These aren’t your usual survivalist tips on guns and weapons and fighting skills, because while those can be useful, they’re meaningless unless you also have most, if not all, of the following skills. These skills are useful in any situation and cost nothing to acquire. Many are attitudes, because in many cases, survival is a lot more about attitude than things.
1. Baby Steps - break down the events you are faced with into small, manageable tasks. And then do them, one little baby step at a time. Break them down to steps as small as you need them to be. Don’t be afraid to break them down into smaller steps if the first break down isn’t small enough. It’s easier to cope with a disaster or emergency or stressful event if you don’t have to face the whole thing all at once. Just deal with parts of it and before you know it, you’ve taken care of all of it.
2. Get a Motto - In a long and trying survival situation, most people need a motto. It can be as simple as “Survive” – a short form of saying to yourself – concentrate on survival, get through this moment and survive now, and then do it again for the next minute, one minute at a time. Ask yourself what one thing would keep you focused on getting home alive – your cat, your spouse, your job, your child, yourself… Make that your motto. Do this before you’re facing a crisis or survival situation. Whenever you face any difficulties, repeat it to yourself until it’s a habit. Remind yourself regularly about your motto – carve it into a sign, embroider it on a pillow, paint it, make it a part of your life so when you need it, it will be there for you. Mine is “suffer and survive.”
3. Believe it is so - Denial is almost universal, even among individuals with excellent training. Police, firefighters, EMTs, doctors, all receive extensive training for impossible situations and disasters and yet they, too, are subject to denial when something happens that they don’t expect. They get over it faster, but there’s still that moment when they’re going, “Huh?” Every one of us can experience denial – one of the most common ones is denying a fire alarm. Part of it is that we’re so acclimated to hearing it when it means just a drill and part of it is that moment of denial – that “Huh? Wha-?” moment. It’s a common phenomenon among lost hikers, who will continue to press on long after they know they’re lost because surely the road will be over that next hill, right? Believe what you see and act on it. Learn to recognize that your tendency is to see things not as they are but how you wish them to be and you’ll be better able to respond quicker in a crisis and to survive.
4. Accept Responsibility - Some people feel they have some control over the outcome of the good and the bad things that happen to them; they have an internal locus of control. Others believe that things are done to them by others or by outside forces, or happen to them randomly and they have little or no control over the outcomes; they have an external locus. Now, few people are completely one or the other. Most people combine the two – they have control over this but not that. Research and observation show that the people who have a stronger internal locus are less likely to find everyday activities stressful. They rarely complain, whine, or blame others and they take both compliments and criticism in stride. Some people carry their internal locus to an extreme and are overconfident (like the Rambo personality), and like the extreme external locus people (the perpetual victim), either extreme will get you killed in a survival situation. We need to learn to react to every day events with reasonable confidence. It is something that is both easily learned and easy to practice once learned. Make it a habit to take responsibility for how things happen in your life because how to behave everyday will help you predict how you will behave in a crisis.
5. Seek Growth - People with a "growth mindset"—those who think positively and who are not afraid to make or admit mistakes and carry on —are able to learn and adjust faster and more easily to overcome obstacles. It’s the ability to move on – not forget what happened, but to integrate it and reach out to life around them and to keep on living as if living mattered.
6. Patterning - Accidents are bound to happen. Even if you are aware of the patterns and do your best to avoid them, you may get caught up in someone else’s obliviousness. Take driving, for example. If you’re aware of the traffic patterns you can respond almost before you need to, slowing down or speeding up, and you’re aware of the bad drivers who could cause snarls and accidents and avoid the worst of it. If you know the terrain beyond the road you’re driving on, you also have exit options if traffic backs up. Or think of your retirement – if you invest heavily in stocks, your retirement fund depends on how well they do. A lot of people lost a large amount of their retirement because they weren’t paying attention to the financial patterns. Be aware of the patterns that build. There are points where you can change those patterns on a small or large scale to your survival benefit. Being aware of such patterns and systems and analyzing the forces involved can often reveal that we’re doing something much riskier than it seems – or much wiser.
