Survival mindset, being ready to win.

Podcast episode 102120

Welcome to this week's show, my friends. I hope you all are still rocking and rolling during these crazy days here in the US. If it’s not one thing, it’s another right? All that aside, we really appreciate the flood of emails this past week, and I’d like to answer some of them with this week's topic, survival mindset. For those of you who have never served in any type of law enforcement or military, how does one know the difference between the mindset and bravado? If you’ve never experienced homelessness or the “real” outdoors how does one know what to do? I’d like to offer some advice. The art of survival really comes down to making the right decisions based on the experiences currently witnessed. In that, survivors might witness an injury, and address it. The overall success really comes down to making the right decisions, at the right time.

While I’m not a current instructor of outdoor survival anymore, I’m glad many of you brought this up and asked about a journey into the psychology needed to win at wilderness survival or any type of survival for that matter. Regardless of whether you are surviving a beautiful day just off the local trails, or the most brutal extreme weather and terrain on earth, the mindset is the same. Having the thoughts necessary to survive is absolutely critical to your success, and it should dictate each decision while navigating through the situation. Today I want to explore that subset of your mind to help you fully understand, and win, in the power your mind can offer to your success.

With the current state of the country and the globe as-a-whole, we could find ourselves having to "survive" within our own communities. Natural disasters, social unrest, civil war, or foreign invasion are all possibilities, some more than others, some way more than others. So, now is the perfect time to get our ducks in a row, before we’re required to have them there. A lot can be said about the psychology involved in “steeling” your mind against panic and racing thoughts, so let’s look at each step.

Many think that attendance in some survivor school, or training, is the only way to survive. However, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. It is about being prepared to respond to evolving scenarios with counteraction steps based on experiences gained. Whether that experience is gained from reading a book or actually living through it is “almost” irrelevant. It doesn’t have to mean that you spend your whole life wearing camouflaged utilities either, there are some mental tricks you can use to get through.

The underlying knowledge of survival through anything is provided by intrinsic confidence. This confidence is built by (in many cases) repeated successful completing of each challenging task, and especially if it is completed under duress. If you are not using the skill every day, chances are fairly strong you will lose some of it. The other challenge is the massive chemical maelstrom that happens with the rush of adrenaline that one gets when a disaster event occurs.

Unfortunately, the body pumps the hormone epinephrine into the bloodstream when stressed out, and floods the medulla oblongata within the human brain. The downside of this “fight or flight” condition, it attempts to simplify the issue to make that one, ultimate decision. Run or fight. So, from a physiological perspective, the fear starts at the brain: the threat received by the Amygdala (part of the human brain) which then, if there is a defined threat, its sent to the Hypothalamus (another part of the brain) which then sends a signal through the sympathetic nervous system to the adrenal medulla (located on the top of your kidneys) where epinephrine, cortisol, and others are released to the bloodstream, which is then carried throughout the body. The effect is known as an “adrenaline rush” is ushered in and will last approximately sixty minutes or so. By then, the hormones released are diluted enough that serotonin (produced by the nerve cells) overwhelms it. As the brain releases that it's not under threat, it engages the parasympathetic nervous system, known as the “rest-and-digest” system which initiates the march towards tranquility.

When an event happens, most people will panic and many will be overwhelmed (this is caused by epinephrine flooding the brain via the bloodstream), so the absolute best tool to have at your fingertips will be your written plan. I know this sounds too simple, but realistically when an event happens our minds immediately try to grasp for everything at once, as it seeks to answer its question “Fight or Flight”. Most often this overwhelms the brain and they wind up frozen in panic, unable to effectively manage themselves during this emergency and much less others in their charge, and their personality leaves them, in many cases, their behavior may become more primal in nature. With a written plan our brains can focus on executing the steps of the plan. This will provide an order that the brain can reacclimatize itself. So, in the global scheme of things, without the repeated practice of the plan, your next best chance of success is to create a “cheat-sheet” that you can pull out quickly during an event.

