I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t want to thrive, yet so many people feel stuck in survival mode dealing with an endless cycle of not having enough. While there are many reasons for this, some individual, some complex, and some understood, I believe the biggest reason is the lack of awareness of the unrelenting force that is constantly trying to revert you to survival mode. In fact, it’s pushing you back to the prehistoric evolutionary state of survival and the force is as unrelenting as gravity.
Our brains have evolved significantly over the course of human history however, the reptilian part of our brain, which is geared towards survival, has a disproportionate amount of control over how you feel, think and act, and ultimately how you show up as a leader in your life.
In 2018, there is little need to operate in survival mode and for the times it’s needed, it affects fewer people than previously and much less frequently. While there is still unimaginable human suffering, according to the United Nations and OurWolrdInData, there are fewer wars, fewer people in poverty, more children have access to education and fewer people (children under 5 in particular) dying of preventable illnesses. There is much less need for any human to operate in survival mode, and this also applies to those in the developed world.
Yet survival mode is a daily reality for far too many people because of the unrelenting force that is constantly pushing you back in survival mode. The unrelenting force is composed of a couple of traits inherent to our humanity.
We accentuate the negative — our brain’s ability to notice the negative is credited as one of the big reasons humans exist today. Our ancestors were able to survive in treacherous conditions in the face of much larger and faster predators. This tendency is still hardwired into the human brain today, which makes us pay more attention to negative events than positive events and circumstances. This hypersensitivity to negative events keeps us in survival mode.
We adapt — when good things happen in our life (get a raise, buy a new car, start a new relationship, or receive a positive medical diagnosis), we initially notice the good but quickly we start to adapt to these good fortunes. This causes that initial feeling of joy, satisfaction, and happiness associated with more disposable income from a raise to fade over time and sometimes completely disappear, leaving us wishing for the next raise and more disposable income. The adaptation happens slowly without us even noticing it and before you know it, we’re back to survival mode and feeling we don’t have enough.
Leaders that show up in survival mode operate out of fear, anxiety, and stress. Unfortunately, this is the kind of environment the leader will create — whether it’s at work, at home or in the community.
Leaders that overcome the unrelenting force and show up in thriving mode operate out of abundance, possibility and happiness. Because of this, they create environments for thriving teams which may be a work team, a group of friends, a family, or a community group.
Your best defence against the unrelenting force is gratitude. Simply pick up the habit of making a gratitude list every day. Emmons and McCullough, the pioneers who instigated the interest in gratitude with social scientists, used the gratitude list in their initial studies and it is the most studied and proven way to escape the trap of being stuck in survival mode. The key is to keep it simple.
Each day, I write down 3 things I’m grateful for and I haven’t missed a day in probably 12 years. This translates into more than 13,000 gratitudes over the years. You can imagine that my gratitude lists have included a lot.
To scratch the surface, my gratitudes include things like relationships, freedom, social services like garbage collection and education, things that make me laugh, my health, mentors, family and friends, and the things they’ve done for me. Even small things like the smell of a BBQ, the quiet of cold winter morning, the feeling of my breathe, and the satisfaction in mowing the lawn. There is plenty to be grateful for. Find a time of day that works for you and pick up a journal or electronic app or notepad, then make a list of three things you’re grateful for.
Making a gratitude list may get boring at times, but I encourage you to just stick with this. I can’t say how long it will take you to pick up the habit. Contrary to the popular urban myth that it takes 21 days to build a habit, it may take a few weeks or it might be a few months. Regardless, I guarantee you’ll notice a huge difference in your life as spend more time thriving and less time surviving.
Join me on the journey to the launch of my new book this fall. It’s called “Surviving to Thriving: The 10 Laws of Grateful Leadership” This book is the ultimate guide on gratitude and its importance for spending more time thriving and less time surviving. Through reading the book, you’ll deeply understand how to implement gratitude in all aspects of your life.
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