Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Survival Mindset

The Survival Mindset

Ask anyone that is into survival and disaster preparedness what’s the single most important thing and if he knows just the slightest bit about it the answer you will get is mindset. Some will say it as if revealing a treasured secret, some will blurb it out without even processing it in their minds, probably saying it a couple times a week for the last few years.
Now, it is correct, the right mindset is where it all begins and it is indeed the most important part, yet so little is said about it. I’ll be the first one to raise the hand and accept I’m guilty as well. Most often I will talk in my blog about different gear I found or am currently testing or using.  Its so much easier to talk about gear, tools, guns. Its not only fun, its interesting for the reader and not as much work for the writer. Tangible objects are obvious, determined, of this or that length, weight and use, while a philosophical concept is hard to define, its like trying too catch mist with a net.
Another common situation is that, right after claiming that mindset is the most important part, people will confidently admit that they themselves have such survival mindset. Yet this is like saying you’re Christian: The Catholic, the Protestant and the self claimed prophet nutcase that serves coolaid with rat poison, they all claim to be Christian yet they couldn’t be more different.

What does it mean to have a survival mindset?

Few things are as hard to define as survival mindset. I mean, I’ve been into survival and preparedness for a long time, thinking and writing about it for years and yet I have a hard time doing it and find it impossible to come up with a clean, short answer.
In my opinion , survival mindset includes but isn’t limited to:

Conviction. You are convinced of the wisdom in preparing and assimilate it as another part of your life.

Determination. To carry it through on the long run. The survival mindset is only legit if its something you’ve acquired and stays with you permanently once you’ve got it. Even if your dedication to preparedness is sometimes interrupted because of a tighter budget or particularly demanding times where your attention is mostly focused elsewhere, real survival mindset can never be uninstalled from your mind.

Humor. Without it you are doomed no matter what. In some cases you see people that lack it completely and just makes their lives miserable, in others you can even see its killing them, and anguish and negative thoughts will kill you if you can’t control them. During extraordinary stressful times its of great importance to have good humor, and its no coincidence that I’m placing humor near the top of the list.

Setting rational priorities. This is a common fail in many people who consider themselves to be survivalists and its an often discussed topic in my blog, the lack of common sense, real world approach to survival. Do you really focus on getting more guns instead of losing some of the weight that is killing you? Their failed logic goes, why worry about losing the extra 100 pounds worth of fat in your body when you can still shoot looters even if you’re fat. It never occur to them that they are a thousand times more likely to die of cardiac failure in their current state than anything else, and I’ve seen people actually get offended when a diet is respectfully suggested. The same applies to having tons of guns and no food. Tons of food and no water (but lots of empty containers with a post-it note that reads “fill me up when SHTF”). Ten thousand dollars worth of machinery but not a single dollar saved.

Self Discipline. To actually carry out through your actions what you claim and know to be important. To follow the path you set and not only do the things that are easy, but also have the will power to do the things that may be more unpleasant for you such as going into diet if you have to, working out, learning skills that you may not enjoy studying but you rationally recognize as important. This also includes financial sacrifices in some cases, saving money you would have otherwise spent in things you just don’t need, even ones that at some level you try to convince yourself as “must haves” for survival.

Differentiating fantasy from reality. This will usually end up with people preparing for the infamous “end of the world”, mistakenly thinking that if you’re ready for the worst case scenario, you’re ready for everything in between. Wrong. These people will have tons of supplies but wont have a sensible plan for when they retire, because everyone knows that money will be worth nothing… when the world ends.

Thirst for knowledge. Survival mindset also means you recognize the possibility of sometimes not having people there to help you, so its understandable that you’d like to accumulate as much skills and knowledge as you can. Time is limited and so are resources, you can’t know it all, but someone that has a survival mindset is ever curious and never wastes an opportunity to learn something new.

Awareness. Of your surroundings. Awareness implies conscious recognition of your immediate environment and the capability to detect potential threats within it as well as tactical advantages and disadvantages. This is again, a part of the survival mindset a lot of people claim to have but in reality they don’t. And I’m not using the term “tactical” loosely either, but referring to it as abstract analysis such as acknowledging the emergency exit sign in the restaurant where you’re having dinner, knowing your shoe soles are certified to provide electric shock resistance, or recognizing a pen or letter opened as a potential weapon when walking into an office. These are bits of knowledge you keep stored in your head and may give you an edge on different emergency situations. This is very different from the more “tacticool” concept of militarizing trinkets and other paraphernalia for no other reason than esthetic appeal.

Having a plan. You’ve talked with your family regarding what you’d be doing during an emergency in case you get scattered. You all know where you’d get together and where you would go if that location is not an option. When defending yourself, you have a strategy to follow, when hitting you already have a simple yet effective combinaiton of strikes you’ve practiced as default.

