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The Psychology of a Survivalist

What makes a person a survivalist? What mental attributes and worldview does a survivalist have that allows him or her to continue striving over and above others that may be more intelligent, have more book sense, or be better equipped to survive than anyone else? It all comes down to a few words.

The mind.

Yes, I know the whole premise of the article is about the psychology of a survivalist, so logically the mind is the place we’ll start. But the mind is more than just a collection of knowledge or common sense ideas that help us to live. It’s the ability to take something from thought to conception, to adapt to the environment, and to maintain a healthy outlook when everything seems hopeless. It is attitude as well as ability, and as the Bible says, as a man thinks, so he is.

These attributes are taken from Cody Lundin’s book 98.6 Degrees and makes for some interesting thoughts on how personality affects outcome, and particularly how your thoughts and feelings will affect your individual chances of surviving.

Staying Cool Under Pressure

Face it—if you’re a hot head or emotionally reactive, your chances of surviving any disastrous situation are diminished from the start. There are times when you’re going to have to FORCE your mind and body to stop, think, observe, plan…and then act.

STOP – sit down and chill, get your emotions and body in check so you’ll have better clarity of mind and response to a situation.

THINK – assess your situation.

OBSERVE – take a reading of your surroundings, the obstacles you face, and the options you may have. Give yourself the time to respond analytically to the situation, using your brain and senses instead of your emotions.

PLAN – now that you have all the data you need and a sense of the situation, decide on a plan of action and then act.

Adapt and Improvise

Adaptation is one of the major keys to survival. It’s planning for all eventualities possible and having a response in mind. It’s facing the scenario you never considered, and utilizing the things you have to force a positive conclusion. It’s an attitude of responding, assessing, and rethinking a plan as needed.


The ability to make decisions is paramount in any survival scenario. Vacillating between one choice and another is how you over-think a situation to the point you are useless. Make a decision and then accept responsibility for that decision. There can be no finger-pointing in a survival situation and no one must be afraid of failure. All decisions can be rethought in hindsight. The important thing is that, after a decision is made, continuous adaptation and improvisation is applied.

The Ability to Toughen Up

Let’s face it—a survival condition is not a walk in the park. You are going to be taxed emotionally, spiritually, and physically. You will be challenged more than you ever thought possible. There are two things that will make your chances of coming through bottom out: the desire for creature comforts and complacency.

The desire for creature comforts can make you act irrationally and compromise your survival plan, putting you and those trusting you at risk. A complacent attitude will not afford you the quick wittedness that you need to assess and confront a disaster situation. When you are thrust into survival mode, you’re just going to have to put your big girl panties on and deal. Bottom line.

The Ability to Intuit and Read Other People

Your observation and reasoning skills will need to extend to being able to read other people and intuit their thoughts and emotions. This isn’t some mental telepathy, ESP junk science. This is reading signs and subtle signals that others give off, and being able to interpret those signs accurately. Learn to think from another’s standpoint so that you can better gauge anticipated reactions that might endanger you or your loved ones.

Maintain Hope…But Prepare

You cannot live your life day in and day out in fear. That’s not living. Being prepared does not negate hope in the future. It simply strategizes and prepares for an eventuality that may or may not come. Due diligence to survival prep is not foolish. Your skills may be the only thing that keeps you and others alive. Disaster comes in a moment. Remember Katrina. Remember Haiti. Remember the tornados and floods and mudslides and ice and snow that come in an instant and devastate sections of the country each year. Remember…and then prepare.

Keep Laughing

Maintaining your sense of humor is a must. Laughing releases endorphins in your brain that actually help your body cope with mental and physical stress, along with relieving pain, reducing blood pressure, and mitigating headaches and chronic illnesses. People in all walks of life cope by utilizing humor, even if it’s a morbid gallows humor or laughing at the insanity or foolishness in which they find themselves.

