For most of my adult life, I’ve hustled. And most of that hustle has come down to one thing: survival—money, food, shelter, and safety. And to be honest… this meant that I primarily thought about money. Money meant food. Money meant shelter. Money meant safety.
Adrenalized fear fueled this hustle. The fear of running out. The fear of not having enough. The fear of losing everything. The fear of being homeless, workless, moneyless, powerless. These fears back-burnered my motivation, my drive. If I kept hustling, moving, running, pushing—I’d be safe, I’d be fed, I’d have shelter, I’d be ok. As the sole-provider for my family of two, I felt not only the privilege, but also the burden of needing to be one step ahead of the rat-race. I can’t even count how many hours, minutes, years of my life have been squandered on trying to figure out how to have enough money to be ok. How to have enough income to feel safe. How to have enough, period. I lived in survival mode. I slept in survival mode. Always hustling and never feeling safe.
Self-preservation is a basic animal instinct. The instinct to stay alive, to stay safe, to stay fed.
“Survival mode” happens when you have a dysfunctional relationship to this instinct. Rather than truly providing food, shelter, safety—you catastrophize and generalize about possible futures. You scare yourself with general and non-specific stories. You focus on short-term gratification rather than long-term planning. In this state, it’s easy to get hooked on the high of adrenaline. In this state, you’re a hamster on a wheel, always hustling to outrun the bad-guy, never gaining ground.
How to get out of survival mode:
Take an honest look at your adrenalized state. This is where you’ve got to be really real with yourself and call your own bluff. You’ve got to ask yourself hard questions like: How is this serving me? What is this adrenalized hustle distracting me from? Do I even like this? Is there a better way?
Chart your habitual patterns of thought without judgment. This means that you take a few minutes, an hour, or even a day to write down your common thoughts. Take note of patterns and write them down. Thoughts hold power, but you can take the power back just by becoming a neutral witness. Your mind is most likely bouncing between just a few topics (money, relationship, body, family). Once you chart this out, the adrenaline will lessen. You’ll see a pattern emerge and you won’t feel so reactive.
Fear means do something. When you’re stuck in a dysfunctional relationship with your self-preservation instinct it becomes a feedback loop of fear and anxiety. Break this pattern by doing something, anything, to move forward and away from danger. Ask yourself: What’s one small behavior I can change right now that will create a sense of safety in this moment?
Extend your horizon. Survival mode requires that your horizon becomes very close up and very close in. It means that you’re focused on the next thing, the next drama, the next catastrophe. Maybe it means that you’re just trying to make it to Friday’s paycheck, or maybe it means that you’re just trying to finish the next project. No matter where your horizon line happens to be, to find more calm and to be more effective, move your focus further out. If you’re focused on making it until Friday, try to focus on how you’ll make it over the next 30 days. If you’re trying to make it through this project, begin planning for the next three projects. Rather than putting out immediate fires, with a broader horizon, you’ll have more perspective, more time, and more peace throughout your life.
Want to hear more about this subject? We covered this and more in Episode 53 of Spiritualish.