Survival

15. Developing the Survival Mindset, Part 1

What is the survival mindset and why is it important?

In our previous series on survival training, we talked briefly about the survival mindset and how it can help you surmount the biggest challenges in the wilderness.

However, we weren’t able to fully develop the idea. In our newest series, we are going to explore the survival mindset in full so that you will know how to begin developing it for yourself.

The psychology of survival has actually been studied for many, many decades because of its importance in the battlefield. Military forces from around the world are taught to fight in the field but before they can do, they must develop a strong survival mindset, too.

How can you develop this special mindset?

You don’t have to be a member of the military or navy to learn this vital mindset. Here are some excellent ways you can start developing it today:

  1. Beat Disbelief Into the Ground – Disbelief is defined as a state in which a person unable to come to terms with the reality of what had just happened. This mental state is exceedingly common in people who have just experienced a disaster or any austere or challenging situation in the wilderness.

Disbelief can be extremely disabling and it can drive an unprepared person into a near-permanent state of inaction. That’s why it would be best to seize control of it as soon as possible.

How can you disassemble disbelief?

Disbelief is like a nasty, well-oiled machine. It’s destructive and limiting, but it works perfectly if you let it have its way with you. You can’t just “shake the feeling” and expect to gain mental clarity immediately. You need to bring this mental behemoth down piece by piece.

The first step in disassembling this ambiguous mental state is by acknowledging everything that has happened so far. Don’t let the unfairness of your situation get in the way of your assessment. Acceptance is the cornerstone of this endeavor. Realize that you can’t solve your problem if you don’t face it head on.

The second step is to completely discard all notions of “survival rate.” At this point, those statistics are useless information. They won’t help you solve the problem and they will only feed your disbelief.

The third and final step is to begin formulating a plan based on your logical assessment of the situation.

Do not think for a second that it’s impossible to survive or surmount the obstacle because we see people do “impossible” things every day. There are thousands of people out there proving time and time again that the odds can be beaten if you really want to.

  1. Chaining Down and Controlling the Stress Response – Stress is a physiological response to threatening or downright dangerous situations. Physiological stress arises from psychological stress, which in turn is triggered by a combination of thoughts and emotions.

Stress triggers the “fight or flight” response and makes adrenaline readily available in the bloodstream.

This type of physiological response can actually be useful if you are in a compromising situation. However, you must first chain it down and control it if you want it to be useful to what you’re trying to do:

Step one is to physically calm yourself. Stress can double a person’s normal heart rate easily. You can’t think properly if your heart is racing so loosen your shoulder muscles and take deep, oxygen-rich breaths to physically relax.

Remember to breathe in through your nose so that you can take deep breaths. Shallow mouth-breathing is not recommended for emergency situations.

Step two is performing a complete analysis of what exactly happened. You should also begin identifying the different resources that you can use to get out of this tight situation.

Step 3 is to get angry! Not angry at yourself mind you, but at the problem itself. Tell the situation that it can go fly to the moon (or something harsher, if you want).

Anger can give you a more sustained adrenaline rush, which is vital in some situations (e.g. swimming upstream when the current is strong and you’re already fatigued).

Step 4 is to resign yourself to the fact that you’re in this particular situation and that there’s no shortcut out of it. At one point your energy will wane and adrenaline will no longer help you perform well.

When you reach this point in time, you have to conserve energy. Many survivors recall a gentle “sinking” into the situation so that their minds are no longer bothered by the uncertainty and unfairness of what has happened. This state of mind can actually help you understand what needs to be done more quickly.


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