In the midst of it all, if you are so inclined, try to hold on to faith. We are told that God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) We are told to be diligent and watchful, but in the end we can only control a limited amount of what goes on. Once we reach that point where nothing we do will have an effect on the outcome of an event, then is the time to sit back and put the future in God’s hands.

Incorporating these psychological attributes into your survival preparedness plans will help you come through any disaster situation you might face. In fact, successful incorporation of these traits may be the difference between life and death for you and your loved ones.

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  1. The creature comfort mindset is something that will determine those who will survive, or curl up and perish. I have seen people who will not even live in neighborhoods they deem less than ideal, and people who will not participate in outdoor activities because it meant they would have to use nature or vault toilets, so how will those people survive a potentially detrimental situation? They will not sadly. Americans have become too comfortable in their overtly domesticate lives, and refuse to do without. There will be a time when we will all have to face something potentially devastating and I hope and pray more will survive than I currently suspect could.

  2. Your article was excellent and I appreciate your presentation. I have often told friends and associates that we should prepare and not dispair. The future holds many opportunities and challenges and we must face them with dignity and courage. Your article offers many fine points which will help individuals succeed.
    I have been envolved in the survival movement since 1970. I was introduced to it when I worked as a Wilderness Patrolman for the U.S. Forest Service in southern California. I eventually moved to rural America and have made a point to ‘blend in and not use the term Survivalist, but instead vocally identify myself with being a small stock raiser, a rancher, or sometimes identify as a ‘good ol boy’ living on a small homeplace. The term Survivalist has been demonized by many in law enforcement and government hence I suggest that those interested in a survivalist mindset and/or lifestyle recognize the negative connotation with narrow minded authoritarians… and use terms like preparedness minded or self reliant when talking with others.
    In conclusion, I have no interest in fermenting a debate among your readers concerning labels and steriotypes. I do encourage folks to learn skills, becoming responsible citizens, be well informed, and continue in their journey of marching to the beat of a different drummer… the one that wispers freedom, and independance and a self directed lifestyle. Thank You again for the excellent article on survival psychology. Best Regards and Merry Christmas to one and all. Michael

  3. I agree with JAKraft, even if he is a bit anal retentive. Good post, Michael.

  4. join the Army or Marines & pick a MOS in Combat Arms, after a few years of field time you’ll have a different mindset on how to live without comfort & gain some valuable survival skills not to mention see the world in a different view than you did previous to enlistment. I know i have.

    • I used to think like this,in fact,in the 70’s I did join the military for just that reason.However,I dont recommend it nowadays.the chances of surviving unharned a tour of duty gets less every week.Read books,maybe take a NOLS or Outward Bound course or two.Skip the enlistment.I dont think we have another 8 years to spare.

  5. John, how does one gain the benefits of a military survival education without the undisclosed experimental vaccination and other biological test being done on you?

    And do you think PTSD is all in the military’s head like the VA states?

    And what about ‘Depleted’ Uranium (DU). I wouldn’t even travel 500 miles near a contaminated country. To the world, I am sorry what our government with the aid of military contractors has done to the planet (PS I am not a carbon fearing environmentalist, they don’t even know what DU is).

    Naw, for me I say read up the info on the web and in books about survival then go practice them. Go backpacking and every time you go, take less then you did before. You will start to realize what is a luxury item and what is not. Plan on fishing, foraging and perhaps hunting/trapping and save your EMERGENCY food. if you can make it a week without eating anything carried in, then good for you. Now can you do this in every season? Spend the most time prepping in your environment, but what if you need to bug out, try spending time camping and foraging in the desert (at least once) even if you live in the Midwest (or vice versa), just knowing a handful of plants and knowing some water gathering techniques could save your life.

    Well I’m done ranting and preaching to the choir, have a good day choir!

    • PTSD is not just in a military person’s head, it can be in anyone’s head. Rape, torture, fire, tornado, hurricane, murder, etc et al are all things that can cause PTSD, which means Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Never has it been defined as a mental condition affecting military personnel only. Anyone can have PTSD. Yes, it IS in the head, yes, it IS a mental health issue, yes, it IS curable, yes, be thankful you don’t have it.

