Deep Survival: The qualities that make “a survivor”

Posted on October 7, 2015 by Dr. Lynda

We’re going to have some fun with our instincts for survival today and share some fascinating facts you can use daily. First, a series of three questions to prime the pump on your impulses:

  • If six people wind up in a lifeboat and 50 days later, only two survive, what do you think was special about those two? Why did they survive?
  • If six friends go snowmobiling in the back country and cause an avalanche, what’s different about the two who survive the ordeal?
  • If 10 Smoke Jumpers are caught in a forest fire when the conditions call for split second, and only two survive, how did they negotiate their situation differently from the eight who perished?

These kinds of questions (and many, many more) are answered in an insightful, gripping book called Deep Survival, written by Laurence Gonzales. I’m not particularly interested in this subject, but a friend of mine recommended this book because he found the insights so compelling and very useful in our stressful daily lives.

And he was absolutely right. No matter who you are or what your interests are, if you have some stress you might find this book helpful and all the while, a remarkable read. I read the entire book with a pen in hand and starred sections I wanted to re-read periodically for reminders.  Now I keep it bedside for a quick peek from time to time.

About Deep Survivial by Laurence Gonzales

Image: The cover of "Deep Survival" by Laurence Gonzales. A picture of a man on top of a cliff. "Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why"
Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. CLICK HERE to order your own copy today.

The essence of the book is that after studying survivors from a myriad of situations, it turns out that there are some essential characteristics common to almost all survivors. In fact, it’s very rare that “luck” is part of the equation. In short, emotions can hijack our brains and take over our behavior. How we react in the moment, and the decisions we make, can change everything.

Mindfully managing the facts and your responses, especially against your emotional impulses, appears to be the key.

But we’d like to take this tremendous read a step further, and follow the author’s lead in pointing out that this knowledge would be helpful in our efforts to survive the tests of everyday life. For example: getting along with a mother-in-law for a week, handling an obnoxious colleague at work, or dealing with a teenager who is looking at his texts while you are trying to talk to him.

Mindfully managing the facts and your responses against your momentary emotional impulses – that’s the key. Deep Survival brims with solid tips for survival in general and compelling stories that drive home every point.

A Wonderful Review of Deep Survival

Deep Survival was the first scientific book on survival. It set the bar and started the trend that spawned a spate of imitations. Since its publication, this best-seller has been embraced by everyone from the head of training for the Navy SEALs to the Sloan School of Management at MIT. Its appeal has been so broad and deep because the principles in Deep Survival apply to any challenge that life poses, from coping with a financial crisis to battling a life threatening illness or dealing with addiction and recovery. And psychologists, oncologists, business executives, and clergy have brought the principles of Deep Survival to their clients to help them face adversity, to manage risk, and to enhance decision making in every form.” 1 Interviews

Here’s a short interview with author Laurence Gonzalez that we found on, which gives you a taste of the book:

Challenges and Considerations Gleaned From Gonzales’ Novel

Deep Survival is a page-turner for anyone. And, if you wish you could find a good book for a teenage boy or man in your life, this one’s the ticket! I gave the book to my brother Alex, a former F15 fighter pilot and today an airline pilot, for Christmas and he had it within arms reach for the next four days.

I even used the insights recently for the basis of an important three-hour staff meeting at my dental office, Fiddlehead Dental.

Here are some ways I challenged my team at work to consider the stories in this book:

  1. Most of us are not going to find ourselves in a lifeboat, but we will have to face bitter complexities of emotional survival almost daily. What are some very difficult scenarios we should be prepared to negotiate more mindfully? Do you have an obnoxious coworker, a difficult teenager, or a relative who is repeatedly challenging your peace-of-mind? You might easily write in the margins of this book as you read and help yourself prepare for the next moment that requires quick thinking. How will we negotiate our emotions?
  2. We used the book to diagnose some old, failed situations. Have you had personal or professional experiences in which emotion was so high that you couldn’t actually see the facts? In retrospect, how might that situation have turned out better?
  3. Laughter quiets the amygdala, the area of the brain known as the centerpiece of the fear response. That’s why dark humor evolves from the worst situations. Can we use that in our lowest moments?
  4. In chapter two, two snowmobile riders die in an avalanche caused by their sport of “hammer-heading.” They were warned of the danger, but one of them, overcome by emotion, impulsively ran up the hill anyway. Others followed, and the avalanche broke. Is that what’s going on here, in so many circles?
  5. Chapter four discusses mental models and the trouble they can cause. This is the phenomenon of not seeing something that’s “right under your nose.” When have we found ourselves using the wrong mental model?
  6. Gut feelings are an essential ingredient of being aware enough of your environment to survive. Do you think you follow your gut? Can you think of important decisions you’ve made based on intuition or gut feeling?
Image: Survival Training Navy Seals. 3 Men walking through a lake covered in ice, in the background, snow covered mountains.

In the appendix, Gonzales discusses twelve traits of survivors. After reading this book, you might have ample inspirations to go through each of those traits and ask: do I practice this trait in my everyday life? How can I improve my ability to survive both the small and large events in my life by doing a better job of acting like a survivor?

We won’t recommend books very often on EWC, but this one is special, adventure mixed with amazing insights – both personal and professional. There’s no better way to learn! It’s one of those books you could read again every three or four years and take away different, useful pearls every time.

Feel free to browse Laurence Gonzales’ website, where you can browse through his various novels and buy Deep Survival through your favorite retailer (or again, you can order it directly off by clicking here.) Enjoy!

I’ve got to get back to surviving my current ordeal: editing 300 articles for this new iteration of our website! Let me know if you find things that are not working or missing on this new version of That would be a big help to us!

You can contact me at [email protected] Thanks!


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Meanwhile, stay open, curious and hopeful.

~ Dr. Lynda