Redundancy and backups. Both in essential gear and planning. This will mean having several backups for things such as self defense, heat and cooking, several months worth of food, enough water to get by if the grid goes down. In planning it will mean having plan A, B and probably C as well. It basically means you’re already assuming the likelihood of failing and getting prepared for an alternative.

All constructive comments and suggestions are more than welcomed.



Anonymous said...

Wow, ferFAL, good post! Believe it or not a great book that I found shows a survival mindset was written by U.S. humor writer Patrick McManus, called "Whatchagot Stew". First part is memoir of Idaho, USA childhood during the 1930's, 2nd half is simple but delicious recipes using wild game, foraged food and garden produce.

Unknown said...

I love Patrick McManus books; he's a funny guy.

The only thing that I can think of that could perhaps be added to the list is somebody who can cultivate a cordial relationship with people. Having an unfriendly adversarial relationship with anybody that you have to spend time around is never good.

Serge Truth said...

Good post. A positive attitude is very important to success(survival).

Anonymous said...

Profound stuff.

One thing I would add or emphasize (and it is something many people with otherwise well-honed survival mindsets seem to lack) is openmindedness.

I don't mean "openmindedness" in the "all the children of the rainbow sing together" sense but in the "willingness to modify or discard pet theories and the conclusions they lead to when the observed facts do not support them" sense.

Too often, people do the opposite: they refuse to accept facts because they don't correspond with their ideas of how the world should be.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. It's good to attempt to define The Survival Mindset.

The ability to innovate and adapt is usually under appreciated. In fact, the ability is key. Using available materials creatively is apart of that, such as identifying a pen as a potential weapon as mentioned, yet it is also an intellectual game. We might then see if we are on the right track and identify others with and without. Those without 'it' are difficult to work with.

It starts with "openmindness". Those with closed minds, 'my way or the highway' attitudes do not go as far. Those who believe they control a situation with their direction, with one way of getting it done, have limited results.


Maldek said...

Survival Mindset (for me):

The will to do what is required to survive.

Maldek said...

Part 2 - details:

1) Your mind

If you are an idiot, if you have lots of mental problems you aint gonna make it.
No matter how good you are prepared - YOU will find a way to screw yourself.
Fix your mind before all else, or you are likely your own worst enemy.

2) Assess your situation and be honest

Not everybody is like arnold schwarzenegger in predator. You dont have to be.
But be honest to yourself about your situation and THEN fix the biggest shortfalls.

The BIGGEST first - not the easiest mind you. FerFals example is good. If you cant get into first floor without help because you are fat...THAT is your biggest issue - not another month stock of food.

If you are unable to ask another person for help you dont need another expert combat shooting class...you need the basics of communication. And no shooting a bullet at someone does NOT count as acceptable communication ;)

3) Make plans for the most likely scenarios (well feel free to make your plans for marsians invasion if you feel like it...but please make the more realistic ones first).

And most important - WRITE THEM DOWN. The plan needs to be on paper, in your mind is not enough. Others can read paper - not your mind, remember that.

4) Enjoy your life, every single day of it.

russell1200 said...

I disagree with nothing on your list; although I would put awareness at the top.

The second item, and you somewhat interwove it with the others, would be self reliance/self-starting. Possibly I would go further and call it an ability to work within an unstructured environment.

I have worked as a contractor in some disaster areas after hurricanes where there was no power, no communications, and you are there way before the official. Generally you were working by yourself. In addition, I was working in Puerto Rico with limited Spanish skills. This generally meant that the first step was finding a dependable local guide. Often an adventure in itself.

It is not an impossible situation, but you need to be able to anticipate what you need, be able to figure out how to get it, and at the same time be reasonably careful of your surroundings. I had problems at times, but generally had a lot of fun, got a lot done, and was generally recognized for that.

Some other people simply could not get it. Without structure, they simply fall apart. If they could keep a routine going, they often would do OK, but in these situations there is always a change in the routine eventually.
It was very hard to predict who would do well in these situations.

Anonymous said...

You can be a nice guy that wouldn't hurt a flea or you could be a jerk and a bully looking for trouble. But if you don't have the street sense to recognize a dangerous situation, the will to take a life to save your own and the foresight to have prepared to do exactly that at a moments notice then you don't have the right mindset. The one thing I know for sure is if TSHTF and you survive you will face this situation and if you aren't up to it you will probably end your survival "challenge" right there and then. And the more you have the more likely you will face it again and again.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! You nailed it.

My only little concern has to do with tight operational security (OPSEC) while at the same time knowing and talking to your neighbords, being part of the community, etc.

Anonymous said...


Jeff Cooper, who basically created most of the modern day pistol fighting methods, talks about the mental aspect of shooting. He also has a great point about the government soldiers and police vs a private citizen when it comes to fighting.