Separations, divorces, deaths in the family, economic hardships, illnesses. Many of our Sixty and Me community have made it through difficult times. We are survivors. We have learned from our experiences and from the experiences of others.

Alone

One of my favorite TV shows is the History Channel’s Alone. It’s a reality show that starts by putting ten survival experts each about five miles apart on the shores of Vancouver Island. They are placed in an uninhabited jungle, and the contestant who quits last wins half a million dollars.

Some standard survival gear is provided and they can choose a limited amount of additional stuff. They will have to weather the rainy Vancouver climate and try to find food from the ocean and in the jungle, while coping with complete solitude.

The first year had five of the ten contestants quit within the first week. The winner won by enduring for 56 days. The second year’s crew did much better, having learned from watching films of the first bunch.

Relatedly and recently, an exciting and dramatic adventure novel by Paul Draker was published. The book is called New Year Island and examines the qualities crucial to successful survival under very unusual conditions. It made me wonder to what degree these qualities might be important in our everyday lives.

Draker’s book presents an Alone-like competition on an isolated island. He has a lecturer tell the competitors what characteristics psychologists have found to be common among the exceptional one-tenth who survive extraordinary, life-or-death situations. Here are the 10 survivor characteristics. How can these attributes contribute to our own lives, even outside of crises?

Will to Live

This is the basic version of what the French call joie de vivre. It is an exuberant, energetic appreciation of the gift of life, a gift that comes with an expiration date unknown to us. We enjoy life fully, while we can. It is a realization that survival is as much mental as physical. This can be very powerful when writing a memoir – to see and appreciate the complexity of light and dark.

Resilience

Resilience helps us cope with ups and downs, twists and turns… at work, at play, at home. We don’t sweat the small stuff, don’t fuss about minor matters. We accept that life is change. Defeat is temporary. It is the ability to be flexible in the face of adversity.

Self-confidence

Self-confidence fuels our moving forward. It attracts others to us, as long as we do not become smug or over-confident. We succeed partly because we believe we can. It is the feeling of having no need to prove anything to anybody.

Playfulness

Playfulness adds to our enjoyment of life and to the enjoyment felt by those with whom we interact, helping us to attract allies. Competition in business or school or even in love can be seen as a game, and we can take an attitude of “win some, lose some” to temper our elation at winning or our dejection at losing. Playfulness can stimulate creativity. A playful person is experimental and has a willingness to break rules and test limits.

Alertness

We must be alert, aware of our environment and the people around us. Opportunity may knock, but we must be listening to hear it. Prudent early action can prevent major problems. It is the ability to appraise changing situations rapidly and read people well.

Unpredictability

“Unpredictability”? This surprised me. What author Draker meant was that we should not bring the same approach to all our situations. We need to be able to be rational or emotional, sweet or acerbic, soft or firm, even gentle or rough, as appropriate. Varying your style can reveal new options to you. If your only approach is to be a hammer, you will misjudge problems to be nails. It is the ability to combine opposing characteristics for flexibility and surprise.

Empathy

Empathy is not just nice; it is a component of success. Our consideration for the feelings of others will often be returned through their consideration for us. Teamwork is fostered, allies gained and maintained. Shared success is more likely and more valuable than individualistic failure. An empathetic person cares about others without being paralyzed by concern.

Intuition

We know more than we can prove. Can you trust him? Is she a true friend? Going with your gut has merit, although one needs to apply it cautiously. The heart has reasons the mind cannot grasp. However, if we get solid information that contradicts our gut feelings, it is time to reconsider. Being intuitive allows a person to connect with their feelings and instincts.

Synergy

Synergy occurs when the combination of two things produces results much greater than the simple sum of the two would predict. When two people do more than just fill gaps, they have synergy. When each improves and reinforces the other, this pairing out-performs prediction. It is the ability to combine dissimilar elements. This makes hard problems easier.

Spirituality

This is about having faith and belief that survival is possible. Spirituality has been found helpful, often crucial, in sustaining those in terrible situations. In our daily lives, a belief in the benevolence of the universe or a faith in the guidance of a Supreme Being helps propel us through adversity and contributes to confidence, resilience, empathy, and enjoyment of life. Besides, God might just give us a helping hand.

Beyond Surviving

You can be thriving, not just surviving. Skills that have gotten you this far can be honed to take you farther still. Play on!

Have you weathered a situation recently that made you feel like a survivor? Did some of these listed skills come into play? Please join the conversation below.

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