A science-based framework to move from surviving to thriving

It’s normal to experience unease during intense times. Fear is wired into us to keep us safe from danger. Without balanced thinking, fear can overwhelm our ability to make smart, conscious decisions. When your primal brain is engaged, which is responsible for survival (the sympathetic response), your frontal cortex — which is responsible for impulse control and reasoning — is not working much unless you have developed it to do so.

And with the global upheaval created by coronavirus pandemic — even if you’ve escaped immediate physical danger — the encompassing uncertainty may be triggering survival mode thinking. The hazardous results of this mode of thinking are irrational decisions, panicking over things we can’t control, developing and strengthening a fear-based mentality.

But what if instead of operating on the survival operating system during crises, you could engage a different part of your brain — the part that solves problems and helps you reason and make wise decisions — so you can keep yourself thriving?

Here’s how I stepped out of ‘survival mode’ thinking to a thriving mindset as an operating system — and how you can too:

Years ago, when I was told that I had a terminal disease and that it was “game over,” I was distraught. But when I thought my life was over, surprisingly enough, that was when I was finally able to lay the groundwork for it to truly begin.

Although I had achieved plenty — from starting successful companies to being a top ad exec — the truth found in the moment of facing my mortality struck me like a lightning bolt: I had been living my life based on fear and scarcity. And I had been so focused on surviving that I missed thriving and being fulfilled.

I realized that growing up thinking I had to prove myself to be loved drove me to become a super-achiever — and I had been “achieving” to survive based on fear. When those self-imposed blinders were ripped off, I vowed to start truly living life.

I made the decision that if I was going to die, I was going to die happy and fulfilled.

When I shifted, I listened to the parts of my brain not focused on survival, and could finally focus on thriving. And miraculously, my disease disappeared, and I found fulfillment.

That framework to go from surviving to thriving involves three key steps:

First, recognize that your fear is triggered autonomously — and often irrationally. The fear that is activated when we sense deadly danger is also spurred by uncertainty.

The simple solution to avoid triggering is to stay present, use consciousness and discern the level of danger that is at hand. As Marie Curie put it, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”

And the best way to help you respond versus react is to ask yourself — out loud — “What is my fear, and is it rational?” I suggest out loud because just saying it audibly can often bring to light if it’s rational or not. When we say our fears aloud they can often seem less alarming or even ridiculous — allowing us to determine what level of engagement is needed and move forward.

Mortality aside, when I examined my life, I realized there was no real danger in missing out on the status and trappings of my super-achiever career. The true danger was not following my dreams and desires.

During the current pandemic, you can also separate irrational fears — triggered by ostentatious headlines, or by others — and discern them from real ones using this method. Processing your fears and looking at them through a conscious lens can allow you to filter your responses, make good decisions and tackle the problem one conscious step at a time.

Using your curiosity and making conscious decisions shifts you from a state of fear and vulnerability to one of empowerment.

Second, stop thinking about scarcity, and focus on prosperity.

During times of intense stress, it’s easier than ever to slip into what’s known as a scarcity mindset, meaning you feel as though vital resources are limited, such as money, time, and success. Those with a prosperity mindset, on the other hand, see things as just that — growing, thriving, prosperous. There is plenty to go around, and there always will be.

According to Psychology Today, “The context of scarcity makes you myopic (exhibiting bias toward here and now). The mind is focused on present scarcity. We overvalue immediate benefits at the expense of future ones (e.g., procrastinate important things, such as medical checkups, or exercising).”

In today’s scarcity-oriented environment (in terms of jobs, the ability to roam freely — I could go on and on), it’s easy to start out every day with what is missing.

But if we do, then we become practiced in approaching life that way. And then we wonder why we feel insecure, scared, or unsafe. There’s no level of trust. What we’re really saying to ourselves, if we are being honest with ourselves, is that we don’t trust ourselves or anything else, and that is what is informing our entire approach to how to have a successful life.

There’s a big emotional quotient to this. You have to be honest about how you are feeling about yourself. Do you have the confidence that you can steer your ship, whether it’s a fleet or a rowboat?

The most freeing thing I’ve ever experienced is increasing the level of trust I have in myself. I can listen to others and make my own determinations about their counsel, but at the end of the day, I trust myself. It doesn’t mean I won’t make mistakes, but I will trust I will do my best and that my best is enough.

Third, make yourself the safest place to be.

If you are the best place to be, no matter what is going on around you, you have someplace to go. As Oprah Winfrey said, “It is confidence in our bodies, minds, and spirits that allows us to keep looking for new adventures.”

You cannot change what happens to the outside world, but you can always change your thinking. Take a minute to entrust yourself. You’ve guided yourself through thick and thin, and you were the ultimate compass. We’re often braver, stronger, and more capable than we realize.

Remember a time when you summoned bravery from within. Whether you realize it or not, you’re armed with that right now.

Vista Caballo is an award-winning, international personal and leadership development center for conscious leaders—leaders who know that it is only through the power of self-discovery and personal transformation will we be able to propel perceptive human solutions to our social and environmental problems. Vista Caballo is a certified B Corp and has been recognized as Best for The World consecutively since 2015.

Fast Company has hailed Lisa Arie the CEO Whisperer. She is a master facilitator and the go-to expert for transforming the unexpected moment.


The tools and experiences she and her teams have designed equip people to lead in moments where rules are obsolete and anything is possible. Contact us if you’re ready to take the reins of your subconscious thinking, shift your mindset, trust yourself to make bigger, bolder, better decisions and become unstoppable in any environment.