The Blog.

In survival mode? You need pockets…

19 Oct 2015 | Work Life Rhythm

It’s been a crazy busy week. In five days, I’ve run 4 workshops and set foot in 12 different train stations (some of them several times). My husband has finally completed his MSc and is now in decompression mode, recovering mentally – and physically from a trapped nerve in his shoulder. And my son recovered from ‘hand, foot & mouth’ (which thankfully has nothing to do with ‘foot and mouth’!) in time to make 3 of his 5 day school residential trip.

It was great to end the week with a Skype chat with Michael Sliwinski, CEO of Nozbe and chief editor of Productive! Magazine, about productivity, work & family life and my upcoming book.

He asked me about my strategies for dealing with a crazy busy week – which was apt, as I had practically walked in from my workshop in Birmingham, thrown my poor husband out of the kitchen, plugged my laptop in and dialled into our interview. If you look carefully when the interview’s live, you’ll probably see all sorts of random paraphernalia in the background of my kitchen!

I realised that something I’ve learned to do, is to create pockets where I step out of survival mode.

Because while survival mode can be very effective in making sure we get through something in one piece, its long term effects are that we actually stop living.

Survival mode often means we strip back everything except for the bare essentials. We cancel that date, push back our plans, lower our expectations, shelve our dreams, and just concentrate on putting one foot in front of another without falling.

And survival mode is absolutely what we need sometimes.

But not all the time.

When we’re in survival mode we miss the small moments that make us smile, because our minds are racing ahead to the next thing. We refuse to let our minds ease and our bodies relax, because we’re constantly on alert, poised, ready to react. We never rest, because we’re never done.

We risk squeezing out the very things that bring joy, meaning and purpose into our lives. We put life on hold.

And so what I’ve realised I’ve started doing, when I’m in survival mode, is to create pockets.

Pockets of joy – where I just close my eyes on the train and let the sun warm my face. Plug my headphones in and shut out the world. Give myself permission to celebrate the tiniest of victories. Allow myself to delight in simple pleasures, like the beautifully thoughtful tea tray in my B&B room, with chocolate, cookies and fresh milk to go with my earl grey tea!

Pockets of peace – where I stop thinking about what I’ve got to do, what I’ve yet to figure out and what I need to pull off in the week ahead, and just be at peace with myself, my capacity and my choices. Where I stop mentally rehearsing and triple checking, and trust that I am enough.

Pockets of surrender – where I remind myself that I don’t have to change everything at least not right now! Where I tell myself to just let the world be for a minute. If that sounds all a bit too ‘zen’ for you, it’s also what my friend Debbie Huxton would affectionately refer to as a “F*ck it” moment. Seriously, when it all gets too much, try that. Say that out loud, with gusto, and notice how much better you feel!

Because when we allow ourselves to stand down from survival mode, just in those tiny pockets, everything changes. We remember what it’s like to be alive. We realise that we are alive, and perhaps things aren’t as threatening as they seem. We regain our sense of humour and restore our perspective. We may even recognise the opportunities that lie before us – opportunities we’ve worked hard to create – and decide to grab them with both hands rather than feel strangled by them.

Are you in survival mode at the moment? What would be a pocket for you?


  1. PortaPocketGal

    yes…survival mode yet again as latest (brand new) computer decided to crash and burn. augh! not sure what pocket I could put THAT in, but in general if you ever need physical pockets because the ones in your clothes suck…perhaps can help with that 🙂 xox, @PortaPocketGal

    • Grace Marshall

      Lol, nice plug there! I find pockets of human interaction are vital when wrestling technology, to restore my sense of humour & sanity!

  2. Michael Sliwinski

    Thanks for a great chat the other day 🙂

    I have a pocket of sports – even in the craziest of times I try to get out and do something, even a short run or bike ride, to detach myself from the reality, to get some new endorphins in my body… to be able to get back to fighting the survival time 🙂

    • Grace Marshall

      Great tactic Michael – physically and mentally rejuvenating 🙂

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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