Extreme - Notes

A core element of the bodies stress response is the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) comprising key glands in the brain and the adrenal glands next to the kidneys. Under instructions from the brain the adrenal glands release cortisol into the bloodstream. One of the primary functions of cortisol is to mobilize energy reserves. The HPA Axis controls longer term stress responses, is activated by prolonged or repeated stressors particularly those involving social threats or negative emotions.

Book is an examination of how people learn to cope and adapt to stressors. A key aspect of this is the perception of control over the stress factor. Its relevance is how often the science of psychology in extreme environments is applicable to everyday life.

‘Fear has three dimensions, physiological arousal (fight, flight), 2nd is cognitive response an appraisal of the situation and considering outcomes and finally there is a behavioural response such as avoiding or escaping what caused the fear.

Bravery can be defined as ‘persistence in the face of subjective and physical sensations of fear’. (Stanley Rachman a central figure in the psychological study of bravery)

Bravery can be developed by acting as a role model for others – combat studies repeatedly find that trying to set a brave example to others reduces personal fear.


Looks at squalor, hunger, thirst, and pain as frequently characteristic elements of hardship.

Pain has been described as our most important emotion and a vital learning tool about the world around us.

Pain has a sensory, emotional and cognitive make up


Loss of sleep and poor quality sleep are well documented to be some of the most debilitating impacts on performance. Thinking memory and physical skills are all dramatically impacted detrimentally by a lack of sleep.

Caffeine and napping are the most common and effective means of countering fatigue.

Monotony, solitude other people all given short chapters.

Team work

Strong team performance is fundamentally underpinned by coordination, cooperation and communication.

Selecting for teams. Relationship between team tasks and personality traits not straightforward. Shakelton selected for the Endurance expedition primarily on character rather than skill set.

Emotional stability, self confidence and flexibility included amongst a broad range of desirable characteristics.

Leaders have to gain personal trust and credibility for their leadership. Competence and trustworthiness critical to this.

Trust encompasses character and behaviour. Reliability, fairness and consistency all vital.

Toxic leaders in contrast are rigid uncaring petty, micromanaging – those in contact with them frequently describe them as assholes or jerks.

Decision making and links to experience – ie pattern matching. Gary Klein – Recognition Primed Decision Model (RPDM) influential and well tested theory in Naturalistic decision-making (NDM). Expertize takes practice and reflective feedback .

Willpower reflects ability to focus effort and ignore distractions essential to success in extreme environments.

‘the capacity to deal well with pressure is known as resilience. It is the ability to maintain a stable equilibrium in the face of adversity’. A major contributor to this is a personal history of dealing successfully with past stressful events.

Resilient people have realistic optimism, self confidence a sense of humour the ability to stay focused under pressure and not being defeated by failure.

Naseem Taleb – anti-fragile “some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder and stressors.’

‘Personality can be defined as a set of characteristics that account for consistent patterns of thinking feeling and behaving.’

People who work and play in extreme environments develop a social identity as members of an exclusive group.

How you transition and move on from that identity is also an important question when a defining activity is no longer possible.