7. Value – The more you feel you’ve sacrificed for something or the more you think you have invested in it, the less likely you are to change in the face of overwhelming evidence that it’s no longer worth it. Some things, it’s easy to give up – you’re renting a car to take a scenic drive, wearing your cool city clothes because it was warm when you left. Your survival gear is in your car, not this rental. As you wind up the mountains on unfamiliar streets, a cold front blasts through and it starts icing up. Do you push on for more pretty vistas, trusting strange car and strange roads, or do you return to familiar ground and warmth? Most people would turn back because they have so little invested in the venture. But what if it were something else? Could you evaluate it and make the right decision, cutting your losses and giving up your investment in it if things tanked? Would you hang on to “see it through” or would you abandon it and come back later? When you face a hazard, ask yourself: Is the final payoff worth the sacrifice and effort and risk I am now facing?
8. Challenge yourself regularly – If you’re stuck in a rut, you’ll be less able to survive because you aren’t flexible enough to cope with change and learning new things. If you learn new things or do old things in new ways. Living in a low-risk environment dulls you. When a survival situation comes up, you may be too slow to adapt to it. In survival, slowness can be fatal. Learn something new every month – chess or backgammon or gardening or skiing or tae kwon do or financial investing. Do crosswords or Sudoku. Take a new route home. Shop someplace new. By doing new things, you keep yourself flexible.
9. Plan B – always have a back-up or bail-out plan in place. Have several. Have them for everything – dinner plans, mountain climbing, road-tripping, fires, lay-offs, drought, The End Of The World As We Know It. Some obviously don’t have to be as well-thought out as others, while others need to be plotted in great detail well in advance. But have them. If the park where you planned a picnic is suddenly charging $10 per person to sit on the ground and eat food you brought, what will you do instead? If you know somewhere else you can go, you’ve got your Plan B and you’ve saved the picnic. It’s not “survival”, but the skill you use is certainly applicable to survival. By always having a Plan B, you will be accustomed to thinking of alternatives and flexible enough to follow through even when you are under stress – and that’s where you win.
10. Trust the Force – er – your instincts - We Americans were brought up mostly in a society that values reason and logic, and dismisses gut instincts and intuition. Truth is, these “instincts” aren’t really instincts, but a synergistic composite of data we collected, often unknowingly, composed of non-verbal communication, half-heard information, half-forgotten facts, and unconscious observation of our surroundings. If we not only pay attention to these bits and pieces but learned how to recognize them, we’ll have a much better survival chance. Hone your observation skills and memory and it won’t be “instincts” anymore, but our preferred reason and logic.
11. Chill Out – The aggressive Rambo types are usually the first to die in a survival situation. They get all hyped up and gung-ho and charge off to “git ‘er done” and are done in, instead. True survivors have a relaxed awareness and take time to evaluate the situation before formulating several possible plans. They almost immediately start figuring out the new reality, map out the new rules, and evaluate what to do now. They don’t get hysterical because they’ve already prepared themselves and now it’s just a matter of choosing which will be the most effective, no reason to get all hot and bothered. So remember your skills and preparations and chill. Your survival changes will improve.
12. Offer Help – If you reach out to help others, you transform yourself from victim to survivor. People who have tasks and responsibilities to do during a disaster have a higher survival rate than those who don’t. If you don’t have an assigned task, helping others, even in small ways, increases your survival chances. Just offering a stabilizing shoulder can be enough. Give yourself some small responsibility if there’s no one to help. That responsibility can help you survive in the face in amazingly bad odds.
13. Embrace Mortality – We are all going to die. That’s a given. Once you accept that fact, you are freer to act. If you are terrified of imminent death, you are much more vulnerable and will miss many opportunities for survival that would be obvious to you otherwise. That core part of you that wants to live will not be blocked by your fears. You’ll be able to do what has to be done. And when it’s all done and cleaned up, you can move on to #14:
14. Celebrate the Clean-Up – Most people celebrate too early and then are faced with the hardest part of survival. They celebrate having survived the flood only to give in when they are faced with the mold and mud and guck and rebuilding and restoration they now face. Wait to celebrate until the shine is back. Then celebrate big and hearty.