      P.S. – I worked as a clerk at the VA for nine years. I’ve seen lots of PTSD; I’ve even had it.

      • And if you don’t talk about DU, let alone know what it even is, then all you are going to do is chase your tail around in circles. Watch a film called “Beyond Treason” and ask yourself if that is all in your head. Not that I don’t think you are a good person, but I wouldn’t take your word for anything. The VA is the benefits rejection capitol of the world. your probable not a malicious troll as much as an ignorant cog in a very nasty machine. Please before everyone gets mad at me for “not supporting our troops”, please watch that movie… if I didn’t care (or give my support to them) I wouldn’t be taking my time to write this.

  6. I was wondering how a Wilderness Patrolman transforms his tree fuzz mentality and becomes a survivalist? I was reading what michael had to say, and don’t give half a crap if he cannot spell, but there is something obvious here- he knows what he is talking about. He does not call his retreat a compound- it is a homeplace or small ranch. That is smart. He does not call himself a survivalist- he presents himself as intellignet and preaches being prepared. He warns us that government and cops are looking to make big busts instead of protecting and serving us- so do not label yourself with a handle that brings trouble- just blend in. Is that what your say’in Michael. Obviously you are informed, intelligent and right on!!!!

    Many folks start out in life being a part of the system and they learn that the matris is about control- so they opt out. They learn and grow and then they share what they know with others of like mind. I bet Michael is one savy survivalist- did he say he started in 1970? This guy should be writing books. How do we contact him??? I also see in his post that he is planting the peace sign say’in he does not want to argue with us. That is cool. Why does this JAKraft try to belittle the dude with a spelling put down? What do the rest of you think? Tell us more about what you have learned Michael- 1970 until 2011 is a big stretch of time!

    • You are right.Low-Key in our world is a survival tool,not just a mindset.The lower your profile the betetr your chances and thats a fact of life.If they cant see you,or dont know you exist,they cant bother you or try to take your stuff.JMO

  7. michael it seems would have alot to offer those of us who are willing to sit and listen i never considered myself a prepper or survivalist i just remebered helping my granparents in their garden and canning some of the food and some we froze my granmaw always said we needed to put it away for hard times well that just kinda stuck with me even as a youngster i would tag along on hunting trips learning skills i thought nothing of at the time i grew up enjoying the outdoors i still hunt fish and camp every chance i get it wasnt until recently looking back that i realized the skills i had been honing over the years would come in handy i had hurt my shoulder at work in 94 and while getting all that taking care which literally took 3 yrs we lived off all the groceries that we had been storing up my wife worked at the time at a fast food resturant which seemed to pay just enough to cover our bills but with the 2 of us and the help from my young son we managed a garden and i managed to get my limit on deer of course my son enjoyed the time out fishing n hunting once my shoulder was fixed and i got back to work we went right back to restocking our depleted supplies it was until i seen this and some other websites along with news programs that come to realize that i might be a survivalist or prepper most around town just see me as one o them good ole redneck boys the only advice i can lend is not only do you need to learn to the skills but also practice them. michael is right about the use of terms such as survivalist prepper and any other name that you can google and will lead ya to websites like this one are to be kept amongst like minded folks in rural areas no one seems to notice if you put up a few extra cans here n there or have aquired a few extra chickens or a goat alot can be disguised as going organic i would suggest that if you live in a big city and have the means move out to the country if not then band with like minded folks or even go in together and get some property in a rural area what ever you feel is the way for you to go as ejhoppe says not all will survive or can
    i would myself like to hear more from michael so michael if you read this theres at least a cpl of us that wouldnt mind listening to ya

