Lead with the best version of yourself.

240 Seconds to Save Your Own Life

by Dustin Diefenderfer

It was the day after Christmas in 2004 when a 9.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Indian Ocean, triggering massive 100 foot tall waves that would later became known as “The Boxing Day Tsunamis.”

The tsunamis took the lives of 227,898 people in 14 countries that day.  Many drowned immediately or were swept away by the rapid flooding. Bodies were piled up on beaches everywhere. It was officially one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. But the most chilling part of this tragedy is the footage. It was one of the first events of its kind where humans had the modern technology readily available to record it.

I’ll never forget seeing a video from one of the tourist beaches in Thailand. Everything looks normal at first. You can see all the families enjoying the sun and the sand…most of them vacationing. None of them have a clue about what’s going to unfold over the next few minutes. At one point the water starts receding from the beach, stranding fish and leaving people looking around confused about what’s going on with the tide…You can see kids running around the fish and laughing at the phenomenon.

That’s when a few people start to notice what’s coming on the horizon. The wall of water starts to come into view. Then you hear screaming. People are panicking, calling out to their friends and family. 

But what happens during the next 240 seconds is what makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It was just like a movie. Most of the people start running for their lives, moving in droves toward higher ground. But others are just standing there. Frozen with fear. And as the massive wave hammers the beach, that first group is consumed instantly.

Next, you can see the water rushing inland, quickly overtaking most of the people that were running. They just couldn’t make it. They weren’t fast enough.

Then, you start to see a few people here and there.  The ones that made it to safety. Some of them scaled a 100 foot cliff.  Others climbed 2 stories up to the hotel balcony.  Still others somehow managed to get to the top of the palm trees with their loved ones in their arms.

But they were alive.

Only a small percentage of the people that were standing on that beach 240 seconds earlier had lived. Somehow, they had saved their own lives and the lives of others.  

I couldn’t help but think, how were they able to survive one of the deadliest natural disasters of our time? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there were a lot of factors involved.  Some luck for sure.vBut what I’ve come to believe is: the people that survived were ready.

They were just plain ready to get away from that giant wave in those 240 seconds. In a moment of unforeseen tragedy… one of the deadliest natural disasters of our time, they had the physical ability…awareness… and mental toughness… to save their own lives that day. They ran fast enough, or climbed high enough, to get to safety before the water could get to them.

“Always Ready” Moments

Moments like this in history have given me massive respect for the idea of being “Always Ready”.

You hear more and more stories similar to this on the news all the time. Like the three guys who stopped a terror attack on a French train in 2015. Air Force Staff Sgt. Spencer Stone, Oregon National Guard Spc. Alek Skarlatos, and civilian Anthony Sadler, all childhood friends from California, were vacationing in Europe when a bad guy with ties to radical Islam opened fire inside a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris carrying 554 passengers. They tackled him, knocked him unconscious, and held him there until authorities arrived, with Spencer receiving multiple lacerations from a utility knife.

Or there’s the story of backcountry elk hunter Todd Orr, who was mauled by a Grizzly Bear, twice in the same day in the Montana backcountry… with major injuries & lacerations he still hiked 3 miles back to his truck and drove himself to the hospital. He even turned down a ride from a local rancher and returned to elk hunting the following fall.

Or there’s the story of Jeff and Robert Olson. Jeff, Robert’s son broke his leg in a nasty rock slide 5 miles back into the Idaho wilderness. They were hunting alone and had no ability to contact search and rescue. Robert eventually had to carry Jeff out, by himself, making sure he got back home safely to his wife and newborn baby.

You just never know when a natural disaster might strike…or when danger is lurking around the next corner…or when those you love the most are going to need you. And that’s when the principles of “Always Ready” really matter.

Because when your family needs you…

Or your kids need you.

Or your hunting buddy needs you.

Or your soldiers need you.

Or that bull comes out of nowhere.

Or you need to save your own life.

You have to be ready.

Commit to these three principles to be Always Ready:

NO EXCUSES – Too many people make the mistake of making up the story in their minds, they are “not worthy”. For example, I am “not worthy” to climb Denali because I’m 44 years old with a time consuming career, I’m “not worthy” to run the NYC marathon because I’m a busy working mother with two young kids at home, I’m “not worthy” to hunt out 7 days in the Montana wilderness because I’m out of shape with two bad knees. We construct a reality in our minds, and then process information that fits that reality. 

But if we are TRULY lucky, someone comes along and interrupts our story, the reality we believe about ourselves, and through their story they dismantle our current belief system, ignite our spirits and transform our lives. Like Zion Clark, the Kent State University college wrestler, who was born without legs. Or L’Damian Washington, whose father was murdered, his mother died of a stroke, orphaned with 3 brothers but then he became the first kid in his family to go to college and is now a wide receiver in the NFL. These stories are all around us and they teach us that excuses are fabrications, and we can truly speak our future into existence if we so choose. Being “Always Ready” means having No Excuses, and altering our personal expectations will reshape the trajectory of our entire lives.

ALWAYS LIFT THE HEAVY BOX FIRST – This isn’t about the box. It is a metaphor about micro-decisions that we all face each and every day. Every day we all face thousands of micro decisions and we typically have two options…the easy choice or the hard choice. “Always lift the heavy box” is a mantra to remind you that the hard choice will make you better every single time. Mentally and physically. It is about doing what is right, not what is easy.  Think about the most mentally tough person you know, I would be surprised if they didn’t have this key trait. This is an ethos you nearly always find in the world’s most mentally tough individuals. Plus the cool thing about mental toughness is once you push a threshold once, it is easier the next time. After a while, you won’t even think about it, and will start racing for the “heavy box”, before anyone else gets it before you do, because you have learned it makes you better every time!   

LIVE FEARLESS – My good friend keeps a coin on him that says “Memento Mori”, it’s a Stoic Latin saying that basically translates to “remember that you have to die.” It’s a daily reminder to live fearless, because when this game of life is over, everything goes back in the box. Eventually this all ends. It is hard to be “Always Ready” when you are bound by fear & anxiety. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this while training. Individuals scared to try, push hard, and just plain terrified to fail. The cool thing is to witness them finally break this chain, and when they do, watch their minds and lives transform.

Start integrating these principles in your life.  Adopt them. Make them your new mentality everyday and see how your perspective changes. Then build on them. Start to define what “Always Ready” means in your life. Because you eventually have to make it part of your own story. As a community, we can rally around this together. 

Dustin Diefenderfer is the CEO and founder of MTNTOUGH Fitness Lab and a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. His overall philosophy is based on work ethic, grit, and helping his clients learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Dustin’s areas of expertise include ultra running and mountain and hunting conditioning. Dustin has completed numerous ultra marathons and marathons, running 12 in one year to support his work in Africa. He has spent his entire life pursuing his passions in the mountains of the Western United States.

This article was originally written by MTNTOUGH’s CEO Dustin Diefenderfer and reproduced in From the Green Notebook with permission from the author.