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  • Stephen Scott Johnson

Are you stuck in survival mode?

Updated: Feb 2

This week I celebrated my 53rd cycle of the sun. Each year on my birthday, I open the tall glass jar on my table filled with multi-coloured love notes – a record of the big and small moments of gratitude I experience throughout the year. I’ve been upholding this practice for a while, and on New Year’s Eve, mindfully read and then burn the notes as a symbol of renewal and transition from one year to the next.


Unlike previous years, 2020 is filled with incidental moments of presence – hugs, walks, surprise conversations, random acts of kindness – a sign of the significance of connection at a time when our social discourse has been one of fear, uncertainty, and resistance. Notwithstanding, this year we’ve seen entire communities of stranger’s rally to support those in need – tales of courage in the face of loss and struggle – heroic acts of everyday people turning crisis into opportunity. Understandably, people’s anticipation to embrace 2021 is palpable. One client recently described the transition as having to step-through a ‘psychological gate’ and consciously ‘switch off’ survival mode. It got me thinking – do the strategies we implement to overcome threats and maintain security inevitably stop us from growing?


Earlier this year I wrote about antifragility, the notion that instead of trying to become more resilient we can learn to positively transform shocks and grow from chaos and disorder. It’s easier said than done, albeit the upside of wellbeing practices like meditation, mindfulness, and systematic relaxation techniques is that we develop immunity to stressors. The downside is our biological hardwiring towards comfort and avoidance of pain – the innate tendency to overprotect and remain closed from the outside world, shielded for longer than is healthy or necessary. It’s like locking yourself inside your house and pulling down the shades.


“Real spiritual growth happens when there’s only one of you inside – there’s not a part of you that’s scared and another part that’s protecting the part that’s scared. All parts are unified.” – Michael A. Singer


There comes a point when you realise that you’re disconnected and alone in the dark, and you want to feel the sun on your face again. Living like this allows for very little spontaneous joy, enthusiasm, and inspiration for life, and the prolonged isolation narrows our scope of concern and we start to obsess about the insignificant. In other words, we become trapped in negative patterns of thinking and behaviour that our undermine joy, freedom and success, and it becomes harder to stay connected and maintain perspective – to see the bigger, more positive picture and creative possibilities that are right in front of you.


Open your heart and embrace 2021 with courage and optimism. If you’re stuck in survival mode, consider whether the strategies that helped you survive this year will serve you in the next? What will make the biggest difference personally? What do you need to let go of? What will you gain? What’s your game plan?


Until next time...