bow drill ember
A friction-fire ember. Tim MacWelch

The art of survival doesn’t begin when you unsheathe your knife, start building a shelter, or light up a fire. It begins as soon as you realize you’re in trouble and decide to get your head screwed on straight.

That’s right. Your survival isn’t wholly dependent upon a gun or a Rambo knife. The survivor mentality is the real key to your survival. Look at any real-life survival story and you’ll find the basic mental and emotional elements that most survivors have possessed. These elements are exactly the things that we will need to make it through an emergency.

They are so important, in fact, that I either begin or end most of my classes with this topic. And in these talks, I explain that there are many amazing survival tools that you already possess, as gifts from our hardy ancestors. But perhaps the greatest gift of them all is tenacity. Here’s why the tenacious mindset is critical, and how to make sure your tenacity doesn’t turn into self-destructive stubbornness.


We’re not talking about physical toughness—how many calluses you have or how much pain you can tolerate. We are talking about the strength of your will over the long haul. Tenacity is defined as the strength to persevere. People can certainly display mental toughness for short periods, but that’s not really tenacity. To be truly tenacious, you must tolerate the intolerable and suffer through the insufferable until you’ve accomplished your goal. Friction fire is a great example of this. Many people give up just before they get an ember. They get tired, they get frustrated, and they begin to doubt themselves or the process. If they had just pushed through, they would have succeeded. In the game of survival, you have to keep chasing the prize.


We all have some less-than-stellar qualities, and if you say you don’t, you should add lying to your list. It’s important to acknowledge the bad traits we have that may fight against our better qualities. When left unchecked, these traits could hinder our survival, and maybe even cost us our lives in a survival situation.

Take stubbornness, for example. It’s defined as being unreasonably unyielding. Being stubborn can be a good thing occasionally: like being too stubborn to die. However, stubbornness can often be a real stumbling block for some people. Stubbornness is essentially a refusal to adapt, and it’s often confused with tenacity.

Let’s take the friction fire example in a different direction. A tenacious person will keep trying to make a fire, and try different materials if the first ones don’t work. They never give up, but they are willing to try a new approach. A stubborn person will keep trying the same materials, expecting different results, until they are too exhausted to go further or they finally give up.

Stubbornness is very simple to identify, but hard to treat. Don’t keep wearing yourself out on rotten bow drill sticks that are never going to work. That’s called stubbornness. And possibly insanity, as many scholars credit Einstein with the quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Instead, try something else instead of blindly continuing on a path that’s not working out. Tenacity is displayed when you stay in the fight until you win. Stubbornness is displayed when you blindly continue something, even when it’s not working.

Are you tenacious or stubborn? Can you tell when you’ve crossed from one into the other? Please tell us your thoughts on the matter by leaving a comment.