Dear Dan: I’m Stuck in Survival Mode

Good morning Dan,

I liked your post on the mockingbird and the inner voices from the past. I feel like I live in the past too much and don’t spend enough time looking ahead.

It feels like I’ve been in survival mode for far too long.

Any advice on how to get out of survival mode and put more focus on the future?


Stuck in Survival Mode and Searching for the Future

Dear Searching,

It’s easy for busy leaders to get lost in the weeds and lose sight of the future.

Hacking at weeds is rewarding at first. It feels useful and important.

Hacking eventually grows wearisome. But you still have responsibilities.

You can’t throw down your machete and yell, “I’m not hacking any more!” Family, employees, and customers depend on you.


If you’ve been in survival mode for a long time, congratulations. You’re a survivor. Maybe you need to quit something, but it’s dangerous to throw down your machete when you feel lost in the weeds.

Before you throw down your machete in frustration, try the following exercise.


I suggest you take at least fifteen minutes a day for a week to write and rewrite your story. The following pattern is used in improv and movie-making.

  • Once upon a time…
  • And every day…
  • And every day…
  • But, one day…
  • Because of that…
  • Because of that…
  • Until, finally…
  • And, ever since then…


  1. Use pen and paper. Don’t simply think it though.
  2. Think your own thoughts, not the thoughts others expect.
  3. Watch for patterns in yourself that have created this situation.
  4. Discuss your observations with a trusted friend, mentor, or coach at the end of the week.
  5. What interventions represent a shift toward the future?

What suggestions do you have for Stuck in Survival Mode?