Upgrading Your Psychological Security System

Aug 15, 2021

"Learning is not compulsory. Neither is survival." - Edward Deming 

Protecting us from danger is what a security system is all about. For most of human history, evolutionary impulses have served us well. When we see a lion ready to pounce, a journal and discussion group is not the way to go. For physical survival, fight, flight, or freezehave gotten us a long way.

Of course, the modern world presents dangers more psychological in nature. What once could save us from a saber tooth tiger is not helpful in the face of a major slip-up at work, a frightening health diagnosis, or anything that threatens our psychological safety.

In front of a huge crowd, we don't need our heart to beat out of our chest and have the blood rush to our extremities so that we can run away as fast as possible. 

When challenged in a meeting (or in a relationship) we don't need to armor up with aggressive counter-attacks (i.e., get them before they get you).

And when crises around the world make us feel helpless, we don't have to stay paralyzed in fear and indecision.

It's easy, even natural, to revert to our primal instincts when facing modern fears. But the current challenges we face in surviving and thriving as a society give us the perfect opportunity to upgrade to a more durable and relevant "security system."

When thinking about how we respond to crisis, it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we are allowed to make mistakes in a chaotic world… and that our brains have not fully caught up to the ways we maneuver jarring situations in today's world.

That said, here are some mind-traps to watch out for:

The 3 Deadly Ds (fleeing…running away from the truth)

  • Denial - "That's not true! I don't believe that!"
  • Dismissal - "That won't happen to me because [insert rationalization 'I am smarter, I am luckier, I have insurance...']"
  • Discounting - "It didn't mean that much to me, that relationship was never really the real thing anyway…"

The Blame & Shame Game (fighting…attacking someone else)

  • “If they really cared, they would have been more responsible.”
  • “I don’t mean to sound negative, but . . .”
  • “He should have known better.”
  • “They always mess things up.”

All or Nothing Framing (freezing…helplessly giving-up)

  • “That was literally the worst thing that could have happened.”
  • “Never in a million years did I see that coming.”
  • “I would die if that happened to me.”
  • “She’ll never recover.”

Do you recognize yourself in any of these phrases? I've gotten caught in them all. But writing my "Surviving and Thriving Together" series has inspired me to find healthier, and more effective, approaches.

What if we upgraded our psychological security system by adding possibilities for learning and growth, not just self-protection?

Instead of freezing…hold steady, knowing that any emotion, no matter how painful (sorrow, fear, overwhelm, panic), will wash away.

Instead of fleeing…think about what you can run toward (hope, opportunities, renewal) instead of what you're running from.

Instead of fighting...put down your sword (harsh words, judgments, blame) and lean into healing dialogue instead of heated debate. 

How do you recognize yourself here? How have you “upgraded” your surviving and thriving tool kit to provide psychological safety that enriches rather than diminishes you?

You can respond directly to this email to share with me if you’d like. I'd love to hear and learn from you.

Let’s look at our very human, very understandable mind traps with openness, honesty, and non-judgment, so we can upgrade our safety systems with more productive, growth-focused tools.

 Be well,


This is a modified re-telling of a few pages from Chapter 6 of my book Never Waste a Crisis. The rest of that chapter explores how old mental models fail to serve us in crisis, plus how to reframe and renew them.


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