Survival Mentality: The Psychology of Staying Alive

Course No. 2650
Professor Nancy Zarse, PsyD
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
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Course No. 2650
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Learn which psychological tools are necessary for surviving an emergency.
  • numbers Understand why practicing survival skills is so useful.
  • numbers Take a closer look at individuals who have experienced post-traumatic growth and glean valuable lessons from them.

Course Overview

Have you ever wondered how you could possibly survive a physical assault or imagined what you would do if a natural disaster struck your community? Most likely you have—it’s human nature to wonder. But because we don’t really want to think about it, most of us never spend the time to get past those theoretical questions. But what if we did?

The latest research shows that people almost never “rise to the occasion” when faced with a life-threatening challenge, regardless of how often we hear that phrase. Instead, as Professor Nancy Zarse explains in the 12 empowering lectures of Survival Mentality: The Psychology of Staying Alive, people generally revert to their lowest level of training and preparation. And Professor Zarse knows this firsthand. She brings not only her academic knowledge, consulting experience with the FBI, hostage negotiation experience, and more, but also her personal experience fighting for her life in unexpected and dangerous situations.

Building Your Psychological Survival Kit

When we do think of putting together a survival kit, we almost always think of things. What things would you need? Shelf-stable food, water, batteries? But if you do find yourself in a sudden and unexpected emergency, none of those things will help you. What will help is your inner strength, your mental attitude, your confidence, and your belief that you can do whatever it takes to survive this incident. These are the tools that can make a real difference.

In this course, you’ll learn to identify and strengthen specific psychological elements to give yourself the best possible shot at survival, no matter what type of critical incident you face. If we don’t actually “rise to the occasion,” then the trick is to bring up our lowest level of preparedness by continually improving our training and preparation, practicing for survival now, and building the resilience that will sustain us in times of adversity.

Throughout the lectures of Survival Mentality: The Psychology of Staying Alive, you will learn how to prepare today for how you should be prepared in case of a life-threatening challenge. Having these internal resources at your disposal will give you the very best chance of surviving a life-threatening emergency. Professor Zarse discusses the importance of the following psychological factors:

  • Having an internal locus of control. No psychological factor is more important in determining your survival than having an internal locus of control—the belief that you have power over what happens to you. You’ll be better able to visualize a time beyond the current crisis and fight harder to get there.
  • Identifying and acting on instincts. Your instincts exist for only one purpose—to help you survive. In this course, you’ll discover how to better recognize and trust your own instincts.
  • Managing emotions. You can’t decide whether or not you will have emotions, but you can choose how to respond to them and what behaviors to choose, given any situation. You can learn to identify which emotions are useful for the situation at hand, and which ones might work against your best interest.
  • Understanding the power of your capabilities. Many of the skills you need to survive a critical situation are skills you’ve practiced in other areas of your life. Learn to identify them, believe in those capabilities, and then apply them to survival purposes.

Psychological Factors for Community Survival

There are times when an entire community is challenged by an existential or real-life threat. In this course, you will learn how communities can also prepare their psychological toolkits for survival. Whether the threat is enemy invasion, economic downturn, or a pandemic, at the local and national level, communities and nations can use many psychological factors that individuals would.

Using the British response to the Axis powers in World War II as an example, Professor Zarse explores the psychological factors that brought the British people together to sacrifice for the good of the country and survive the enemy assault. As Winston Churchill spoke to the citizens about what lay ahead, he promoted an internal locus of control. Britain’s fate was not in the hands of the enemy, he told them; Britain’s fate was in their own hands. And just as the military trained to do its part, the citizenry trained and prepared to do its part as well. When the time of crisis arrived, citizens were psychologically prepared. They responded as planned and they persevered.

In recent decades, U.S. communities have been assaulted by hurricanes, massacres, and bombings. While “Houston Strong” and “Keep the Pulse” and “Never Forget” are solid catch phrases, they truly demonstrate the strong sense of psychological unity and common purpose that can emerge when communities are facing crisis or tragedy.

Real-World Survivors

In Survival Mentality: The Psychology of Staying Alive, you will explore the concepts of survival skills and strategies while also learning the stories of individuals who used those techniques to survive real-world situations. Through the details of their stories, Professor Zarse helps you identify the psychological elements that served them best.

For example, when Captain “Sully” Sullenberger landed his commercial airliner on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, after losing both engines just after takeoff, he saved the lives of all 155 passengers and crew. Although the rest of the world celebrated him as a hero, Captain Sullenberger never saw it like that. He says he simply did what he knew he had to do: keep his emotions under control and apply his training, experience, and judgment. During this 208-second emergency, Captain Sullenberger used every survival skill that you will study in this course.

In another example, South African anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela lived through 27 years of imprisonment. Through decades of brutal treatment, he never stopped believing in a better future for his country and in his ability to master his own fate, keeping his internal locus of control. Mandela actually flourished after his imprisonment, in a response called post-traumatic growth, and went on to lead his country.

