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Developing a Survival Mentality

Aug 30, 2017 0 comments

Every military survival manual I’ve ever seen starts out with a section on having the right mental attitude. The military clearly recognizes something here, which a lot of people take for granted. That is, ones mental state will have a lot to do with their ability to survive.

Oncologists see this regularly. Cancer patients with a positive mental attitude are much more likely to survive than those who are expecting to die. Their positive attitude leads them to fight for life, not only doing what is necessary for healing to occur, but even fighting with their own bodies in a struggle for life and death.

Survival is a lot like that. Anyone caught in a survival situation has two battles to overcome; the one outside them and the one within. It won’t work to only win one of those battles; you have to win both to come out in victory.

There are plenty of dangers on the outside, just waiting for an opportunity to destroy any one of us. They can too, if we aren’t convinced that we can defeat them. But the calculus of the situation totally changes, when we defeat the enemy within and are convinced that we can overcome. So the place to start is on the inside, before we are faced with the enemy on the outside.

Are You Positive or Negative?

Everyone you meet is either positive or negative; rarely do you encounter someone who is right in the middle. Their outlook on life is either filled with joyful expectation of the great things that are going to happen, or they’re looking for the dark cloud inside every silver lining. Sadly, most people are negative, looking for everything to go wrong, rather than positive.

This is because society in general is negative. I realize that might be a strange thing to say in a country like the United States, which has supposedly been built on a long history of people overcoming adversary. But the reality is that the number of real overcomers out there is pitifully small. The vast majority of the people around us are just muddling along, trying to make it from day to day.

You can even see this in the way that we talk. Many of our common expressions are based on a negative outlook on life, rather than a positive one. We talk about a traffic signal as a “red light,” even though it spends just as much time green as it does read. Weathermen tell us about the “chance of rain,” rather than the “chance of sunlight.” The average person is much more likely to complain about receiving poor service, than they are to compliment good service.

This extends into the media as well. News reports are almost all bad news, following the catchphrase, “If it bleeds, it leads.” “Fluff stories” about someone doing something good are relegated to the back of the paper and are the thing most likely to be cut out of a newscast, even though people love to see them.

With so much negativity around us, it’s no wonder that there are more people who see the glass as half empty, than there are who see it as half full. They have been trained to focus on the negative and do so. Even though there is just as much positive that they could focus on, as there is negative. You just may have to look a bit more to find the positive, simply because you’re surrounded by people on all sides, who are focused on declaring the negative.

Yet, it is the positive people in the world who end up winning at the game of life. Entrepreneurs who make a go of it, people who mange to climb the corporate ladder, the singer who has a smash hit, the writer who pens a best seller and the Hollywood actor who becomes a star all share that in common. They are people who are positive, who look at the challenges in life as just that, challenges. Not defeat or even the harbinger of defeat.

The question is, which are you? Are you one of the positive people in life or one of the negative? If you’re negative and the only reason you are prepping is because you are negative, then I hate to say this, you’re in trouble. You might have the best equipment, the most training and the biggest stockpile of supplies, but you don’t have the one thing you need… a positive attitude.

Only You Can Determine Your Attitude

Let me share an important secret with you. That is, you can decide what sort of an attitude you have. That’s right; your attitude isn’t genetic, nor is it something that you are  While it may be handed to you on a silver platter by your parents, teachers, friends, or boss, it’s up to you whether or not you choose to accept it. You can decide to reject the attitude life hands you or you can decide to accept it.

Oh, life will try to tell you otherwise, even convince you that you have no say in the matter. But life is wrong. All it can do is hand you a set of circumstances, it can’t determine whether you accept them or how you respond to them. That’s up to you.

Let me give you a simple example. Let’s say that you and I are sitting here in front of each other, talking; rather than you reading what I’ve written. In the midst of that, I grab a bucket of ice water and pour it over your head. You might choose to react in anger, yelling, “You made me wet and you made me mad!” But in reality, all I did was make you wet. You decided to get mad all on your own. You could just as easily have decided to laugh it off or even get even with me in the spirit of fun.

Granted, how you react to that situation will depend a lot on your current frame of mind and your past experiences. But more than that, it will depend on how you have chosen to react to those experiences in your past. You, and only you, can develop the habit of reacting negatively or positively.

Life hands us all a pile of garbage. Each and every one of us has a past, filled with things we have to overcome. For each bad thing that has happened to you, there’s something bad that has happened to every person around you. But not all have reacted in the same way. Some have chosen to develop a positive attitude, while others have chosen to develop a negative one.

If your attitude is not positive now, it’s time to change it. If you don’t, that attitude, more than anything, will defeat you in a survival situation. You’re going to need to be totally convinced that you can and will survive, or there’s little chance for you. Start making that change today.

How Do You Change Your Attitude?

Changing your attitude is both easy and hard at the same time. It’s easy, because it’s based on a decision to change. It’s hard, because you’re going to have to make that decision over and over again, each and every time you find yourself slipping back into the old ways, the old negativity. But if you keep making that decision, you’ll find that you gradually change and you won’t have to make it quite as often.

