Keep yourself from giving up.
Always stay positive. Negativity will kill you faster than the lack of nourishment, enemy combatants, or nature. It is an absolute guarantee that you will fail, if you give up. Staying calm and keeping a positive mindset will give you the mental endurance to continue on and make good decisions.
Find your mental trigger. This is what you will think about when you are on your last leg, ready to give up, or don’t think you can do what needs to be done. This will be your motivation to push that one more mile, to get up off the ground, fight through the pain, or even to eat something disgusting to stay alive. Your mental trigger can be anything from:
- your children,
- your spouse,
- your parents,
- your own selfish pride, or
- your ultimate goals.
Now, this trigger is only to be used as a last-ditch emergency motivator. If you use it at every step and every minute you feel tired, it will start to lose its impact, so hold on to this one until you really need it; and when the time comes, pull the trigger. For smaller and more frequent motivations, come up with a simple phrase to push yourself. Personally, I use the phrase “harden up” whenever I need to force myself to do something. Sometimes I even find it helpful to imagine a specific person yelling this to me, such as a drill instructor or even a respected family member or role model.
Stay positive and motivated.
Set small, achievable goals. One way people often get frustrated is that they set these huge, unrealistic goals for themselves; and, having not stood any chance of realistically achieving them, they fail and become disparaged. Set for yourself small, short-term goals in addition to your main goal. While your main goal may be to make it to help from a plane crash hundreds of miles away from any cities, you cannot achieve this goal in a short amount of time. Instead, set smaller goals, such as:
- make it over this hill today,
- find a source of water,
- find or build a shelter, or
- start finding sources of food.
Even coming up with a concrete and complete plan is a necessary and achievable goal that will greatly increase your confidence.
One of the most important ways to avoid negative thinking is to keep your mind occupied. The more you are focusing on a specific task, the less free your mind will be to wander into self-defeating thoughts. Remember that anxiety and fear are typically irrational reactions to events that haven’t even happened yet. Too often people handicap themselves based on errant thoughts about potential circumstances that don’t even exist. Don’t dwell on thoughts about what could possibly go wrong. This will only prevent you from being able to think about how you can make things go right.
Plan for mental preparedness.
The best way to be mentally prepared is to plan ahead. People solve countless problems and complete a myriad of tasks on a daily basis. Most of these we never even think twice about. Why? Because we are mentally prepared to handle them. These range from things as simple as where to get dinner to what to do if a light bulb burns out. You can handle emergency scenarios just as adeptly as these seemingly mundane problems if you are mentally prepared for them.
The first and easiest way to be prepared for any situation is to visualize every conceivable possibility. Visualization is an extremely powerful tool. Our brains learn from experience. Our experiences are no more than memories imprinted by electrical signals in our brains. At an anatomical level there is nothing to distinguish a true memory from an imagined thought. The only difference is usually that a real memory will have other data associated with it, such as smells, feelings, and sounds. Nevertheless, these things can also be associated with visualization.
Have you ever had a dream that seemed so real while you were experiencing it? When you woke up, could you still remember the dream as if it had really happened? This is the same principal as training your brain through visualization. The trick is to visualize and think about the scenario in as much detail as you can. When visualizing a survival scenario, you want to be as thorough as possible. Imagine details of what would be going on around you, the different ways you could react, the cause and effects of your actions, and the potential reactions to your actions. Try to imagine all the sights, sounds, and feelings associated with the situation. This will help to further “burn” it into your memory.
[Additional note: It is best to be in a quiet place free from distraction while visualizing. The more absolute focus you can put into it, the more effective it will be. I recommend learning about meditation to help with visualizing. In addition, meditation is a great way to calm yourself, relax, think, and reduce stress.]
When planning how you will deal with an emergency situation, whether ahead of time or during the emergency, use the rule of three. Come up with three solutions to your problem and focus on each one in turn, deciding whether that particular option is achievable and how. Once you’ve come up with three options, pick the best one and focus on how you’re specifically going to accomplish it. The reason for the number three is because you will either:
- not have enough time to explore a large number of options,
- will spend more energy over-thinking the situation than is useful, or
- will have trouble committing to one specific plan amidst a never ending list of possibilities.
Not all options, or any for that matter, may be perfect solutions to your particular situation. The important thing is that you do make a decision. In an emergency, you will most likely not have time to sit and think of every little detail. This is why you come up with three possible directions of action and pick one. You can always adapt your plan to fit whatever may arise later on. The key thing is that you take action in a timely manner.
Once you’ve decided on a course of action, remember to break it down into small achievable goals. Take it step by step in a logical and concise manner. Given that you have the time to do so, remember to take into account any unknown variables and contingencies, such as:
- what if your planned route is blocked,
- what if a piece of equipment fails, and
- what to do if you encounter some form of active resistance to your plan at some point.
Every situation will differ in how much you may be able to plan ahead of time. This is why it is best to plan for things before they happen. Nevertheless, if you are on a boat and it catches fire, obviously you don’t have time to go over every conceivable detail; however, a few seconds to think before you act can make the difference in your survival.
Remain calm and aware during an emergency.
When you are actually in an emergency situation, the most important thing to remember is to remain calm. Everything else you do depends upon your ability to think clearly and make good decisions. Many factors, such as hunger, dehydration, fatigue, weather and injuries, can affect your mental strength and stability. Regardless of your situation, remain calm and think logically about the next priority that needs to be addressed. If you are stranded and have no water, don’t start stressing out about how far you may have to trek to get to help. Focus on finding yourself a source of drinkable water; then, move on to the next priority.
Throughout every step of any survival or emergency situation, you need to maintain your situational awareness. This means being observant and aware of what is going on around you, as well as the terrain, weather, your health (both physical and mental), your supplies, and any potential dangers. Before diving head first into any predicament, especially a potentially dangerous one, take a moment to assess your situation. If you need to take a knee to focus, do so. Take in your surroundings. Pay attention to details. This can be anything from:
- seeing which way the land slopes,
- which way clouds are moving,
- figuring out what part of the day it is in relation to the sun, or
- looking to see if a crashed vehicle is smoking,
- if a pain under your jeans is actually a cut, or
- if the people with you are becoming mentally unstable.
Don’t forget, one of the most important aspects of situational awareness is knowing what items you have at your disposal. These can include the items in your pockets, pack, vehicle, or house. It also includes anything in your environment around you that can be used to your advantage.
In closing, I hope I have given you some ways not only to help you prepare for emergencies and survival situations but also to help make you a stronger, more skilled and more confident person. These tools and lessons can be applied to anything in life, whether it be training for combat or simply getting back in shape. Just remember that the greatest weapon at your disposal is your own brain. It carries more memory and computing power than any device you can bring out into the field with you. Take advantage of it! And remember…toughen up!