Survival.  The very idea of being placed in a survival situation evokes deep feelings.  The reaction it stirs in you indicates a great deal about how you would react to an unexpected situation where lives may be on the line.  Could you accurately assess your ability to survive in a real survival situation?  Do you have “What it takes”?  And what is, “what it takes” anyway?

Biologically, or genetically, there is little more we can do beyond physical training and learning in a contrived environment. Worse, we could “read up” on survival skills and theory and give ourselves the illusion of understanding. This would allow us the dangerous assumption that, because we read it in a book, or saw a few videos on the internet, we have “what it takes”.  This elusive internal quality has little to do with book learning.  Even folks trained in survival skills perish in the same conditions that untrained individuals find themselves surviving.  So, where are you in this spectrum?

Beyond our genetics we become who we are based on only two variables.  The first is the environment we immerse ourselves in.  The second is what we choose to focus on in that environment.  Here are two examples to illustrate how profound these two simple components can be in creating different results for members of the same species.

Since he was young, Brad was an avid outdoorsman.  His father and Uncles would take him fishing and hunting.  His family was involved in Scouting.  When Brad shot his first deer at thirteen, the community rallied in celebration.  As a young man, Brad took up Rock Climbing, Hiking, Backpacking, and Snow Shoeing.  He loved knives, rifles, archery, and camouflage.  Brad learned gardening from his grandparents.  As a middle aged man, Brad often reflects on his exploits, especially those times where he had to spend a few unplanned days and nights in the forest due to poor judgment, weather, or unforeseen circumstances.  These memories came to him with a sense of fondness.  All of this gives Brad little comfort now, at 2am.  Strange groups of people stare as he walks by.  Towering apartment buildings and confusing, dark streets make him feel like an alien as he tries to locate the building he was supposed to meet a friend at.  They all look the same to him.  Brad struggles to keep the welling panic at bay as he realizes the enormity of South Philly.

Mark, a product of Chicago, would have felt more at ease in this neighborhood.  He yearns for the familiar hum and rhythm of the city.  A steam shrouded sidewalk grate would indicate warmth.  A church steeple might mean a shelter near by.  A fast food joint would almost guarantee a dumpster full of food.  Marks’ sense of order, his ability to read street signs as well as subtle body language cues, all of his finely honed urban survival strategies are failing to serve him in this alien northern woodland environment.

Brad, with all of his woodsman skills is just as lost in the city as streetwise Mark is in the natural world.

Provided they are not injured and can breath, both men require five basic elements to ensure their survival.  Four of these are physical needs.  The fifth, the most important element, determines how they and, more importantly, you would react in a similar situation.  The first four priorities are a need to find shelter from the elements, drinking water, a source of light and heat (fire), and last on the list; food.

The fifth element; that which will compel them in to action or cripple them into complacency, is “Attitude”.  Attitude is nothing less than how you view yourself in the context of your “reality”.  How you view your commute, your job, your relationships, even the power and the will you believe you have to change a situation…or not.  It is the reason some walk away from an event while others perish, frozen in their uncertainty and fear.  It is the amount of ignorance and fear that we focus on that is our greatest undoing in the end.  It is the opportunities and actions we seize that is our saving grace as well.

None of this takes place without the initial choice.  In fact, it could be said that choice is one of the two “Parents” of a healthy survival attitude.  But lets explore this concept within the context of your own reality.  In the second paragraph of this article there was a statement, “Beyond YOUR genetics you become who you are based on the environment you immerse yourself in and what you choose to focus on in that environment.

With that in mind, lets first focus on your environment and how it shapes you.  How much of your effort, intellect, and problem solving skills go directly in to providing you with adequate and safe shelter against the elements as well as protecting you from the threats in your environment?  Does your landscape demand that your awareness is developed around these things, or is having a roof, climate control, and a warm bed an assumed component of your reality?

At the Maine Primitive Skills School we have a saying, “Convenience kills”.  In the environment you find yourself in, if you are not actively problem solving to address your survival needs you will lack the ability to do so in a real situation.  Since most of us lack the means or the will to modify our surroundings, we are left with the second component of what shapes us; what we choose to focus on in that environment.  This piece makes increasing your survivability easy and fun.

During your daily routine, envision different “call to action” scenarios where you have to come up with your own shelter, water, fire, and food.  On the commute, where would you acquire these things if you were snowed in, or you were stranded on a specific section of roadway with no help available?  At work, you are hit with a natural disaster the knocks out power and isolates your people from the rest of the world.  What materials would you utilize and how long would they last?  How would you plug in different personalities to create an optimal chance for all to make it through?  Developing these questions as part of your overall routine shifts you from being the victim of someone else’s story to becoming the hero of your own journey.