I’m in Survival Mode right now. This is in stark contrast to Regular Life, in which I work, exercise, write, socialize, and do all other manner of regular, civilized activities. Right now, I have so much work to do, all I can manage is to wake up, work, eat lunch (maybe), work, go home, eat, work, drink a glass or two of wine and go to bed. And even then, it’s debatable whether I’ll actually be able to get it all done.
We all have these periods. It’s those times in life when everything lands at once, and no matter how much you might not want for things to be happening at the same time, it is out of your control to change it. This can be a combination of work things, family situations, or a range of other urgent, but unavoidable demands. For example, right now I’m in the peak season of busy at work, but I had some really juicy opportunities pop up as side projects, and so I’m choosing to take these things on, knowing full well:
- Life will be ridiculous for the next two months.
- Life will revert back to normalcy at the end of those two months.
During phases like this, I have finally learned to give myself a break. For example, if I can’t maintain my regular habits of perfect eating and exercising and general life improvement, that is OK. But it wasn’t until I defined Survival Mode that I finally was able to embrace this guilt-free.
Our bodies know how to do this automatically. When we are in grave danger for our lives, our bodies shut off non-vital processes to maximize our chances of survival. For example, your body shuts down digestion to send blood to your muscles, which need to function at peak performance, amongst other adjustments.
Survival Mode, then, is about defining vital and non-vital life management activities and determining what you will shut down, scale back, and otherwise change for Survival Mode. In addition, it is important to be very clear about defining when I am in survival mode, and when I’m no longer in that situation. The benefits of doing this include:
- Understanding exactly what you need to do in order to survive to the end of the crazy period.
- Putting a pause on your “ideals” of life habits, so that when you come out of Survival Mode, you can resume those habits more readily.
- Being clear with the people in your life about what you will and won’t do, and what you need them to do to support you.
So what does this look like? Obviously, it will vary for every person, but for me, here are some of my Survival Mode concessions:
1. Tell yourself it’s OK not to exercise as much as you normally do
Civilized life mode: Train with five-plus heavy lifting workouts each week.
Survival mode: “Exercise” two to three days a week of any class or workout I can fit in, allowing myself to cherry pick workouts based on what makes me happy.
2. Don’t worry about making super-healthy choices at every single meal
Civilized life mode: Eat as many fresh foods (fish, meats, etc.) and vegetables as possible.
Survival mode: Pick the healthiest option, given what is available, even if that means picking a whole-wheat bagel over croissants and scones. I just make sure to stay fueled without overdosing on sugar.
3. Ditto for keeping your home in perfect order
Civilized life mode: Keep the refrigerator well-stocked, hang clothes at the end of each day and wash the dishes.
Survival mode: Order take-out as often as needed, hang clothes on the back of a chair and use paper plates to eliminate any dishes that might need washing.
4. Give yourself permission to sacrifice economy for convenience
Civilized life mode: Take the subway every day—minimal cost and mostly efficient.
Survival mode: Take a taxi as needed— just getting out the door is an accomplishment.
5. Let your family know you’ll be off the grid for a while
Civilized life mode: Call family at least once a week and catch up on life.
Survival mode: Send an email to let family know I’ll be crazed for a while, but remind them I still love them. And to not be offended by my silence.
6. Don’t even think about checking social media
Civilized life mode: Stay up-to-date on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and personal emails.
Survival mode: Shut off all forms of social media and put on a “delayed response” notification for all personal emails.
I should note if you find yourself in Survival Mode for longer than two months, this is not Survival Mode; this is unsustainable life practices, and you are putting yourself in danger of severely overloading your system. You’ll have to make some very tough choices to figure out how to scale back and bring your life back into balance.
But if you are, truly in Survival Mode, you’ll feel such a sense of relief that you have planned for this crazy time, not unlike having a stockpile of canned goods, clean water, and sensible shoes for unexpected natural disasters.
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