Thursday, December 31, 2009

Survival Attitude

I’m going to tell you three stories that illustrate what today’s post is all about. See if you can figure it out before I reveal the secret.

First story — Forty-nine-year-old Theo spent 3 days lost in the Michigan woods. The weather was nasty and the rain thoroughly soaked him.  At night, his clothes froze. Theo was not a smoker, so he carried no matches or lighter to start a fire.  He didn’t intend to stay overnight in the woods, so he had no supplies with him, and his only food consisted of rabbits that he caught and killed by hand and ate raw.

Next story — Two young women were lost for 4 days in the rugged wilderness area of Yellowstone National Park.  They found some small bird eggs in a nest and ate them.  “The eggs were warm, so they weren’t too bad,” one of the girls later commented.  There were grasshoppers and ants in the area, and the girls said they considered eating them, but they were rescued before they had the chance.

Final story — Seventy-nine year old Francis was lost for 4 days on the rugged slopes of a 4,000-foot mountain in Oregon. She kept herself going by eating wild berries, sleeping on a bed made of ferns, and using survival techniques she learned years ago. When she was rescued, she apologized for the huckleberry stains on her hands, and shooed away photographers as she was carried to safety.

Okay, so what’s this all about? You might be thinking this is about surviving in the backcountry by finding and eating wild foods. But we’re not talking about food — we’re talking about survival. And survival is really about overcoming the odds, reaching down deep inside ourselves and going beyond what is normally required of us.  It’s about attitude.  These stories are about people who adjusted their attitudes and overcame their fears and food prejudices and they managed to live for several days in conditions of hardship.  They all had an attitude about surviving, and it was that attitude that pulled them through.

It is no secret that 90% of survival is psychological, and only 10% is really about the rest of it.  This is easily proven by the countless stories of people who have stunned the experts by living through situations that defied all the rules of logic.  People survive extremes of heat, cold, dehydration, starvation and all forms of misery for only one reason — they are unwilling to accept defeat.

On the other hand, there are countless other stories of people who gave up and died when they should have survived.  Without sufficient will to live, they just didn’t rise to a fighting stance, look adversity in the eye and defiantly spit.  They gave up.

Survival is an individual thing.  The old saying holds true — whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right. On the extreme negative side, there is a condition of psychological dysfunction in which people become exceedingly depressed and simply give up, or they may fall victim to full-blown panic.

In urban survival situations, we often see folks sitting around waiting for someone else to come along and save them. They have an attitude of entitlement, an expectation that the some government agency is supposed to make sure they live through the crisis. They cease to function in pursuit of their own survival. When that happens, the death toll rises.

So it isn’t always the food, water, shelter, warmth or any of the other physical aspects of survival that make the difference— sometimes it’s the attitude.

The question is, “What is the proper survival attitude?”  The simplest answer is that it’s a fighting attitude.  If you’re not willing to fight for yourself, you might not survive.  Somewhere, down deep inside, you must find a controlled level of hostility toward the situation, a burning anger, a righteous indignation. Identify the enemy, no matter what it is, and then fight for your life against every threat. Never give up. Never!

No matter how you choose to define the attitude, control it. It’s a defiance, not a wild rage.  Clench your fist, grit your teeth and hiss, “I ain’t going down!” Then let that attitude motivate you to appropriate action. No matter what happens, you must always believe that you are going to survive.

Your attitude needs to involve four spheres of influence — yourself, the situation, others in the group, and your possessions.
  • About yourself: Your attitude must be one of confidence.  It’s normal to feel a certain level of apprehension or even fear. Courage is nothing more than pressing on in spite of fear, and continuing to work toward a positive solution.  Do not allow your fears to grow to the point that you think you’re not going to survive.  You are in control of your own thoughts, and if you need to shout out loud to yourself that you’re going to make it, go ahead.  In fact, the steady sound of your own voice speaking with firm resolve may help calm you.  Use only positive affirmations when having these little discussions with yourself.  Say things like, “Okay, I know I can get a fire started.”  Don’t use negatives in any form, such as, “If I don’t get a fire started, I’m going to freeze.”  The brain and the body respond without prejudice to both positive and negative mental inputs, so focus on only the positive.
  • Regarding the situation: You must deal with reality.  Develop a clear and realistic assessment of the situation — where you are, what the weather is doing, your physical condition (illness or injuries), and the condition of everyone in the group.  Make a mental note of every asset, every item of equipment right down to your shoelaces, your survival knowledge and the skills of every person in the group.
  • Concerning others: Your attitude must be one of cooperation and compassion. Some may react negatively to the situation. Deal with them in a manner that inspires confidence and a willingness to pitch in and help solve survival problems.  The most unlikely individual might rise to a leadership role. Be prepared that this individual might not be you.  This is no time for office politics — be a good leader or a good follower, whichever position you find yourself in. But always bring a positive influence to the group. If you think you know something that the leader needs to consider, take him or her aside and discuss it calmly and in private in a non-confrontational and non-condescending manner, so there is no appearance of mutiny.
  • Finally, about your possessions: Your attitude must be one of careful and protective use of every resource, so as not to lose, waste or ruin anything.  In a group survival situation, there is no such thing as a personal possession, because your knife or your compass might be the instrument that is used to save the whole group.  That doesn’t mean you freely give your knife to some club-fisted oaf so he can ruin it. Retain physical possession, but the benefit belongs to the group.
Survival is all about attitude. Whether you’re a 79 year-old woman who is lost in the mountains, a group of hunting buddies trapped by a severe storm, a young family that is suddenly stranded in the backcountry by a landslide that closes the trail, staying alive is a process that begins in the brain.

Once your attitude is right, you will be more successful as you work through each challenge. 

No comments:

Post a Comment