You have been given a free will and this is a great place to use it. Your will is not dependent upon your emotions or your background. It is dependent on making a firm decision and sticking with it.

Now, here’s the secret. As I said just a moment ago, you have to keep making that decision. At first, your decision might manage to last a whole five minutes, before something comes along to mess you up. But that’s five minutes you’ve had of victory. So don’t give up. Make the same decision again, and keep making it, each and every time that you find yourself getting negative again. As you do that, each decision helps to train your subconscious into a new path; one of positivity.

What you’ll find, is that your periods of being positive will begin to last longer. You’ll also find that you recognize your own negativity much quicker. So, you’ll be able to make the decision again, before wasting a lot of time being negative. Eventually, it will become such a habit that you won’t let yourself stay negative for more than a few seconds.

Please note that I’m not talking about a pie-in-the-sky dreamland, where you are out of touch with reality here. I’m not saying that you should quit recognizing things that are going wrong. What I’m saying is that you’re making a decision to not see those as merely bad things happening to you, but as opportunities to overcome and go forward.

You can’t grow in life without adversity. Just ask any weight lifter. You know the saying, “No pain, no gain.” Well, guess what, it applies to every area of growth in life, not just to weight lifting. Pain, not the good times, causes growth. Body builders know that and embrace the pain, reveling in it and what it is doing to them. You need to learn to do the same with the adversity in your own life.

How Does This Apply to Survival?

When you learn to think positively and see challenges as a means of growth, it changes your thinking. Instead of looking at the adversity as something that will destroy you, you start looking at it as something to overcome. So, instead of wasting your time and energy worrying about the bad, you spend it looking for a way to overcome that bad. You see your survival problems as challenges to be overcome, and you decide that you’re going to be the winner.

Survival is difficult. That’s why your attitude is so important. If you aren’t ready to face it with the attitude of an overcomer, you will waste a lot of time and energy worrying, rather than doing. You wll be fighting two enemies, the one outside yourself and the one inside. But we’ve just discovered how to get rid of the enemy within. That just leaves you one more to have to overcome.

Developing Mental Toughness

Navy Seal training is some of the toughest military training in the world. The men who go through that training receive the best our military has to offer. Their training is both physically tough and mentally demanding. But do you know what the hardest part of all is? It’s the bell.

One of the things Navy Seals need the most is the mental toughness to stick it through. So there is a shiny brass bell hanging outside the headquarters building at their training base on Coronado Island. All that anyone has to do to get out of the program and go back to a cushy berth in the rest of the Navy is ring that bell. The instructors are taunting them constantly, trying to get them to ring that bell. If they do they’re out. There’s no mocking them, no belittling them, they’re just out.

Of those who enter Seal training, an average of 80% ring that bell at some time or another. They just reach a point where they say “No more” and quit. Maybe they had a dream about being a Seal from their childhood. But at some point, they decide it’s just not worth the cost.

With all the Navy has invested in those trainees, why would they make it so easy for them to drop out? That’s simple. It’s a test. One of the things that sets the Navy Seals apart from any other military organization is that it is made up of people who refuse to quit. Considering the types of missions that they draw, that’s a very important attribute.

Those who make it to the end of training are perfect physical specimens; physically honed and toughened to a point that few people ever reach. More important than that, they are mentally tough. That single attribute, more than anything else, makes Seals special. Seals just don’t have any quit in them.

This is the type of mental toughness that will see you through the worst of situations. When everything seems to be going to pot and there doesn’t seem like there is any chance of making it, this sort of mental toughness will see you through to victory. Others might quit and die, but you’ll keep going on.

Let me be clear about something; that is, the mind usually gives out before the body will. We try to tell ourselves that our bodies can’t take any more, but rarely does anyone push their body to that point. They decide that their body has reached its limit, and stop, regardless of what their body can actually do. But in a survival situation, stopping can be fatal. You have to keep going until you see that you truly have victory.

That’s not to say that your body doesn’t have anything to do with mental toughness. It does. Generally speaking, when people quit, it’s because of the pain they are feeling or the tiredness of their bodies. But that’s not the same as the body quitting. That’s the mind. The mind decides that it won’t put up with any more pain or that it is too tired to go on. So it quits, telling the body to stop.

Push your body, in order to push your mind. If you need to go to the store, go on a bicycle, rather than driving. When you take a walk, do it with a 50 pound rucksack. Do things that are physically harder, just because they are harder. See how long you can keep yourself doing that, especially when it is hard to do so. Don’t let yourself quit.

Cancer patients and others with severe illnesses talk about this, often just before dying. They’ll talk about being “Just too tired to keep fighting.” So they stop. When they do, it really doesn’t matter what the doctors do, they’re going to die. Once again, it’s the same in a survival situation.

If you are going to survive through hardship, you need to learn how to keep going, even when you think you can’t. That means being able to push through the pain and the tiredness. You might be moving slower, but as long as you’re still moving, you haven’t given up.

