The Right Attitude for Survival


Pick up any military survival manual and the first chapter will probably surprise you. Those manuals all start out the same way, not talking about your top three survival priorities, but talking about attitude. That’s because the experts who wrote those manuals understand that having the right mental attitude will do more to ensure your survival, than anything else.

Medical science is finding this to be true with cancer patients and others who have deadly “incurable” diseases. In many cases, it is the patient’s attitude which determines whether they live or die, regardless of what the doctors do.

This has even been proven to be true with police who are gunshot victims. Some who are convinced they will die if they get shot die, even though they only received a superficial wound. Others, who were convinced they would live, have done so, even though they were gravely wounded and weren’t expected to make it.

So how does this apply to our survival? A positive mental attitude will cause us to overcome obstacles that might be in our way, while a negative attitude makes it much easier for us to give up and die.

One of the things that makes the Navy SEALs unique is that they don’t know how to quit. Those who earn the Budweiser Badge have been given every opportunity to quit, all the way through the world’s most rigorous military training, and haven’t done so.

There’s a bell in front of the orderly room at the SEAL’s training camps in Great Lakes, Illinois and Coronado, California, in plain sight of the trainees at all times. All that any of them have to do is ring that bell at any time, signifying that they have decided to quit and they’re processed out so quickly that their heads are probably spinning for a week.

Making it easy to quit is an effective tool the Navy uses to filter out those who are likely to quit when things get tough on a mission. The 25 percent who don’t quit during training are the ones who don’t know how to quit. They live the SEAL adage of “The only easy day was yesterday.”

When the chips are down, the only thing that keeps any of us from failing is reaching down inside us and finding something to keep us moving forward. That’s hard to do and it can only happen when we have convinced ourselves that if we do reach down inside us and find that, we will prevail. We have to be convinced we will survive, in order to do what’s necessary to survive.

There’s an old story about an expedition that was trekking through the mountains in a snowstorm somewhere. The storm intensified and their chances of survival looked grim. On top of the weather and the difficulty seeing the trail, one of their members fell and broke their leg, making it impossible for them to walk.

Most of the team broke up at this point, with those who left displaying a “every man for himself” attitude. But one member of the team refused to abandon the injured man. Rather than abandon him to die, he boosted his companion up on his back and took off, trying to catch up with the others.

The storm was bitter, threatening them with frostbite; but the man trudged on through the snow, carrying his burden. After quite some time, he came across one of those who had left, abandoning them. That man was frozen in the snow; he didn’t make it. So they continued on, fighting their way through the mounting snow. As they did, they passed one companion after another, each of which had frozen to death. Finally, they reached town where they were safe from the sold, the only ones to do so.

What made the difference in their lives? It was the determination of the one carrying his injured companion to get his friend to safety. He fought on, regardless of how tired he became, and as he struggled to carry his burden through the snow, the fight warmed his muscles, keeping him alive.

Regardless of what we face, there will be a struggle. Some days, getting up and going to work can be struggle enough. But we do it, because our families need us to. Likewise, our families need us to be strong enough to carry on, when it is necessary for their survival. It might be easy to give up on ourselves, but it is a lot harder to give up, when others are depending on us to survive.

Keeping a positive “can do” attitude will help us to survive. Not only that, it can become contagious, spreading to our families. If we are going to lead them through whatever tragedy we face, than this is part of it too.

We can’t expect others to encourage us; we must learn how to encourage ourselves. This is perhaps one of the biggest differences between a leader and a follower. If we need someone else to do it, we’re not leadership material; we prove that we need someone else to lead us.

So how do you do that? Training. Navy SEALs are some of the most highly trained people in the world, intelligent, dedicated and able. When they are faced with an “impossible situation” they just fall back on their training. They know what to do, because they’ve trained for enough different things, that they’re bound to have training that’s applicable to the situation.

We too need training. We need to train ourselves, so that when the brown stuff hits the rotary air movement device we know what to do. It’s easy to fall into fear, worry and uncertainty when you don’t know what to do. On the other side of that coin, it’s easy to be confident when you know what to do. The key is, make sure you know what to do.

I’ve been faced with a number of potential survival situations in my life; from being caught in blizzard to being lost in the mountains; from riding out hurricanes to freezing times without electricity. In each case, I knew what to do and because I knew what to do, I was able to do it. I wasn’t worried. I didn’t need to be motivated. I had to take care of myself and my family, so I did. My knowledge gave me confidence and that gave me the ability to see the problem through.