Megan Hine on surviving lifeOne of the world’s leading survival experts and wilderness guides, Megan Hine works behind the scenes on TV shows about outdoor endurance – including those made by the master of the genre, Bear Grylls – scouting locations and setting up challenges for contestants. She also takes private clients into some of the most hostile environments on the planet, and brings them home safely
Hine has now written a book, Mind Of A Survivor, in which she explores what it takes to survive, and explains how techniques for coping in the toughest conditions can be applied in less hazardous situations. Powerful and inspiring, Hine reveals how to make better decisions, handle stress and get things done in everyday life – lessons learned from experiences such as surviving the bite of a deadly scorpion, being stalked by lions, evading gunfire from armed rebels, and having to cope with ego flares from overconfident reality-show contestants.
She tells The Red Bulletin about her adventures, and why The Walking Dead is better than a dozen leadership/management books.
THE RED BULLETIN: Why do you think it’s possible to use survival skills in everyday situations?
MEGAN HINE: I’d been wondering what it is about modern life that’s causing people to suffer from stress and depression, and if there was something from the wilderness we can use to heal it. In extreme conditions, people really show their emotions. Say there’s an accident at sea and someone is floating in the ocean, or they’re high on a cliff edge: it’s obvious that they’re going to feel stress and fear, because it’s not a natural experience. So, if you can learn to deal with those extremes, where it’s obvious where the fear and the anxiety are coming from, you can then carry that over into everyday life where we’re now bombarded with so many different stimuli that cause stress.
Isn’t that easy for you to say because you’ve spent a lot of time in extreme conditions?
What I really want to do with the book and my social media channels is make myself and what I do more accessible. If I put up pictures of me playing with helicopters and hanging off rock faces, people look at that and think, “Wow. That’s really cool, but it’s not something I can relate to.” So I think that through writing a book and through some of the messages I put on social media, I’m trying to make other people aware of the fact that I have the same emotions as everybody else, and I go through the same thought processes, just in a different environment.
So what techniques can we use?
Scenario planning is powerful. Constantly running yourself through scenarios where you’re the hero of your own life, as such. If you’re thinking clearly about a situation, however crazy it might be, it allows you to become the hero of your own life; it allows you to trick your brain into thinking you’re in control all the time. By thinking about situations, you’ve already separated out that emotion, because you’re going to be the hero. You’re going to manage it.
Your brain can’t distinguish between whether you’re being stalked by a lion or you’re feeling threatened by someone’s perfect life on Facebook.
It reacts in the same way: fear, stress, adrenalin. When I tell people some of my stories, lots of them say things like, “I couldn’t do that. I can’t even handle the school run without getting stressed.” The difference is that mine was a life-or-death situation. You have to do something, otherwise you’re going to die. If you don’t get your children to school on time, yes, it’s not good, but it’s not going to kill you. So you prepare to fight the stress by running through the ways you can cope with it, and when it comes for real, you’re better equipped to cope with it because it’s second nature. It helped me recently when I was caught in the crossfire between two warring tribes in Kenya.
That’s not in your book, is it?
No, this was something that happened after I wrote it. I was working in Kenya with two guys, and we were rigging a rope challenge across a river. A few days earlier, a local guy had been eaten by a crocodile from the river below us. So I was on one side, rigging, and the guys were on the other side, and suddenly an explosion of gunfire went off around us. I dived into a little alcove and something ricocheted off the sand next to me. It was like something out of the movies. At that moment, I realised the gunfire was coming towards me and thought people were actually shooting at me. I was like, “Oh, shit. We need to sort this out,” and the safest place was over on the other side where the guys were in a bigger cave. So I managed to scramble down through the river and up the other side and into the cave to join the guys. Gunfire was ricocheting off the cave roof; it lasted for about 15 minutes. We found out later that there were two tribes, and one had stolen hundreds of goats from another. Local rangers had set an ambush directly above where we were. So we weren’t being shot at; we were just caught in the crossfire.
And you coped because you had planned the ‘what if’ of being caught in a gun battle?
Not exactly. I’d looked around and thought of where the safest place might be if I needed it, and how to get there as quickly as possible.
In your book, you also outline the idea of a ‘mental box’, compartmentalising difficult emotions. Isn’t that just bottling up negative feelings, and something we shouldn’t do?
From a very young age, whenever I was upset or scared, it’s what I’d do immediately. So my ability to cope with fear is something I’ve developed naturally, through exposure to a huge amount of experiences. Fear is something that can be overwhelming, but it’s not necessarily a negative emotion. It’s a survival mechanism, a subconscious process, and if you’re feeling scared, there’s probably something in your subconscious that’s trying to feed you a thought, or to warn you that something has changed within your environment, or that you’re unsafe. I think it’s important to listen to those emotions, stop and analyse the situation, and then figure out what you want to do with that emotion.
This is the technique you call STOP: sit down, think, observe, plan…
Yes. Sitting down and thinking are the hardest things to do when you’re stressed or scared. To make yourself do it, try heavy breathing exercises. I learned them from yoga, and they really do work to calm down fear.
You write about a time when you were on a very turbulent helicopter flight and the breathing didn’t work…
I hate helicopter rides anyway, but this one was really bad. The breathing was not calming my anxiety, and then suddenly the thought of a rose popped into mind. It was something from my childhood, and the thought of it made me smile and calmed me down. I somehow got a scent of it there, too. That came from my subconscious, but since then, I think of the rose on helicopter flights and it calms me down. Thinking about stroking my dog works in the same way, too. These are powerful images of happiness. If you can hold onto them in tough moments, they can help get you through.
Why do you also believe in the power of the natural world to combat stress?
Because it’s worked for me many times, and it still does, even if that just means going to sit on a park bench. When I’m in London, every day I have to go and find a park somewhere – early in the morning or in the evening, particularly as the sun’s setting, because those are powerful times of the day. I absolutely recommend that people get out into nature and try to understand it. It doesn’t have to be hanging-off-a-cliff extreme, but going into unfamiliar territory can be a big help. If you and some friends hire an outdoor instructor just for one day, you’ll learn so much: the basic foundation skills of going into the outdoors, like navigation and equipment. You can pick the brains of someone who’s been through that. Then you can go to places and safely just absorb the environment. Wherever you are in the natural world, it’s amazing how quickly the stresses fall away and things are put into perspective.