We all travel through life with a certain swagger. For some this is limited to a narrow set of circumstances. While for others it is all encompassing to the point where the mind exceeds the body’s ability to back it up.
Webster defines mindset as “A fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s response to and interpretation of a situation.” In a survival situation it is faith, determination, and a drive to survive.
How many stories have we heard about the hero surviving against all odds? Notable is the hiker that died of no injuries, in fair weather. They suffered from getting lost and giving up.
Taking a military view, it is often said that special forces selection or Navy BUD/S is all about not giving up. Allowing the mind to teach the body that it can do one more pushup, swim one more lap, take one more step.
Not that I’m suggesting that you go through BUD/S to improve mindset. There are easier methods. Much easier methods. Here are 11 easy mindset improving exercises.
Table of Contents
Exercise 1) Increase Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is one of the most crucial survival mindset skills. The ability to observe and process what is going on around you often defines life or death.
Exercising your situational awareness is noticing more and predicting better. Become aware of your surroundings and how they will impact you.
Step 1: Basic Situational Awareness
Start with your observational skills. This is where games with a spouse or a friend come in. Take a walk, go for a drive. Over that limited amount of time, recall as many environmental items as possible. How many people or cars did you pass? How many exits are in the restaurant and which is the closest?
Quickly increase the time frames and details. Next, work on derived information. Of all the people within 21 feet, which ones are most likely armed? Who can carry themselves best in the restaurant? Who has had a bad day that is getting worse?
Step 2: Advanced Situational Awareness Advanced
When you have mastered the basics, move to prediction. I find this best practiced in the car and bars. These two environments bring out the worst in people. During a drive, predict which car is about to make a risky or aggressive move? Did you see that accident coming?
Bars are an even more target rich environment. Pick out that one person that forgot to check his attitude at the door. He ain’t takin sh** from no one. He ain’t leavin’ until he’s tossed out. Ok, this may be an exercise that’s a little too easy. Predict the snapping point.
In a survival situation, mindset starts with knowing who and what is around you. Knowing what resources are at hand. Most of all, survival mindset is using this information and predicting when it will hit the fan and what direction it will splatter. Have a mindset of determining which way it will splatter. Then don’t be there!
Exercise 2) Become Disassociated
I once had a firearms instructor state “during a self-defense situation you must check your emotions at the door and be clinical”. I’ve always loved that term. Approaching a situation clinically you become disassociated from the potential negative outcomes. The result is complete focus on the task at hand.
The disassociated mindset minimizes emotions and their effect on your immediate responsibilities. Practice during simple, repetitive, and boring tasks such as weeding, sorting clothes, or doing dishes. Difficulty increases as the consequences become more real.
Progress until you can disassociate from more engaging tasks. These include fire building in poor conditions, self-defense drills, and even competitive shooting. Master the art of focusing only on the details of the situation and shunning all emotion about your performance.
Strengthening this skill enables you to switch into a clinical mindset while others fail to act or act poorly. Disassociating yourself from the action around you enforces improved situational awareness and decisive action.
Exercise 3) Focus Your Anger
The opposite of disassociation is the process of emotional engagement. Most experts agree that fear is a healthy when harnessed. Likewise, unchecked and uncontrolled emotions will only make matters worse. In this exercise we will harness anger as a tool.
One note before we continue anger is not hatred. While hate stimulates anger they differ by intensity and duration. Anger is often quick to build and quick to dissipate.
Hatred builds, and builds, and rarely dissipates. Hatred often becomes the only emotion associated with the subject. Unfortunately, hatred may take years to reconcile.
This mindset exercise will be difficult if you are even keeled and slow to anger. If so, dig deep to find a trigger and it’s ok to focus on a trivial matter, as long as it stimulates anger.
Select a memory or a symbol (person, place, ideology) that stirs up anger. Focus on how it effects your breathing, heart rate, and movements (specifically fine motor skills).
Understand anger’s effect on you. Concentrate on using it, bringing your other senses to a focus. Yeah, I know there’s a whole Darth Vader thing going on here. Roll with it.