  8. You folks all seem to have the right concepts. The psychology of preparedness is important, and maintaining good psychological health is often overlooked. Long before ‘difficult times’ come, prudent people should acquire proper habits in their life. There was a psychologist from the late 70s by the name of Willaim Glasser. He wrote a number of books and the one that stands out best in my mind was Positive Addiction. In this book Glasser tells his readers that we humans are each ‘creatures of habit’ ,and understanding this fact can serve you well as a prepper. So since your going to have habits and addictions…develop ‘good and postive’ addictions instead of harmful and negative ones. This leads to a life with healthful addictions or habits and fosters good mental health. If you have a predisposition to worry all the time, become fully aware of the fact that worry is seldom beneficial and trade the habit of excessive worrying for something more positive. For example…if you find yourself worrying excessively, use that time or space in your life to walk and build cardiovascular fitness…and watch the excessive worry pattern transform into a more healthful physical self and become an individual with a more positive self concept…where you are taking energy and channeling it into better health. Self reliance is very psychologically inspiring and beneficial, and when you become more self directed you discover that you can overcome more than you ever thought possible.

    There is another preparedness topic that I would like to breach. I am a firm proponent of food storage in the home. I think that everyone can benefit from a food storage habit. Start simple by putting back a few cans of the foods that you normally eat. Watch the pantry grow and when it gets filled, acquire some plastic milk carton boxes and expand upon your food storage program, sliding the filled boxes under a bed or stacking them in the back corner of a closet. Learn to cook stews and cann it in mason jars and freeze surpluses in one gallon ziplock bags in the freezer. Learn to grow a garden and harvest your produce. Learn to become a more accomplished cook. You will acquire skills and competence and a satisfaction in your ability to focus and achieve.

    Last but not least; I would suggest that every preparedness minded person try to build a modest ‘cash stash’ and quietly hide it in the home. Save back whatever you can and it can give you ready cash during a time of crisis. I also suggest that folks acquire a little silver in the form of pre 65 dimes, quarters and fifty cent peaces, or in old morgan or peace silver dollars. Do this gradually over time so it does not burden you financially to any significant degree. Silver is always valuable and could be useful in a time of emergency. Gold works too and having a silent cash stash with some precious metals can give you more peace of mind and psycho-emotional stability during times of emergency or termoil.

    There is one more suggestion, and that is to ‘become a life long learner’ by reading and practicing and acquiring skills. Become well read and develop skills in carpentry, small engine repairs, canning, sewing, gardening, marksmenship and gun repair, bartering, and any number of other competencies which could assit you and others during their walk through life. Also look long and hard into your relationship with your family and friends and ‘significant others’ and attempt to build brideges and resolve conflicts whenever practicle. All of these efforts can enhance and enrich your life, and the lives of those around you, and could possible help ensure your chances of prospering during troubled times. Best Regards to all….. Michael

    • thanks for the helpful advice michael i look forward too hearing more from you on any and all subjects relating to this subject matter

  9. Thanks, Michael,

    You know a lot from your past experience and from books, you speak well about your subject, and we could all learn more than just a few things from you. Maybe you aren’t into writing a book, but a few articles here on this website would sure help us all out. There are programs and editors that will spell-check for you; don’t give it a second thought. Just put down in words what you know and the rest of us will learn from it.

    I especially would like to know just how to get started when I have a spouse who has called me a “zealot” and a “wacko.” She thinks what I read on the net and in the books I buy has ruined my mind, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m thinking the first think I want to do is learn how to garden and learn how to can my harvest. I already do a fair amount of fishing and think fish can be “put up” – like my grandmother used to say.

    I’m retired at age 63 and in fairly decent health except for diabetes. Exercise can do nothing but help that condition, though, and I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m a rifle and pistol expert, although I’ve never been hunting (except jackrabbits, when I was a kid) and I can hit a sporting clay occasionally. We have 30 acres of pine trees in the next county, with no improvements made to the property other than fire lanes and fencing. We live in town.