In addition to these famous survivors, you’ll meet many ordinary people who relied on their own survival toolkits, including:

  • Officer Stacy Lim, who managed to fight back and save her life even after realizing she’d been hit in the chest by a bullet. Offered full retirement by her department, she set her sights on a full recovery and remaining on the beat.
  • Rick Rescorla, director of security for Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley, with offices in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Rescorla developed an emergency preparedness plan and implemented mandatory evacuation drills to the point that employees would be able to leave the building by muscle memory, if necessary. His planning is credited with saving 2,687 lives on 9/11.
  • “Phil,” a collegiate student athlete, whose training and experience as a swimmer helped him survive being held hostage and shot in the chest. Phil’s athletic training allowed him to manage his breathing and to maintain his internal locus of control.

Many of the survivors studied in this course had no specific survival training, but their life experiences had helped them build significant psychological strengths. These survivors had what it took. In this course, you’ll learn that you, too, can build what it takes to survive in a crisis.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    What It Means to Survive
    Surviving a crisis requires successfully navigating both the event itself and the elements you bring with you to the event. Learn why the specific words you use during the crisis-whether thought or spoken-can make a significant difference in your survival. x
  • 2
    Developing an Internal Locus of Control
    Discover why having an internal locus of control will help you in a crisis-as well as, at work, in relationships, and even with your health. You'll be better able to adapt your coping strategies to the crisis at hand, learn new strategies as necessary, and anticipate and prepare for problems. x
  • 3
    Listening to Your Instincts
    Your instincts exist for only one purpose: to help you survive. And yet, we disregard our instincts over and over. Understand how you can better recognize and use your instincts, while always distinguishing between instinct, impulse, and feelings. x
  • 4
    Listening to Your Intuitions
    Your intuitions occur without conscious thought or choice. But unlike instinct, your intuitions are the result of all your life experiences, forming a set of expectations about the world, within a region of the brain that acts without conscious thought. Learn how to strengthen your intuition so you can better trust it in a crisis. x
  • 5
    Managing Your Emotions under Threat
    The ability to manage your emotions is absolutely crucial in an emergency; the higher your emotional arousal, the worse your judgment. Professor Zarse presents several strategies that can help you to best manage your emotions in a crisis and allow you to focus on making appropriate decisions under extreme pressure-potentially life-or-death decisions. x
  • 6
    How Everyday Experience Prepares You for Crisis
    While you might not realize it, each of us has training and experience that we can bring to bear in a critical incident. Learn to identify your skills and abilities that will help you survive in an emergency. Consider the skills you can develop now to be better prepared for a future challenge. x
  • 7
    Making Decisions under Pressure
    How do you make rapid, accurate decisions in stressful situations when the stakes couldn't be higher? Explore the differences between natural, recognition-primed, and pre-playing decision-making, and discover why a psychologically safe environment leads to richer learning and to making the best possible decisions during a crisis. x
  • 8
    Developing Situational Awareness
    You are already constantly collecting information about your surroundings, both consciously and unconsciously. Master the OODA loop to improve your situational awareness-observe, orient, decide, and act. Originally developed for use in the military, this protocol can increase your chances of surviving a critical incident. x
  • 9
    Perseverance toward a Positive Outcome
    In critical incidents, perseverance often makes the difference between those who survive and those who don't. Explore the factors that contribute to perseverance, from grit to attention control to self-confidence. Learn how to improve your mental conditioning and why it might be your most important survival preparation. x
  • 10
    Protective Factors That Increase Your Odds
    A variety of surprising factors can work in your favor when you find yourself in a crisis-surprising only because we don't tend to think of them as survival tools. See how community involvement and a robust social network can help you navigate emergencies as they insulate you against stress and trauma. x
  • 11
    Resilience in the Aftermath of Trauma
    What happens after you live through an emergency in which your life was on the line? While physical injuries are obvious, unseen psychological injuries can be devastating. But what about people who not only survive a crisis, but thrive? Learn about the inspiring experience of post-traumatic growth, and what those survivors have in common. x
  • 12
    We Survive Together: The Power of Community
    Not all life-or-death situations are experienced at an individual level; some occur at a community or national level. Learn how leadership, preparedness, and relationships can make the difference in whether or not a community, or an entire country, survives an existential or real-life crisis and thrives in the aftermath. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Ability to download 12 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • Printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • Printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Nancy Zarse

About Your Professor

Nancy Zarse, PsyD
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
Nancy Zarse is a Professor of Forensic Psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, where she also received her PsyD. She is the lead faculty for such classes as Violence and Risk Assessment, Psychology of Terrorism, and Hostage Negotiation. She also developed a course on Israel, focusing on terrorism, trauma, and resilience, culminating in a 10-day study abroad trip, which she has led for eight years....
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