Challenge Yourself, Realise your dreams, True Stories

Saying No to Survival Mode

What do you do when you’re running behind schedule? Run faster?

Since I started rolling with the Small Product Lab, ideas keep flowing, take on shape, expand…just wonderful! I love this creative energy and I want to do everything at once.

Of course I can’t. I can have – and I do have – several larger and smaller projects in progress, so I always got something that fits my current circumstances and mood and keeps me from getting into a rut. But it’s not possible to do two things at the same time and give them my full attention.

So the usual questions are what to do first, what is more important? Once I’ve asked these questions I’m ready to start spinning into Survival Mode, and then it’s only a question of time when I’ll start running behind schedule.

Spinning into Survival Mode

The usual stages of Survival Mode, as I see them:

  1. setting the wrong priorities, based on thoughts of loss or limitation or comparison with what others do (I need, must, should…; if I don’t, then…)

    central station
    Image Credit: Nicolai Berntsen
  2. cramming my schedule, resulting in more pressure, mainly “must’s” and “oh-no’s”
  3. “brain block” due to running on adrenalin (fight or flight)
  4. running behind schedule, even with the “most important” things
  5. energy depletion, all joy drained from my life, facing mountains where before there were molehills

    Image Credit: Samuel Zeller via unsplash
    Image Credit: Samuel Zeller

The tricky thing about spinning into Survival Mode is that I often don’t recognize the first stage because I enjoy what I’m doing. For the same reason I don’t mind a full schedule, and the warning adrenalin surges of the third stage I mis-take for excitement and enthusiasm.

The first warning sign I’m consciously aware of is running behind schedule, but often only once the delay is so great that I can’t help but notice.

Our Natural Operating Mode: Relaxed

The keyword here is “running”. I picture this as me running before a train gathering speed (= my life, especially my work), or running after it, never being fast enough. The fear that makes me run is that if I didn’t, I’d either be run over or lose (out on) something – which points directly back to the first stage, that is the origin of the problem: thoughts of loss or limitation.

But it’s even worse: The greater the pressure, the more impossible it seems to deal and keep up with the demands, and the less likely it becomes that I see where I went wrong.

Knowing that Relaxed Mode is my natural state of being makes me only rather angry as long as I’m not able to relax, no matter how hard I try…

Duh. So what now?

It’s simple: Stop running. Don’t try. Forget about “hard”. Just be.

Doesn’t it take courage to “just stop”?

Only as long as I think the danger is “real”. But what are the speedy train or the overwhelming mass of a mountain, really? Nothing but thoughts, images I created in my mind. Once I realise this, I can change the images – and change my perceived reality.

I can step off the track. I may find myself between two tracks, but safe.

Image Credit: Will Langenberg
Image Credit: Will Langenberg

Or I become aware of the many other opportunities surrounding me.

Image Credit: Chris Sardegna
Image Credit: Chris Sardegna

And once I’ve relaxed and invited fun back into my life, the images in my mind have shifted and I discover something amazing:

I am the train. I’m my own train, with my own itinary and schedule. I’m not running all the time. I have breaks for maintenance and for fun. I can go fast or go slowly to enjoy the scenery.

Spiraling into Creative Mode

Getting in touch with my Self and acknowledging my desires is the first step.

The second step is letting go of control of the when and how.

This may seem counter-intuitive, now that I know what I want and having decided on the tracks I want to use. But this is exactly what gets Survival Mode going: trying to control the outcome, basing my goals on Should’s et al, forcing a schedule, struggling to stick with it, and disabling myself gradually by beating myself up…

Fortunately I have not only the experience of putting myself under pressure, but also increasingly of how to rid myself of it: Let go and allow.

I don’t know what’s around the next bend or how many bends there are, but the rails are heading towards the light, and that’s all I need to know to stay on this track.

Image Credit: Ales Krivec
Image Credit: Ales Krivec

When I do, often the destination is not what I wanted or thought it to be. It’s far, far better than what I wanted in the first place – regularly!

Who is running the train of your life?

Have you perhaps (like me) been brought up to think it’s selfish to have wishes and desires? Have you been taught always to put “the others” first, or to make do or to be OK with anything you are presented with – that is with the choices made by others for you?

Sure we need to cooperate with all the other trains with which we share the tracks or or meet at a station. But that does NOT mean that we allow certain trains to dictate the schedules for all others.

The first, essential choice – what we’d like to do, and when and how we’d like to do it – is the responsibility of each individual train. If we trains don’t know where they want to go, where’s the point in even starting a discussion? And if we don’t speak up, no wonder the bolder trains are taking over.

Smooth operation for all is guaranteed when we stop running behind schedules and instead cooperate and support each other –  which is a matter of logistics and communication, not of giving away our Right of Choice.

Wishing you a delightful journey,


PS: You really want to overcome your limiting thoughts, but don’t quite know how to get started? Or maybe you have no idea what they might be? Here are two posts I wrote four years ago; maybe you find them inspiring:

Flying Beyond Your Limitations

Warning: This little exercise may change your life

Image credits (all via unsplash): Nicolai BerntsenSamuel ZellerWill LangenbergChris SardegnaAles Krivec


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