A survival expert who has faced threats to life and limb in the great outdoors and lived to tell the tale is teaching corporate Australia how to adapt and thrive in the workplace jungle. 

Mike House AFAIM, a facilitator, keynote speaker and author with 20 years of experience observing people under duress, said a key to managing change and disruption in today’s world was to understand the fight or flight instinct when faced with real or perceived threats. 

Picture the scene: You’re on the edge of a cliff and a bear walks up behind you. You have two options: try to get past the bear (fight) or take your chances over the edge of the cliff (flight) – neither choice is advisable.

How the brain responds to threats will determine if it is going to work for you or against you.

“We don’t actually have to be under threat for the fight or flight instinct to kick in, it’s just the perception of threat,” Mr House said. 

His book, Thrive and Adapt No Matter What, offers tools and principles to help people under stress to function  normally.

Teaching the skills and techniques he learned while living a double life as a survival instructor and a change management professional, it is a handy guide to navigating a sometimes complex world.

One of its core concepts has to do with adaptable mindsets and how to remain flexible while dealing with a range of circumstances.

A way of achieving this is to use a technique Mr House calls Guerrilla Mindfulness (GM). 

“The whole point of the GM tool is, as its name implies, that it is to be used when you’re feeling outgunned or out manoeuvred and you need a fast, effective tactic to get you back on top,” Mr House said.

“All sorts of things can lead to someone feeling threatened. It can be just being tired, being overwhelmed, having one extra task added to your list or a rapidly evolving set of circumstances you’ve got to deal with.

“You’re obviously not about to run screaming from the building when you feel stressed, but the feeling is enough to make you slightly less intelligent – measurably so because it actually shuts your frontal cortex.

“There are moments of pressure in any given day. A person’s state of mind can easily be disrupted and it’s not like you can call a time out and ask for 20 minutes to re-find your zen.”

According to Mr House’s book, this is where GM comes in. The technique is designed to be used at any transition point in a day, whether that be shifting from one task to another, changing roles, moving into a different environment or a full-on change of circumstances.

When used correctly Mr House said it could quickly shift perspective and stress, helping a person to see more clearly and allowing them to work and do things effectively. 

“All of the above can be achieved in less than a minute, all thanks to its three simple steps – taking three deep, rhythmic breaths, saying how you feel and stating your intention,” he said.

Mr House said deep breathing countered the fight or flight instinct because it was impossible to be in a reactive state while breathing that way.

Once calm, the next step is to say how you are feeling in three words or less in as loud a voice as is practically possible. Mr House said naming emotions out loud caused stress hormones to plummet thus allowing a person to step into a more effective state.

The final step is to state your intention – tell yourself how you want to ‘be’ in the situation you are in or about to enter. Mr House said being intentional set a person up for effective action. 

“Steps one and two get a person present and calm and the third step allows a person to choose the best course of action with the most effective energy,” he said.

“I think the reason the tool is effective is you get to deploy it pretty much any time, anywhere.”


What will you do this Year?

Each year Mr House sets himself an annual challenge, something he feels he is a  novice at, and will attempt to complete it within a year. It is another of the core  principles in his book. He said finding something slightly scary to achieve each year was great for a person or team to do.

One particular year, Mr House’s birthday present to himself was to spend 12 days completely alone on a survival expedition. He said it was an extremely valuable experience and one he attempts to build into the work retreats he organises for businesses.
“It’s really rare that you spend that amount of time on your own and the most profound part of the experience was really just how still my mind ended up becoming by the end of that time,” he said. 

“Being able to find a balance where you’re far enough away in time and place from the urgent and important things you’ve got to deal with every day is quite a delightful state. 

“You get to think and reflect deeply, which is something we often don’t have time for in the current hectic world we live in.” 

Chris Thurmott is a Senior Journalist for The West Australian and he writes for a variety of different publications including Leader and National Mining Chronicle.