    Any guidance would be helpful. Thanks much. Bob

    • Hello Bob, I was reading your note and appreciated your comments. You were saying that the spouse doesn’t quite appreciate your interest in preparedness. She sometimes makes light of your efforts and perhaps your feeling a bit unappreciated. This is not an uncommon reality for many preppers who feel a keen prompting to learn new skills and practice self reliance. I would suggest that you do things in small increments where she will feel comfortable and less unconventional. Perhaps she realizes that she lacks knowledge and motivation hence she uses joking as a way to deal with her discomfort. Simply be yourself and continue to encourage family preparedness.

      One thing which I did to get my wife interested in changing habits was to talk with her about news articles on CNN, Fox and elsewhere that reported on ‘rolling blackouts’ and intermediate term power looses from ice storms, etc. We then ‘discovered’ the wisdom of keeping fresh batteries for flashlights, perhaps storing some candles and matches, maybe having an oil lamp or two…and the praticality of keeping them in an out of the way but accessable place that does not clutter the home. Then, after doing this…be sure to use those items when they are needed, and this small success should help reinforce the practicality of prepping.

      Another tool which I used was talking quietly about the economic meltdown that we see around us. We saw a local bank go under and numerous businesses fail. We listened as friends mentioned how they were unable to secure a new loan for an anticipated purchase. My wife and I decided to keep some cash at home, and we quietly watched this ‘private cash stash grow’ and eventually took some of the surplus and togeather bought some extra canned goods. I suspect that there is wisdom in inclusion, so make the exercises positivie and empowering in nature….and the spouse often becomes a part of the solution.

      My wife likes to go camping and I have built upon her recreation to the point where she is an innovator and active supporter in my quest to prepare for uncertain times ahead. I do not engauge in what I call fear mongering but try to use a common sense approach to my survival passion. I talk to my wife but never talk at her. I ask for her feedback and ideas. She now comes up with ideas and concepts which have enriched our experience and we often read togeather and learn new skills. She was once disinterested in the movement but now see the positive lessons and fun experiences to be had while prepping. We have become interesting in hiking and orienteering and are now planning spring treks in the mountains where we live. I suspect that most men can get their wives motivated, one whisper at a time.

      In conclusion I would suggest that couples avoid labels like survivalists when discussing their activities. You mentioned that you want to grow food and cann and store it. I encourage gardening and home food production and preservation. It can be richly rewarding in many ways, building health and fitness, as well as flexibility and stamina. Go shopping for canned goods and perhaps reserve a closet as a pantry. Purchase a freezer and buy meats on sale, and catch fish and other supplies. Many women feel more comfortable knowing that the home has extra food supplies…and remember to rotate and use your supplies so nothing goes to waste. You both will feel less vulnerable to the uncertainties of the job market and I have know many preppers who found themselves having to use normal food money for auto repairs and they fell back on their pantry and freezer supplies until things returned to a relative norm. Your spouse will appreciate your self reliant hobby after one such experience. Just remember to prompt and not push your significant other into the world of self reliance

      Finally you mentioned that you have 30 acres away in the woods. You live at another location in a town. This is really cool. Acquire a used camp trailor and build a trail that goes back into your forested property. Make sure that you have a gate across the entrance with No Tresspassing signs. Take the wife out to this retreat land and enjoy it as much as possible. I am around your age and I live on my retreat. Having another place to relocate to in an emergency is a resource which is enviable. Congradulation Bob!

      Thank You again for asking for my feedback. Happy New year to you all! Michael

    • Put out a corn feeder or other type of feeding unit to attract game,and DONT HUNT IT.Treat it like a bank with a valuable deposit to be used in time of need.Deer,rabbits,all sorts of edible birds and other meat will get into the habit of coming to that feeding station,which ISNT illegal as long as you dont shoot anything around it.When it gets bad,you will know where the game is.JMO

  10. I like watching Cody Lundin on his TV show.I dont agree with the minimalmist approach,even though when its on your back,every pound does count.The idea of surviving some sort of SHTF or TEOTWAWKI event while barefooted doesnt appeal to me,even if the idea of being ABLE to is worthwhile.
    Like all things written or posted about these possible events,it all needs to be taken with a grain of salt and a LARGE does of reality.

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