The art of survival doesn’t begin by building a shelter or lighting a fire. Long before any of that, you must first develop a survivor’s mindset. Look at any real-life survival story and you’ll find that the survivors in each shared similar mental traits that enabled them to endure their respective situations. Developing a survivor’s mindset is so important, in fact, that I either begin or end most of my classes with this topic. We’re all already equipped the following five attributes that combine to form a survivor’s mindset, but beware that each has its kryptonite.
1. Positive Attitude
Just because having a positive mental attitude is preached ad nauseam in every survival book, Scout manual, survival video, and wilderness class, don’t discount it as cliché or lip service—PMA is a real necessity. I would go so far as to say that it’s a critical survival priority in the face of adversity, and is one of our most important skills to master. It’s also one of the hardest skills to master, but it is worth the trouble. Employ this attitude every day, and you’ll be prepared the next time you’re lost in the woods or stuck in a disaster.
A pessimist will always focus on the bad side of a situation and often feel overwhelmed. Suck it up and try to stay as positive as you can, while maintaining a grip on reality.
2. Mental Toughness
We’re not talking about physical prowess, how much stamina you have, how many calluses you’ve earned, or how much pain you can tolerate. We’re talking about the strength of your will and the toughness of your mind. To be mentally tough, you must tolerate the intolerable, you must suffer through the insufferable, and you must overpower your weakness and your desire to give up.
Kryptonite: Declining Mental Capacity
Not surprisingly, it is uncommon for someone in a disaster or emergency to retain 100 percent of his normal mental faculties. Consider the fatigue, injury, dehydration, lack of sound sleep, and emotional stress in an emergency. Those factors will cause most regular people to become a complete train wreck. With this in mind, carefully monitor yourself and other survivors for depression, anger, frustration, hyperactivity, feelings of intense guilt, ideas of suicide, and any irrational behavior. Do whatever you can to avoid “shutting down” or giving in.
What motivates a person to stay alive when everything has gone wrong? Many survival stories speak of the survivors’ devotion to their religion or a higher power for providing motivation and hope. Other survivors have told of their intense desire to get back to family, friends, and loved ones. What would motivate you to stay alive in a survival emergency? It’s different for everyone.
This is the poison of motivation. If you lose the hope that you’ll be saved and reunited with loved ones, or if you believe your God has abandoned you, then you are in a bad situation indeed.
4. Work Ethic
One’s work ethic is a major factor in the mentality of survival. I see it all the time in the classes I teach. Fortunately for lazy people, their work ethic can be built up over time, just like any other skill. Having a difficult experience can teach people to work harder next time—assuming there is a next time. A survivor should have a strong work ethic and stick with the “job” until it is done. A strong work ethic can go a long way in making up for the things that luck doesn’t provide.
Being lazy and always seeking the easiest path will eventually cause you some serious trouble. Lounging around camp means that you are not out looking for food or building an enormous bonfire signal beacon or gathering water or a number of other things that could be done. Don’t be lazy.
Adaptability and survival have always gone hand in hand. Think about the survival of plants and animals. The ones that could not adapt to a changing environment died out. The ones that could change and evolve have survived. You must be able to adapt to changing events, situations, and environments. You must also be able to recognize the things that are worth continuing and the things that need to be abandoned.
On occasion, being stubborn can be a good thing—like being too stubborn to die. But more often than not, stubbornness will hurt you. Stubbornness is a refusal to adapt, and it’s very simple to identify. Maybe you were born stubborn, or your ego says you cannot fail therefore you keep doing the same thing over and over. The thing to remember here is this: Don’t be afraid to change. If something is not working, change it up. Don’t let your stubborn streak kill you or someone else.
Have you survived by your wits and your survivor mentality? We’re glad you made it. Tell us your tale by leaving a comment.