We’ve all heard it said that the brain is our greatest survival tool which also reminds us to constantly sharpen our thinking about survival. Becoming survival-minded means taking our survival seriously enough that we are prepared and ready when things go wrong.
Take something as unremarkable as twisting an ankle so severely that the victim can barely hobble a few steps at a time. If it happens in their neighborhood they just call home or a friend on their cell phone and someone soon shows up in a car to take them to the hospital for an x-ray. That’s the learned thought process they’ve grown up with, where the victim is never really in danger because they can quickly and easily reach out to others for help. But, suppose that same person is hiking alone, just 5 miles down a rocky, backwoods trail and suppose it’s late afternoon when they have the same type of accident. With no one else around to help and no cell phone service, the individual is on their own to handle the situation using what’s in their head and what’s in their pack. Instead of being an hour and a half from their car in the parking lot, they may be facing a whole day or more just to get back. Did they go out prepared to stay overnight, to make shelter against a cold rain and wind, to make a fire to keep warm and to send a signal in the darkness? Statistics sadly reveal that very few day hikers are ever that prepared. Their “hope” is that nothing will ever go wrong but, hope is not reliable a course of action.
Becoming Survival Minded really comes down to focusing on three very inter-dependent factors: Ability, Attitude, and Action. In military combat there is a phenomenon known as "condition black" where a soldier becomes overwhelmed with the chaos of the battle, the sight of friends dying all around, and the uncertainty of the outcome. As the situation goes from bad to worse the desperate individual becomes increasingly incapable of rational thought so that even their physical abilities such as sight, speech, hearing, and motor coordination then grind to a halt. It turns out the individual has become paralyzed by either not knowing or by losing sense of what to do next, and the same thing can happen to anyone unprepared for the stress of survival. The first key to preventing this reaction is to develop and hone our abilities.
By learning and practicing the right skills we gain experience and develop the confidence to know what works and what doesn’t. Real ability does not come from book knowledge or videos. When each of us asks the question, “Will I be able to endure hardship, fight through pain and injury, make good decisions, and take the right action when I'm exhausted, hungry, thirsty and lost?”, the answer should be clear.
Not only does training and practice hone our skills but, the experience and confidence we gain becomes enormously important for maintaining the right attitude and taking the right actions under stress. This is especially true when family members or friends are also relying on us to get them through. Survival stress can cause the unprepared to panic, to make bad decisions that only worsen the situation, or to eventually devolve into apathy and giving up. That’s where we also rely on having the right attitude.