So How Do You Train For This?

Training for mental toughness is some of the hardest training you can put yourself through. When you train yourself physically, you usually set limits. Oh, you’ll try to push those limits, pushing your body’s ability, but only a little bit. You’ll hit a point where you say “that’s enough” and that’s where you quit, happy that you made it farther than ever before.

To train your mind, you have to take that to the next step; and that’s a big step. In other words, you have to push yourself to the max, way past where you think your limits are. You have to prove to yourself that the limits you thought you had are merely something you created in your mind; not real physical limits. So, when you fall down, you have to get back up again. When you hit the wall, you have to go the extra mile or do a couple more repetitions of your lift. You just have to keep going.

Like physical training, you’re going to need to do this in stages. Don’t think that you can push yourself to the point of physical collapse once and you’re there. No, you’re not. The very fact that you actually collapsed physically is going to mean that you can go farther the next time. So you need to force yourself to do it again.

Of course, this is going to help your physical toughness and your physical training regimen as well; at least in the physical parts of your mental toughness training. But don’t just limit yourself to that. You want to challenge yourself in other ways as well, ways that are purely mental, without as much of the physical element.

Focus on the Mental

When medical doctors are going through their internship, one of the things that are done to them is to make them work back to back shifts over and over again, without rest. This is intentional, because doctors need to learn how to make good decisions, even when they are not at their peak. Trying to make life or death decisions when you are tired is hard. But that’s the real world of medicine. They have to learn how to do it. Hence being forced into that situation, while they have someone looking over their shoulder to back them up.

You could make yourself do something similar, working through the night, so that you’re doing a shift that is two days, with the night in-between. It doesn’t matter so much what the work is, just that you don’t let yourself quit for longer than is needed for eating and bathroom breaks.

For that matter, fasting is a good exercise in mental toughness training. Forcing yourself to go without eating for several days, while everyone around you is eating, is rough. For me, it seems that everyone I know asks me out to eat when I’m fasting. But I stick to my guns. Not for them or for anyone else, but for me.

Be Your Own Success Coach

There are a number of things which you can do while in these training sessions, which can help you keep your focus and power on through. I guess you could call them “mental toughness tricks.” But whether they are tricks or not, they can help you keep making the decision to go forward, even when it seems impossible:

  • Be a self-starter – It’s actually easier to keep going when you decide to do it, than when others tell you to.
  • Develop your sense of duty – In many cases, mental toughness is needed so that you don’t let others down. Understand your duty and remind yourself of it. That will help to motivate you and keep you moving on.
  • Think of others – Regardless of whether you are thinking about your family or some other team, keep them in mind. If you have to cross over a mountain in a storm to get to your family, thinking of them will help you get there. If all you think about is yourself, you’ll feel bad for yourself and give up.
  • Take pride in your success – You know what you’ve accomplished, even if nobody else does. Remind yourself of those successes, so that you remember what you can do.
  • Be positive – Don’t think about what can go wrong or how you can fail, focus on how you will succeed and what that will feel like.
  • Talk to yourself – You can be the best motivational speaker you’ve ever heard, and you should. Keep telling yourself that you can do it. That you can overcome the obstacle. That you’re bigger, stronger, and tougher than whatever you are facing.
  • Use your imagination – The imagination can be a powerful tool, when we learn to harness it and use it to our benefit. Unfortunately, too many people allow their imaginations to run wild, which usually means in a negative direction. Stop it from doing that and put it to work visualizing your success.

If you are depending on other people to motivate you, you’ll never have mental toughness. You have to be able to motivate yourself. So work on being a motivator. Become the one who everyone else looks to for motivation. That will be great practice for the times when you have to be your own success coach, talking to yourself and powering through.

The other thing you have to do is learn to close your ears to the nay-sayers. There will always be people who will tell you that you can’t do it. The world has never had any shortage of people like that, and it doesn’t look likely that there will be a shortage anytime soon. So learn to avoid them. You don’t need that sort of input dragging you down.

People who are mentally tough laugh at those sorts of people. Most of the time, the only reason they do it is because they don’t have the necessary mental toughness to do it themselves. So they try and keep anyone else from doing it as well. It’s a form of making themselves look better, by making sure that nobody else looks better than them. As such, it’s a very childish way to ask. They truly deserve to be laughed at. But they should also be pitied.

More than anything, when you find that you fail, and as you are training you probably will, don’t let that failure define you. The only difference between a success and a failure is that the success gets up one more time than they fall down. Just keep getting up and you will end up succeeding.

Dave Steen

About The Author: Dave is a 58 year old survivalist; father of three; with over 40 years of survival experience. He started young, learning survival the hard way, in the school of hard knocks. Now, after years of study, he's gray-haired and slightly overweight. That hasn't dimmed his interest in survival though. If anything, Dave has a greater commitment to survival than ever, so that he can protect his family. Click Here To Read More About Dave


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