If I’m being honest, I feel like 2018 was a year of living with a constant survival mode mentality. Between raising a toddler, taking on new projects at work, and trying to make time for important relationships, I’ve often found myself thinking… “Once my daughter learns how to do _________, things will get easier” or “If we can just make it to Christmas, then we’ll be able to slow down and catch our breath finally.” But those “destinations” never provide the kind of relief I was expecting.
Whenever I’m in survival mode, we find ourselves thinking, “If I can just make it through the day…” and automatically dismiss anything that might threaten my ability to achieve that goal. That mentality lulls me into embracing the status quo and eliminating as much uncertainty and unpredictability as possible. The more default decisions I can have, the better. My lizard brains take. I do everything I can to make sure life is comfortable and secure.
The Problem with “Survival Mode”
When I’m in survival mode, there seems to be this cost-benefit analysis when it comes to finding joy. What’s going to take the right amount of effort for some joy, but without too much cost?
However, constantly asking this question doesn’t just impact me. It impacts everyone around me.
When we get into “survival mode” mentality, everyone around us is affected. Before you know it, you wake up and realize you haven’t been on a date with your wife in 6 months. You run into a good friend and realize it’s been a year since you had a meaningful conversation.
When our default is “I don’t have the margin for that” it creates collateral damage that extends far beyond our individual worlds. We don’t benefit from the gifts others provide and others don’t benefit from the gifts only we can offer.
The Paradoxical Antidote for Getting Out of Survival Mode
As paradoxical (and potentially uncomfortable) as it may sound, the antidote for getting out of our survival mode mentality is to get uncomfortable. We must recognize that the meaning or joy we’re constantly waiting for in survival mode can only happen when we commit to doing harder things for a higher payoff.
So how do we fight the survival mode mentality we’ll all be tempted to embrace this year? Here are a few practical ideas:
1. Recognize the things that you automatically write off.
What are those things that you automatically reject — those things that you’re avoiding because it initially seems like the cost is too high? Simply getting in the habit of recognizing when we do this is a great first step to identifying areas in which we might be slipping into survival mode.
2. Consider what your actions (or non-actions) indicate about your beliefs.
Our actions reveal our beliefs 100% of the time. For example, I can say that friendships are important to me, but if I’m not actively investing in any relationships, my actions indicate that’s not really true. Whenever you recognize that you’re acting out of survival mode, consider what that says about your beliefs. Do you really believe everything is up to you? Or do you need to be reminded of the truth that there are certain things you can’t control?
3. Replace “survival mode” with “slow death mode.”
Survival mode is sneaky because it’s an idea we can easily accept for a season. Problems surface when that season becomes a new reality. The only way to fight the belief that staying inside the ordinary is the only way to survive is to replace “survival mode” with “slow death mode.” We must remember that if we’re not actively growing, we’re actually dying.
4. Stop waiting for things to get easier.
Survival mode tempts us to believe the lie that if we can just make it through the hard stuff, things will eventually get easier. It’s the idea of working for the weekend or believing that “once she starts walking things will be great because I won’t have to carry her all the time.”
When we do this, we’re essentially doing everything we can to avoid the present moment. We put our hope in a future moment, which robs us of any potential joy in the present moment. We must remember that the only way it gets easier is by being present and living in the moment.
Here’s to Doing More than Surviving in 2019
My hope for all of us, regardless of the season of life we’re in, is that we’d watch out for the trap of “survival mode” this year. Yes, there will be times this year where we just have to get through it. But none of us want to get stuck in the rut that survival mode creates.
Don’t automatically say no to things that look hard this year. Instead, do the difficult thing. You might find more life there.