5 Modes of living

Are you avoiding disaster, surviving, thriving, creating, or loving? Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

In terms of urgency, one could argue there are five modes of living.

  1. Avoid disaster
  2. Survive
  3. Thrive
  4. Create
  5. Love

They overlap and interact, but it’s worth a broad discussion of what each mode feels like.  Each mode has a set of emotions that tend to predominate.  This is partly because each of the five modes represents a possible life strategy, and emotion sets tend to collect around life strategies.  Emotions usually don’t come out of nowhere – they often attempt to perform functions for us.


When we are avoiding disaster, we tend to limp along, being extremely alert to possible danger.  We are like wounded birds on a path, only too aware that at any moment a predator might appear and eat us up.  We feel acutely vulnerable.  We have little time for any other way of thinking or being. All our time is spent putting out fires.  We have the perception that we are close to extinction, and are often exhausted and fearful.


When we are surviving, we are getting by.  We are on the underside of balance.  The emergency is less acute, but we are still very aware that a set of actions is needed to try to get on an even plane with life.  We can feel some personal strength, but we are also aware that the rest of the world has strength too, and is willing to use it.  We might find ourselves referring to some ‘law of the jungle’, in which we must all fight for our own resources, in order to make sure we can take part in the flow of life.


When we are thriving, our attention comes away from danger, and its attendant fear and urgency, and away from the unfairness of life.  We feel in a position to thrive – that is, to live well, and enjoy a little surplus energy, a little surplus enjoyment, a little surplus health.  For some this only comes periodically, and the rest of the time life is more a matter of just getting by.  When we are thriving, we can afford new ideas, to make plans, and to joke and laugh about life a little.  We feel somehow more in control of life, able not only to roll with the waves, but to make a few.


When we are creating, we can end up paying less attention to our personal health and wellbeing (unless personal health is bound up in what we are creating).  More mundane survival needs do not matter to us so much, because we have a cherished creative project in hand.  Questions of survival or health take second place to the fulfilment aspiration of the creative path.  We are making something new, tidying up our world, building new organisations, systems and artworks.


When we are loving, our attention comes away from excesses of survival need, excesses of health, and even from obsession with creative projects.  Our foundation and flow come from a more outward looking appreciation of the universe around us.  I am not talking about things we may call love, but which are actually repetitions of the previous 4 states: 

  1. Love is not behaving like a wounded bird;
  2. Love is not attaching ourselves to others to survive;
  3. Love is not seeking enjoyment or entertainment from or with others;
  4. Love is not sharing personal projects with others (unless those projects themselves are acts of love).

The kind of love I am talking about stands back from a personal obsession with our own life, and finds fulfilment in the welfare of others, and in the understanding that our own obsessions are quite possibly delusory.


Of course, most lives are a mixture of all of the above modes in varying quantities.  Look around you.  You may see some people who are residing mainly one of the above modes.

  1. You may recognise the firefighters, perpetually avoiding disaster.
  2. You may recognise the survivors, working hard to get by.
  3. You may recognise the thrivers, feeling healthy and making waves.
  4. You may recognise the creators, onto their next project.
  5. You may recognise those who love, standing back from the fuss, appreciating and helping others, looking outward to the universe, and generating balanced wisdom.

These five modes, or emotion sets, are partly a matter of choice.  Not always – life throws curveballs at us all the time.  But, because life is partly a matter of choice and strategy, we do have an influence over our mode of living.

Which mode are you in most of the time?