors and thrivers understand that crisis is inevitable, and they anticipate adversity. Understanding that even misfortune gets tired and needs a break, they're able to hold back, identify the right moment and then do what they need to do. Psychologists have a clunky term for this: active passiveness. It means recognizing when to stop and when to go. In a critical sense, doing something can mean doing nothing. Action can be inaction, and embracing this paradox can save your life.

In any emergency, people divide into three categories, Leach says. First, there are the survivors like the 155 people on US Airways Flight 1549, who manage to save themselves in the worst situations. Second, there are unavoidable fatalities: people who never have a chance, like so many of the 200,000 people in Southeast Asia who were swept away by the tsunami of 2004. Third, there are victims who should have lived but perished unnecessarily.

After examining countless disasters and categorizing the ways people respond to life-threatening situations, Leach came up with what might be called the theory of 10-80-10. First, around 10 percent of us will handle a crisis in a relatively calm and rational state of mind. The top 10 percent are leaders, like a few passengers on the US Airways flight who took charge and guided others off the plane.

Leach says the vast majority of us—around 80 percent—fall into the second category.

The last group—the final 10 percent—is the one you definitely want to avoid in an emergency. Simply put, the third band does the wrong thing. They behave inappropriately and often counterproductively. In plain terms, they freak out and can't pull themselves together. And they often don't survive.

Neuroticism is a personality trait of people who tend to be anxious, tense and sensitive to stress, he explains. In the gorilla experiment, people with high levels of neuroticism are very serious and intense about their assignment to count the number of basketball passes. People with low levels are calmer and less sensitive to stress. According to Wiseman, lucky people usually are more laid-back and open to life's possibilities—like giant headlines in his newspaper experiment—while unlucky people are more uptight, nervous and closed off.

Wiseman has concluded that there are four reasons why good things happen to certain people:
  1. Lucky people frequently happen upon chance opportunities
  2. Lucky people listen to their hunches and make good decisions without really knowing why
  3. Lucky people persevere in the face of failure and have an uncanny knack for making their wishes come true
  4. Lucky people have a special ability to turn bad luck into good fortune
Psychological concepts mentioned in the excerpt:
  • active passiveness - knowing when to stop, and when to go
  • incredulity response - people simply don't believe what they're seeing
  • normalcy bias/analysis paralysis - people act as if everything is OK and underestimate the seriousness of danger
  • inattentional blindness - we don't notice things when we don't pay real attention

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