What is the psychology involved in winning? Winners win, victims don't (WWVD) is a thought you need to etch onto the surface of your brain. By simplifying the mental needs during this adrenaline rush, your hopes to be successful increase dramatically. If you attempt to go through an involved exercise of the mind immediately following a large-scale event, you are tempting fate, and setting oneself up for failure. Seriously. One might also consider a small (yet detailed) checklist on your person. This allows you to very quickly get moving on the items on your list instead of dwelling on the enormity of the event or trying to make detailed decisions in this current state.

The first questions we ask ourselves,

  1. Can I breathe? Do I have a breathable air source? Will it stay that way?
  2. Am I injured? Is someone in my immediate party injured? Can the injury be treated?
  3. Am I safe? Is the “event” ongoing, or has it left my immediate surroundings on the verge of collapse? Do we have any safety concerns?
  4. Can I now rendezvous with my family circle? How far must one travel to join up with them?

These questions dictate the necessary steps we must take moving forward. So, knowing what to do next will provide you with a level of confidence that is necessary to be successful. Obviously, if you’re injured you will need to get yourself fixed. The following step should be to fix the injury if you can, if you can’t, you need to find someone who can, or at the very least, contain any possible infection that may occur. Following that, it would be to get to safety as quickly as possible.  As you see, by having a step by step guide we give our brain the time it needs to start reading the situation ahead so that we can adjust if necessary, continuing to dilute the adrenaline within our brains. To improve your confidence, practice your plan, as this will give you solid knowledge that you will be able to accomplish it when it’s for real.

There are defined differences between classes of situations and the mindset necessary to conquer it.  Obviously, there is a multitude of types and degrees for these “events” that we need to be prepared for, however, the mindset to survive and come out the other side should remain constantly at all times. While the event may seem overwhelming, but the need to survive dictates that we must place one foot in front of the other to take steps towards the objectives. The key is to create your list of steps with thoughtful paths forward now before the next disaster happens.

As an example, in November of 2018, south-central Alaska was hit with a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. I found shelter in an open doorway at the telecommunications company I worked for at the time. After the shaking stopped, I immediately reached out to my wife via a cell phone call. All voice lines were busy, so “step 3a” on my cheat sheet says text her. In the meantime, I had twenty-five employees who needed direction. So, my office had a plan that we quickly dugout and began implementing the steps to get people moving again. As a telecommunications shop, our customers needed us to be there during that time. After receiving a reply text that my family was OK, I continued my emergency checklist for my work. After ensuring my office was completely done, I ventured home many hours later. By the time I arrived at home, my wife had everything pretty much done. I did find out that my wife and young sons had hidden under the dining table throughout the shaking, and a cabinet that held wine glasses had come open so, those had come crashing on the floor around them.  Everyone was safe, with no injuries.

So, when discussing the survival mindset, technically we are talking about the confidence needed to power through and get you, and your family to safety. When talking and developing this confidence, technically that only comes from practice, but the “hack” is to have a cheat sheet prepared when not under stress.

The keys to being prepared are fairly straight-forward. The biggest advantage you can give yourself is this “cheat sheet” which contains the multiple steps necessary, eliminating the need to overwhelm the brain. Given the brain and bloodstream enough time to dilute the overpowering flood of adrenaline in the brain. This is critical to success. In addition, identify steps within your checklist where some additional skills might be necessary, and get those necessary skills now, before they’re needed.

Again, the key is to simplify. Simple steps that the brain can engage without any thought is the most benefit to the survivor. In addition, minimize unnecessary risks, as this adds a level of complexity that the brain doesn’t need before it is able to dilute that brain flood.

One of the other key tactics is to hold your ground. When you make a decision, don’t spend any time second-guessing yourself, as this will send a new flood (although much smaller) of adrenaline to the brain, causing an even further delay of responses from the brain.

As always, it has been a blessing to be here with you all today. I sincerely appreciate you offering your time to me to, hopefully, enlighten you with my experiences and provide you with the hope that you and your family will survive whatever life throws at you. Remember to stay safe, and keep hope that tomorrow will be better. Thank you all. Peace.

Posted on: October 20, 2020, by :

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