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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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