Survival Personality: Develop Your Intuition

Intuition is a powerful ally, especially in dangerous situations. Learn how to develop your intuition to “see around corners” and better navigate our changing world.

| August 26, 2010

when technology fails matthew stein

Covering everything from building materials to spiritual healing, “When Technology Fails” is a comprehensive guide to sustainable living skills, and will give  you the tools you need to fend for yourself and your family in times of emergency or disaster.


The following is an excerpt from When Technology Fails  by Matthew Stein (Chelsea Green, 2008). This comprehensive primer on sustainable living skills — from food and water to first-aid and crisis management skills — will prepare you to live in the face of potential disasters coming in the form of social upheaval, economic meltdown or environmental catastrophe. This excerpt is from Chapter 4, “Emergency Measures for Survival.”

The best survivors spend almost no time, especially in emergencies, getting upset about what has been lost, or feeling distressed about things going badly ... Life’s best survivors can be both positive and negative, both optimistic and pessimistic at the same time. 

— Al Siebert, Ph.D., The Survivor Personality

The struggle for survival is a fascinating and inspiring subject, forming the basis for many of the most memorable books and movies. Psychologist Al Siebert’s personal fascination with survivors began when he received his military training from a group of veteran paratroopers. His teachers were legendary members of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment. They had lost nine out of 10 members in combat in the Korean War. Siebert found that these “survivors” were not the crusty, yelling drill sergeants that he had anticipated. They were tough, yet showed patience. They had a good sense of humor and were likely to laugh at mistakes. They were positive, yet also looked at the downside of things. They didn’t act mean or tough, even though they could be as mean and tough as anyone. Siebert noticed that each of these men had a type of personal radar that was always on “scan.” He realized it was not dumb luck that had brought these men through their ordeals, but a synergistic combination of qualities that tilted the odds in their favor. Al believes that we can all benefit in our daily lives by nurturing and developing these positive character traits within our own personalities.

In 1943 Robert Muller was a member of the French Resistance. Using the name Parizot, he had infiltrated an agency of the Vichy government, where he gathered information on German troop movements. Tipped off that the Nazis had just driven up to arrest him, he fled to the attic of his office building. Word came that half a dozen Gestapo men, knowing he was there, were methodically searching the premises. Having been impressed when a friend used Dr. Emile Coué’s program of autosuggestion and positive thinking to cure himself of advanced tuberculosis, Muller quickly calmed himself and took control over his thoughts. He repeated to himself that the situation could be seen as a thrilling adventure, and switched his perspective to a calm, confident, positive state of mind. Muller told himself that nothing was hopeless and that he must find the one-in-a-thousand chance of escape.

Suddenly he realized that the one thing the Nazis would not expect him to do was to walk downstairs to meet them. By taking off his glasses, slicking down his hair with water, grabbing a file folder from a vacant desk and lighting a cigarette, Parizot managed to change his appearance somewhat. Walking downstairs, he came upon his secretary as she was being interrogated. He asked her what all the excitement was about. Her heart pounding, she managed to maintain an outward appearance of calm, and replied that the “gentlemen” were looking for Mr. Parizot. “Parizot?” he exclaimed, “But I just saw him a few minutes ago on the fourth floor!” The Gestapos rushed upstairs, giving Muller the break he needed to proceed toward his next obstacle, the guards at the front door. In the main lobby, the concierge informed Muller that there was another exit, and guided Muller to the garage, where he stole a bicycle and rode to safety.

— Robert Muller, Most of All, They Taught Me Happiness

Typical Survivor Personality Traits

Flexibility. The No. 1 trait to which many survivors attribute their success is the ability to adapt to the situation.

Commitment to survive. When conditions are extremely difficult, it takes a strong will and commitment to survive. Jewish Holocaust and Bataan Death March survivors tell tales of watching their friends lose the will to survive. Under these harsh conditions, after the drive to survive was lost, they usually lasted a short while, ranging from a few hours to a few days.

Staying cool. Survivors have the ability to stay calm or regain calmness so they can think clearly and intuitively “feel” their way to a correct choice, without being hampered by emotions that have run amok.

Playful curiosity. Survivors usually like to know how things work. They show a playful curiosity that helps them adapt to changing circumstances.

7/1/2013 9:23:25 AM

Even though the book is "self-reviewed" by the author, his credentials speak for themselves. Planning for disaster makes a difference. I was in the first house hit by a tornado that leveled the town and my family was safe due to planning. Fortunately we only lost our roof and were able to get it replaced within days because our other needs were met and we could act quickly. We stayed on-site, life went on. I plan to read Matthew's books to fill in gaps as the world changes.

lee wentz
12/12/2011 5:51:25 PM

I frequently think on this topic of intuition and survival. I admire those who are able to "land on their feet", as it were, regardless of what matter befalls them. I picture a footbal scenario, and recall a coach's advice - "Run for the daylight." Good advice. Seek EVERY opportunity to advance your objective. Concern yourself with your goal and focus on only those things germane to the issue at hand. Listen to the "still, small voice inside." It's there for a reason.

