The reality of emergency situations, of survival situations and of downright nasty conditions is that positivity is hard to harness as the gravity of your situation weighs more and more on your consciousness. It is hard to stay positive when the hardship factor is reading “11” on a scale of 1 to 10.

How can you improve your chances of survival when you seem to have no control over all the elements? The solution is not easy and it is not immediate. There isn’t a switch to turn off your hardships, and there definitely isn’t a reset button. In fact, the solution to winning the mental challenge of survival is not quick at all and resembles more of a marathon than a sprint. The solution is winning little victories and building upon these triumphs toward a positive mental attitude and, ultimately, your survival.

Stay Strong

Studies show that if you have photos of children in your wallet, you’re more likely to have it returned with all its contents if it is lost. There is a better reason to carry photos in your wallet: It can establish your worth. Are you someone’s uncle? Are you a brother? Are you a member of a team? Whatever you are, carry reminders of your worth. It is far easier to give up when you let yourself succumb to the idea of “I’m no one” or “Who even cares about me?” Never lose sight of who you are and what you’re worth. If you struggle to recount who you are, think about who you want to be and what you want to do. Do you want to be a father? Do you want to summit all the high peaks in the lower 48 states? Do you want to marry someone? Sometimes setting goals like these are all the motivation we need.

The problem in group settings is the perception of purpose. Do you see your purpose as part of the problem or part of the solution? Whenever possible, identify your purpose. Even in a solo situation, tell yourself your only purpose is to get that fire going. In a group, assign responsibility and divvy up the work. Set someone’s purpose as collecting firewood, another’s as picking edible leaves, another’s as gathering salvaged resources. Make sure everyone has a purpose because with purpose you have a goal. Win the little victory over feeling worthless.

Setting Priorities

Fire truly is life, and it has the power to warm the body and place warm happy thoughts in the mind. In all of my kits, I always include multiple means to make fire and an emergency poncho or heat-reflective blanket. I want my body to remain dry and warm because I know where my mind goes when I am cold and wet. If you can stay warm in an emergency, you can focus on solutions to your problem rather than how you will warm up and dry off. For children, a heated rock in a sock becomes a security blanket. Studies have shown that gazing at fire puts the mind at ease and brain waves are altered to a state similar to REM sleep. Fires not only warm the body, but they serve as a sedative in a hectic scenario. Value fire and always carry the means to make it.

Often, the importance of food is downplayed as it is low on the survivor’s priority list. These ideas are derived from the “Rule of 3s” which many are familiar with. While I completely agree with carrying shelter equipment over food procurement, I never downplay the need for food. It is true that people can live an average of three weeks without food, but this is only an average. Leading up to the three-week mark is not going to be pleasant. If you are accustomed to food on a regular basis, you know how you act when meals or snacks don’t come on schedule. Carrying instant coffee or tea, a few hard candies, chocolate or even seasoning to enhance the flavor of foraged food improves your morale.

Humans need companionship. We need someone to vent to, to bounce ideas off of and someone to hear us. In the movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks created the persona of Wilson (from a volleyball) to save his sanity. You may not have a volleyball to stuff with reeds and paint with blood, but you may have pen and paper.

There are numerous accounts of people documenting their trials and hardships in journals or on any paper they can find. Journaling is something psychologists consider healthy in everyday life. Even if you are only communicating with yourself, you are creating a tangible record. You may even set written goals. Deep down, you may want to share this with someone and the desire to share it may push you through the adverse conditions you’re in. With pen and paper, not only can you document navigation notes, you have a way to record what happened to you in an emergency.

Radios help ensure communication, even if that communication is one way. Similar to the paper and pen, the radio saves your sanity by hearing human noise (if you can pick up radio waves). Radios are effective for helping children through ordeals since they may not have the emotional maturity to grasp their situation and may need to escape reality. Disaster radios are good to have for power outages.

Think about the impact bad group dynamics can have on a family in an emergency. Protect your family from the outside world, but don’t forget to protect them from each other as well.

Cell phones and two-way radios offer an invaluable aid in survival situations. Unlike the pen and paper and radio, a cell phone or two-way radio allows for two-way communication. These electronics provide instant feedback and a link between the world of dire emergency and the normal world. Cell phones and two-way radios win more than little victories, they help win the war. If properly equipped, these can help the survivor create a plan, receive vital information, transmit his/her location and ensure communication is never broken.

Since action always is better than reaction, think of how you can win a little victory each day. For example, you can learn an edible plant a day for a year. Do a progressive burpee challenge. Save money to purchase replacement gear. Make each day count, seek to better yourself and prove to yourself how you are a survivor. Don’t wait to build positive mental attitude—strengthen and maintain it on a daily basis!

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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