The “will to survive” is the most important survival tool you will ever have. It is more important than a year supply of food, a Swiss Army knife, or a Bic lighter. What good would a lighter be if you have no desire to make a fire? How can a signal fire result in a rescue if you have lost all hope that it will and don’t bother building one? How can your next meal keep you alive if you are unwilling to go and find it? The most common factor identified in stories of extreme survival situations is the person had “the will to survive”. Peeling back the layers of their stories you will usually find that after the improvise tools they made, the tricks they used to find water, or the blessings bestowed upon them by the gods, they will always end by attributing their survival to their own will to survive. They never gave up!
This “will to survive” is a mental state. A conscience decision. A commitment to yourself and others that you absolutely refuse to give up trying to survive, to the last breath, no matter what. It is a psychological game you must play within yourself in a survival situation. You must be in a constant state of positive thinking, confident in your abilities, always ready to solve problems, and forever holding on to hope. Thoughts of how bad an injury hurts, how far you must travel, or how long it’s been since you last ate, could be all it takes to mentally wear you down to the point of giving up. Once you give up, death is sure to follow. Never give up!
The will to survive can come from many things. It can come from a strong desire to see your family again, watch your kids grow up, or kiss your spouse. It may be you have a goal in life you haven’t met, a place you wanted to see, or a future date you looked forward to. It could stem from the unwillingness to lose or accept failure. It may also be rooted in confidence in your survival skills from years of study and preparation. Whatever the motivation you have that pushes you on and makes you want to live longer is where your will to survive will come from. Focus on it, and never give up!
It is natural to have feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, and even depression when faced with a life threatening situation. You might feel fear of death, anxiety over being lost, anger that you have found yourself in this mess, and depression from thoughts of not seeing your loved ones again. These thoughts can be detrimental. They undermine your will to survive. If not controlled and managed, these thoughts can lead to a loss of morale and failure to perform activities necessary to survival. They can rob you of precious time, lead to poor judgment, rash decisions, frustration, and compound an already bad situation. It’s when you get to depression that you finally lose hope. Thoughts of, “What’s the point?” or “I can’t take anymore.” are basically thoughts of suicide, because you will be giving up and possibly surrendering to death. Never give up!
It is imperative to learn to identify these negative feelings, learn to control them, and understand that they are just that; feelings. And most importantly, you must know that they are your feelings, thus you own them and are in control of them. Only you can decide to react with fear or anger to a given situation or not. Your choice of feelings in a survival situation can be life saving or a death sentence. You might get the physical sensations of fear when in danger, but it is your choice to be afraid.
There is a big difference in feeling fear, and acting afraid. Fear is described as a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. In short, fear is the ability to recognize danger and flee from it or confront it, also known as the “Fight or Flight” response. Fear has a very distinct set of sensations. Butterflies in your stomach, hair on the back of your neck standing up, rapid heartbeat and breath, and heightened awareness. But none of those sensation can actually hurt you. A little fear can, in fact, be helpful. It can make you more cautious, aware, and ready for action. However, if not controlled, fear can lead you to acting afraid. Then you could be rendered unable to react at all. This is commonly called being “frozen by fear”. Just like a deer in the headlights, this paralysis can be deadly in a survival situation. Recognize these sensations and acknowledge the sensations as warnings to be more cautious, aware, and ready for action, not to be afraid and freeze up. Then take a deep breath and act.
Finding yourself in a life threatening or survival situation can be frustrating. You might find yourself having to complete difficult tasks with very limited resources, very little time and with your life and/or someone else’s life in jeopardy. You may have some failed attempts at finding water, building a fire, or attracting attention. You might be unprepared, fatigued, or even injured. These set backs can lead to more frustration and anger. But cussing, stomping your feet, and throwing a fit will probably not help you. Luckily, anger is another feeling that can be made to be useful. If fear is the ‘flight’ in the “Fight or Flight” response, anger can be considered to be the ‘fight’. You can turn your anger in a bad situation into the “I refuse to lose!” attitude. Anger towards the unfortunate predicament in which you have been placed, can be redirected to give you an unwavering tenacity to try, try again. You can refocus anger to fighting against your crisis instead of just being angry at it.
Anxiety is probably not a feeling that will help you much in a survival situation. Physical effects of anxiety can produce heart palpitations, muscle weakness and tension, fatigue, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, stomach aches, or headaches. Anxiety not only manifests physical effects, but those effects can lead to trouble concentrating, acting jumpy, being combative, paranoid, or panicking. An anxiety attack, in some cases, can cause hyperventilating and losing consciousness. All of which can be life threatening in a survival situation.
If you have lost the mental game completely you might find yourself at the most dangerous feeling; depression. The loss of all hope. Hopelessness often results in apathy, indifference, and even in some extreme cases, suicide. That is the complete opposite of the “will to survive”. Depression and hopelessness can leave you feeling you have nothing left to rely on but luck. Relying on just luck to save you gives you a very low chance of surviving anything. If you are lost at sea and are rescued by a lone passing ship, that can be plain luck, but struggling to stay alive and attempting to signal said passing ship, that is the “will to survive”.
As we know, knowledge is power. You can power up your “will to survive” right now. Start by educating yourself in survival techniques in different emergency or disaster situations you may face. Just having knowledge of dangers and the skills to deal with them, should they arise, increases your chances of survival exponentially. This could give you the confidence you need to face your challenges. Write down important numbers, make a plan, buy supplies, read a book or take a class. Do whatever you can to prepare ahead of time for a disaster or emergency situation. It can improve your outlook, your will to survive and your chances to survive it.
The will to survive is about having strength. It is not about how much you can bench press or your muscle mass. It’s a strength that comes from within. It’s a belief in yourself, a certitude in your chances, and a faith in your outcome. A strong conviction that your goal of surviving will be realized. It’s having the mental might to dispel all doubt, the spiritual courage to commit to the challenges, and the gut resolve to see it through.
Should you have to face a survival situation, keep what is motivating you to survive in the front of your thoughts. Focus strongly on that. It will give reason to your “will to survive” and block out any feelings of despair. Remember that your emotions belong to you and you are in control of the emotion you choose. The “will to survive” is positive thinking. The “will to survive” is controlling your fear and anxiety, redirecting your anger, and always staying optimistic about your chances. The will to survive can be empowered by increasing your knowledge of survival techniques and being prepared. The “will to survive” is having the strength to NEVER GIVE UP!