Survival Mindset: Your most important piece of survival gear

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image: young woman with coffee, woman with cup of coffeeThe campfire was long out. The coffee pot had no magic brew bubbling in its belly. Normally I would awake to a roaring fire and hot coffee courtesy of my early-rising husband, but not today. Today for the first time, he’d gone fishing, and all that greeted me this overcast morning was a cold, empty campsite.

My husband relishes cooking and fire duties when we’re camping, and I’m happy to enjoy a little pampering while I’m roughing it. But my Princess status was now preventing me from enjoying my morning in the manner to which I was accustomed. A happy camper I was not.

I had everything I needed to make a campfire and camping coffee. Supplies and gear were not an issue. I wasn’t injured. This wasn’t a life-threatening situation, potential caffeine deprivation notwithstanding. I even had some related experience to draw from—making coffee and using our woodstove at home. So, the only thing standing between me and the warmth of java and flames was…me. Any hint of a stalwart, survival mindset was simply not present.

My attitude at that moment really stunk. However, I was about to discover the most important piece of survival gear — my mindset.

Survival Mindset = “I can”

I can. When this becomes your attitude, it’s not that you’re blithely ignoring the reality of a given situation, but rather, you’re approaching circumstances in a more productive way. We’re checking fatalism and despair at the door and engaging instead in trouble-shooting, solution-finding, possibility-making.

It’s a powerful little tool. Yet it’s only as effective as our willingness to wield it. In my state of cold with no coffee, there was one negative thought that was about to make my situation worse. It was one thought:

I can’t.

Two little words. The Achilles heel of survival. And this was just about coffee and a campfire. What if this were a life-threatening situation? “I can’t” could then make the difference between life and death, literally. That’s not a pretty thought.

Have you heard the story about the two wolves? The idea is that we each have two wolves in us, and the one we feed the most is the strongest. In this case, it’s about which mindset we choose to feed. So let’s look at some ways we can strengthen the “I can” mindset that will help us in a survival situation.

The first thing we can do happens before we find ourselves facing caffeine deprivation or an actual emergency.

The power of being prepared

My pastor serves in the military, and he says, “We don’t prepare for war when we’re going to war, that would be foolhardy. We prepare for war in times of peace so that when we go to war, we’re ready.”

This same principle applies to you and me. Before we are in a survival situation, we must train ourselves. That involves taking action. We must understand our equipment and know how to use it. We must practice skills and techniques. We must identify gaps in knowledge and in our preps. If there are issues with anything, we must take action to address them.

Also, anytime you practice something to the point you can respond automatically, you conserve time and mental and physical energy for other things. These are resources that are just as valuable to use wisely as our favorite Survival Frog product.

In the case of a home fire, for example, where each second counts, practicing an escape plan until it becomes second nature will increase the likelihood everyone will evacuate safely. Varying the circumstances of the drill—conducting it when people are sleeping, navigating while blindfolded, exiting a window—helps prepare for an actual event and highlights issues. How will you handle a child that sleeps through the fire alarm? What will you use to safely exit a second-story window?

This type of practice not only creates automaticity but also increases confidence. As skills improve so does your belief in yourself and your ability to meet a challenge.

So now we’re working on getting better prepared, but then an emergency occurs, and that I Can’t attitude is stalking you. What then?

A survival mindset improves with proper breathing

Can you feel anxiety rising right when you need to think most clearly? If the situation permits, pause. To help yourself remain calm, try a Navy SEAL technique called tactical breathing. Breathing through the nostrils, inhale to a count of four and then exhale to a count of four. Repeat as needed.

You can read step-by-step instructions here.

Break things into smaller pieces

Does the task or situation in front of you seem immense? Think about how can you break it into smaller pieces. You’re less likely to procrastinate or freeze altogether in the face of a series of small tasks that feel more doable. Plus, taking action on a smaller piece of the problem can sometimes help you figure out what the next step ought to be and build momentum to tackle it.

A technique that is useful is to ask yourself, “What is my obvious next step?” Even the very tiniest action, such as pulling out your emergency kit or counting the number of soup cans in your pantry, gets you moving. That tiny action will almost always result in growing momentum, which helps you make progress quickly.

Leverage existing knowledge

Can you use what you already know to help with something you don’t know how to do or that you’re uncertain about?

In my case, since I used similar coffee-making methods at home, I simply used that knowledge while camping. And while I did end up with coffee strong enough to put hair on your chest, I had coffee. (Pro tip: Dilute heavyweight coffee with water to taste.)

If you just get started with what you know, you can adapt and adjust your actions as you go. By the way, when your preps include an increasing number of skills, those are preps that no one can ever take away from you.

Find your why

What’s your reason for going on? It may not be so critical to find your why when you’re out camping and want coffee, but in a survival situation, when things feel overwhelming, when the odds seem against you, finding your why can fortify your motivation to live.

Your survival mindset is always your most important piece of gear

Now back to my quasi-camping conundrum and that coffee. I really wanted a campfire, and I really, really wanted coffee. So, I took that piece of most-important survival gear, a survival mindset, and I dusted it off.

I said, “I can.” And then I put on my big girl Princess panties and I did.

I was prepared with the right supplies and gear. I had made coffee many times before so now I just had to adapt a bit to this new scenario. My why? I was cold and needed that morning coffee!

An hour later I sat by my crackling fire, sipping my coffee, savoring my sense of accomplishment. In retrospect, I’m a little sheepish about the amount of whining and self-pity I wallowed in, however brief. But that jolt of confidence made me realize something.

I could have all the equipment. I could have all the knowledge. I could have all the skills. But I wouldn’t survive long without a survival mindset that reminded me, “I can.”

P.S. If you love coffee, too, be sure to get Survival Mom’s SHTF Coffee Brewing Guide printable!

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Renee Russell

Renee is a writer, reader, and avid watcher of disaster flicks. She lives on the west coast with her family where they're all preparing for their own disaster reality show--The Big One--to occur.

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