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Why Smart People Do Stupid Things

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Your character and ability to think are what will get you through change.

So says Laurence Gonzales, author of Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things. He believes our lazy modern culture has stunted your ability to react appropriately to a change or a threat. Though humans have evolved over thousands of years to engage in complex thought, the relative monotony of everyday life has put our brains on autopilot, leaving us vulnerable to just about anything.

We've all heard the stories of people who are completely prepared with training and equipment who lose their lives climbing or trekking through jungles. Gonzales says that therefore we can't rely on knowledge alone to save us. He says there are some characteristics that people have that can help them survive in drastic situations:

1. They take responsibility for themselves in everyday situations, and are able to translate that responsibility into survival in dire circumstance.

2. People who are naturally calm tend to do well. If you can balance emotion with calm, rational thinking, you'll get through something more easily.

Because of the way the brain processes information, what you learn can predict how you'll behave in the future... so you can learn to manage stress and become in tune with your change muscle in order to survive. If you want to get better at getting through the tough stuff, Gonzales says that you have to not just change your actions, but pay deliberate attention to what is going on around you in daily life. It's amazing the tricks our minds play on us because we are in a "vacation state of mind." He relates the tale of the tsunami in 2006. People were on vacation, on the beach, who had created a mental model and were running on a script that said "we are here to have fun." They saw the wave coming and continued to lounge and frolic on the beach, not believing that the wave would actually come ashore and wash them away. We are used to seeing danger in non-dangerous settings (in a theme park, or on television), so when it happens we are in denial.

There's lots more in our interview, including whether men or women have a better chance of survival and whether Barack Obama has what it takes to be a survivor. Take a listen to our Change Nation podcast and then tell us what you think about survival, and whether or not you think you have what it takes to make it through anything.

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