matthew stein
12/28/2010 12:24:10 PM

As the author, I can safely say that this article is an excerpt from my book, with no changes or edits. I had no part in deciding what part of my book to select for this excerpt (that was done by Mother Earth News staff) and since this excerpt is from the middle of the fourth chapter, it was certainly not written as an advertisement for the book. I can also say that there is an inner compass that nature built into each and every one of us (intuition) that this innate natural "tool" can go from A to Z in a split second without having to figure things out with our head, often times guiding us to perform critical actions before our mind has the time to think "wow!". While both climbing and extreme skiing, I have watched my own body react to life-and-death circumstances faster than my mind could think . I have also witnessed the intuitive soul/mind "feeling" the proper action to take when there was not enough information for my rational mind to properly decide, and in fact the rational mind thought it best to do take the worst action, instead of the optimal one. In some cases I listened to the inner calm voice of true guidance, ans was grateful I had listened, and in other cases I ignored it and was later sorry.

dr. debra
12/27/2010 5:39:11 PM

I never ask people to believe anything I say. Lately, although I have been accused of being a "doom and gloom" prophet, I just tell people to do their own research -- 30 minutes of honest research on the internet will convince anyone that the future does not look good in many ways. If people don't feel like facing these things, I tell them this: do yourself a favor and buy a good water purifier/filer, and a supply of food you might take backpacking. Doing just these two things is far better than doing nothing. Last -- watch the Kaiser Report (, both for the entertainment value and for an honest and urgent look at our monetary system. Oh, and: "Buy silver. Crash J P Morgan."

k williams
12/23/2010 9:38:54 PM

This appears to be a book review by its own author. Why not have an objective review, or a new perspective by Mr. Stein that is backed up by his published work.

abbey bend
12/23/2010 12:42:27 PM

Sadly this articles reads more like an advertisement for a book than anything else. That being said, there is merit in the article, most likely in the book, and in the negative comments previously made. My experience with intuition, is some times there is time for reflection and lengthy decision making. Other times, you have less than a fraction of a second to follow your intuition, and survive. In the article the most sensible thing stated was one needs to relax to be able to listen to the little voice inside. The biggest killer I have ever seen is people being uptight and allowing themselves to be scared. Not the fright which only last a part of a second, but just stay scared. Once you get over being scared you can again think, look and react, in a manner that will save you. Scared or people not listening, as stated in the article, do not adapt and die. The biggest thing a person can do for themselves is to practice going through horrific events in their mind and looking at ways to survive them. This practice is what will lead you to being able to quickly relax in the moment, and make the decision which will keep you alive. It has always kept me alive, and there is no other reason for me to have survived except staying calm, listening to my inner self and reacting, without concern, before I died. So I see this as mixed article, but it does have some merit.

10/10/2010 9:01:55 PM

I think there is a balance to be had regarding intuition and plain ole' anxiety, which we all seem to be suffering from large amounts of. For me it all goes back to "Plan for the worst, hope for the best." You want things to work out well, but don't be all shock and awe if they don't. It's so tempting, especially in current western society to just sit idly by and let whomever is in charge, the government, large corporations, your wife, a friend, to be in control and therefore be responsible for what happens to you, and right along with that is a kind of repulsion for those who aren't satisfied with letting other people guide their lives for them. Conversely there comes a deep seeded anger when that person or entity you put your entire trust in disappoints. I haven't read the book, but the article seemed like a lot of common sense, which is many times lacking in too many people.

9/16/2010 2:48:26 AM

Now I have not read Matthew Stein's book but I will comment on MC_2's reply. I have read a lot about the topics discussed in this article, and I find MC's comments typical of those who will not learn. I have had some major disasters in my life: Loss of business, foreclosure, bankruptcy, car repossessed, and a stroke. I learned the hard way to build my life and that my life would never be the same. But I am a happier person now. First... life is always changing and never give up. I picked my self up and dusted my self off and got on with my life. It seems that some never learn and can't even if it is written for them. Stop complaining and get on with your life.

matthew stein
9/14/2010 3:55:39 PM

I am sorry you feel this way. Certainly everyone is entitled to their opinion. I personally believe it is better to be well informed, so one can proactively prepare to weather various storms that may be headed your way, and perhaps collectively we might actually make real shifts in the way we do business in our world (thereby averting collapse), rather than to act like an ostrich burying its head in the sand, pretending that everything is fine and we don't have to worry about a thing because Uncle Sam and the Tooth Fairy will make sure it all turns out OK. As for mold under the house, it can be a serious issue, and I will be addressing do-it-yourself solutions to this problem in forthcoming blogs. If you are healthy, you may not need to worry about it, but just because you feel fine today does not mean the toxic effects of mold won't catch up to you someday!

9/14/2010 12:19:27 PM

Having bought this book and read it cover-to-cover, I have to state with some equivocation that I think it's a frankly rotten book. I'm reasonably environmentally minded; however, Stein's self-righteous doom-and-gloom left me spending months thinking I should euthanize my kids, both as a favor to the planet and because there is no hope. If I could have back the time and energy this book cost me-- not to mention the money I spent spazzing out about what turned out to be benign mold growth under my house-- I imagine I could get a lot more done than anything When Technology Fails taught me. Do yourself a favor-- read something else.

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