We’ve all read books or seen movies about a random group of strangers thrown together by some crisis (shipwreck, plane crash, earthquake, war, alien invasion, etc.). Any storyteller worth her salt will introduce the characters carefully, with some intentional misdirection. The big, strong guy looks like he will do just fine, while the mousy, little lady will probably fall apart at the first sign of trouble. In the second act of the story, you will be surprised as the strong man’s character flaws and errors of judgment doom him to a quick end, while the little lady rises to the occasion.

In real life, there are a thousand variables to who survives in a crisis. Where you sat on the plane, which floor of the building you worked on, or which immunities your DNA carried are unknowable and uncontrollable. And the factors that contribute to survival could fill a book.

But three factors that will dramatically lower your chance of surviving any crisis (physical, financial, family, etc.) are: a negative attitude, inflexible thinking, and a passive personality. If you have all three, you are the least likely to emerge from whatever crucible you are going through unscathed.

By contrast, an optimistic attitude allows you to endure hardship. Flexible thinking allows you to adapt your behavior. And proactive personalities make their own luck, by preparing for and seizing any opportunities that present themselves.

Life is full of all sorts of traumatic situations. Prepare yourself by changing yourself before they hit. But how?

Here’s a tip: imitate the behaviors you want to cultivate. Pretend to be positive, even if you don’t feel that way. Bite your tongue and go with the flow, even if it absolutely rubs your fur back the wrong way. And take some initiative every day, about something. Spend time around positive, flexible, and proactive folks even if you feel like you don’t belong among them and their qualities are like chalk on the blackboard of your personality. Over time, some of it might rub off onto you and rub off your rough edges in the process. And if a crisis does strike, pay attention to the people that see the glass as half full, who are willing to adapt, and who don’t sit around and wait for someone else to do the work. Stick close to them, and do whatever they do. You just might get out alive.

© Greg Smith, 2013

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