Larry Weeks


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Our ongoing survival requires relentless attention.. If the environment changes, as it does through the experience of trauma, you are lost and must adapt once more. The bigger the trauma, the more dramatic the requirement for change
– Laurence Gonzales

What can survivors of extreme events teach us about creating a new normal?

This podcast is an exploration into the mental processes that enable survivors to cope with extreme post-traumatic stress that sets in after an almost fatal event.

Take, for example, Debbie Kiley. Debbie’s sailboat went down during a hurricane, and she floated in deep ocean for five days watching three of her friends die before rescue. But rescue was not the end of the story; instead, for years, she relived “the pain of thirst, the terror, the physical brutality of the sea,”

My guest on this episode is Laurence Gonzales.

Laurence is the author of numerous books and has won many awards, including two National Magazine Awards and the Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

After steeping himself in neuroscience for several years, he wrote the best-selling book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, its sequel Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience, and Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things (see resource links below).

In these books, Laurence chronicles not only how some endured life-threatening situations and survive them somehow, but also their second act; the difficulty of moving on from their trauma to the equally challenging return to or re-creation of a “normal” life.

The extreme events that Laurence writes about are helpful to study, as survival is largely mental (given the very real physiological effects the trauma triggers). At the center of it all is how one handles various states of panic; the better your ability to stay calm the better your decisions will be – and better decisions lead to higher survival probabilities.

LISTEN: Surviving Survival: Laurence Gonzales On New Normals

Laurence says reason and emotion work like a see-saw, the higher your emotion the lower your ability to reason. In a very high stress state, you can’t remember your own phone number. The lessons learned on how the brain and body work during, and after traumatic events are invaluable.

And they apply to any high emotion event, whether it’s losing a job or the shock of losing a family member or friend, a cancer diagnosis; all these situations can trigger a stress response.

Stories of survival also offer much-needed perspective; we realize we are just one among many who have suffered; the world doesn’t revolve around our plight, and some have it far worse than we.

Some of our talking points….

  • How our brains work for us, and against us
  • The cascade of PTSD
  • Why some survive, and others do not
  • Problem with narrow domain/environment expertise and ego
  • Active Coping
  • Awareness, behavioral scripts, and accidents
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • The brain’s rage pathway
  • Goal seeking behavior and the power of hobbies

I’ve been trying to get Laurence on for over a year – schedules just didn’t align, but we finally made it happen.


Resources and links 

Deep Survival, Who Lives Who Dies &Why / True Stories of Miraculous Endurance

Surviving Survival The Art and Science of Resilience

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

The Chemistry of Fire: Essays



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