Survival in extreme situations usually depends directly on a person’s degree of preparation. Typically we tend to think of preparation for disasters as involving mostly food and water storage. However, perhaps even more than physical preparation, survival in extreme situations can often be determined by how mentally prepared we are to handle stressful experiences. As you gather stores of emergency food, water, and survival supplies, don’t neglect to prepare yourself mentally as well. Today we’re going to examine four traits you can foster that are extremely useful—some might even say crucial—for getting through tough things.
We’ve been taught the significance of a positive attitude since we were in Kindergarten, so it’s easy to quit listening when someone tells us we need to think positively. However, according to plenty of recent research, optimists are better off than pessimists when it comes to many aspects of life: Optimists have been shown to have better survival rates when diagnosed with life-threatening diseases or conditions, optimists have been shown to survive poverty better, and studies suggest that optimists tend to have better overall health. All of this evidence would suggest that optimism can be a very useful trait when it comes to surviving difficult situations.
TIME Magazine ran a story last year about a program under implementation by the U.S. military that is designed to turn its personnel into undeterred optimists. According to expert research behind the training, one of the most important factors in resilience is a person’s degree of optimism. Thus, training soldiers to practice positive thinking can help them to endure and thrive in challenging situations.
If you’re not naturally an optimist, training yourself to think like one can put you in a good place if you ever find yourself in a survival situation. Become aware of your thoughts about yourself, others, and life in general. If your thoughts are mostly negative, try to change them and notice more of the positive in every situation. Monitor the tone of your conversations with others. Make an effort to express more positive thoughts than negative ones.
2. Mental Toughness
Mental toughness, i.e. resilience, is the pull that gets early risers up at 5:00 in the morning to run laps around the track, the thing that helps military men and women endure tense experiences, and the trait that helps children who experience traumatic events grow up to be healthy, happy adults. Some people are naturally tough mentally, but there are also some practices that can help you develop mental toughness if you aren’t naturally that way.
One of these is to regularly get out of your comfort zone. This doesn’t necessarily mean forcing yourself to talk to strangers on the elevator (although this is probably a healthy thing to do as well). In a great article on mental toughness, Erich at tacticalintelligence.net recommends randomly doing things like fasting for 24 hours, taking ice-cold showers, going sky-diving, or making yourself wake up at 3:00 in the morning every now and then. When we regularly do things that are not just uncomfortable but hard for us—things we really, really, really don’t want to do—we toughen ourselves up. The idea is that if you practice hard things on a daily basis, you end up a much stronger and more resilient human being.
Another good way to develop mental toughness is to challenge yourself physically. Demanding workouts strengthen your mental ability to endure discomfort and pain, and they also give you more confidence in your physical and mental strength. Get in the best shape of your life. Push beyond your former limits. Set a fitness goal for yourself that you previously considered out of your league. It is nearly impossible to become physically strong without also strengthening your mental toughness.
The more you believe in your ability to handle tough things, the more you will be able to handle them. So how can you develop confidence in your own survival abilities? The simple answer is to first get all your affairs in order.
First and foremost, make sure you have adequate food storage, drinking water, and emergency supplies stored away. If you have all the supplies you need to keep your family alive during an emergency situation, you will not have the added mental burden of worrying about where your next meal is going to come from, and you will also not carry the weight of guilt that can come from relying on others who have prepared and generously shared with you. Being prepared gives you the confidence you need to trust yourself and your own abilities in an emergency.
Another source of self-confidence in emergencies is having some survival skill know-how, which will help you trust your ability to take care of yourself and your own. Survival skills are not just for boy scouts and mountain men. Anyone can learn basic survival skills like first aid, fire-starting, edible plant identification, and anything else that would be vital knowledge in a survival situation. Anything you learn now will give you more self-confidence later.
Finally, remember that you are probably much stronger and more resilient than you think you are. If you are prepared both physically and mentally when a disaster situation occurs, chances are that you will be able to do what you need to do.