Gradually increase the stimulation (e.g. things that anger you more) and work on fine tuning your actions. Attempt simple tasks during these exercises. Chose tasks that require fine motor skills. Build a model, rebuild a carburetor. Save chopping wood for an advanced workout.
When you encounter anger outside of your practice, use this to further your mindset.
It’s important to break out from the tunnel vision associated with blind anger. Rather than focus on the source of your anger, focus on the task at hand. Convert anger into a tool rather than a distraction.
Exercise 4) Build Patience
When emotions run high patience seems to run low. Not taking your time will ultimately lead to skipped steps or skipped opportunities.
Step 1) Choose Slow Activities
Modern life is way too fast. Practice slowing down. Read more (with a physical book please), cook meals from scratch, grow a few garden plants. Pick a task that takes a few moments per day but activities with steady visible progress.
Step 2) Add Stress
The best way to ingrain a sense of patience is to exercise it at the least opportune time. Nothing builds patience like building a fire in the rain. Get wet, get cold, then start gathering tinder and kindling.
Cold and wet your first instinct is to rush. With a fire if you don’t have enough tinder, the fire goes out. The kindling is too large, the fire goes out. Anything gets rushed and you are forced to start over. Every restart demoralizes you and tries your patience.
Exercise 5) Get out of Your Comfort Zones
Who doesn’t like to be comfortable? Warm, stable, snuggled up in the familiar. Unfortunately, emergencies are rarely within our comfort zone. Herein lies the problem.
The more we experience discomfort the more we learn to adapt, accept, and embrace the unknown. Rather than freezing during an emergency strive to act quickly, efficiently, and decisively.
There are many options for getting out of our comfort zone. For the last few seconds of your shower turn the water to cold. Not just cool, but cold. Once you can stand 5 seconds, make it 10, then 30, then try a cold shower.
If you live in a cold climate pump your gas or get the mail without a hat, then hat and gloves, then no jacket.
Take a class in an uncomfortable subject. Public speaking, acting, drawing, small engine repair, computer programming are all fraught with personal challenge. Taken to the extreme get a part time job in retail or customer service.
Get use to stretching your abilities and working through discomfort. Learn to embrace the unfamiliar.
Exercise 6) Build Your Endurance
Large or small survival events all have endurance in common. Whether a get home hike or an extended blackout lack of endurance will be your end.
This exercise is a little more difficult that the others as it requires time. Practicing a 30-mile bugout on foot or a week long blackout take time. That being said there is no way to simulate it.
Decide on your task and stick to it. Many factors that cannot be simulated challenge the endurance mindset. You can’t fully visualize blisters and sore shoulders. Neither can running out of water or having food spoil.
Exercise 7) Break Paralysis in the Unfamiliar
Emergency responders learn the 10/10/80 rule. During an emergency situation 10% of those involved will act to solve the problem. Another 10% will become hysterical their actions will be detrimental to the situation. The remaining 80% will either freeze or fail to recognize the urgency of the situation.
When we process our surroundings, we first seek the familiar. Without something to grasp on to we get stuck in the Observe and Orient portion of the OODA loop. Decide and Act never come up. This indecision leads to fatal paralysis. This is where the 80% get mired.
This mindset exercise is all about expanding your experiences. Reduce the unknowns in your world. Pick those areas that you most expect to encounter in an SHTF situation and seek them out. Reduce the chance of paralysis.
Step 1: Power and Light
Seek out the absence of light and power. Turn off your main breaker or turn off all lights. Force yourself to navigate your house in the dark. Learn to cook and manage daily tasks without electricity. Shut the power for an afternoon, then a day, and finish with a weekend. Grow the mindset where the dark is no longer unfamiliar.
Step 2: Water
We all take clean water for granted, it is the pinnacle of familiar in the first world. The unfamiliar is tainted water. Is water treatment for you familiar or unfamiliar? If you are not practiced in water treatment make it practiced! Have one week where you only drink water that you have processed yourself.
Step 3: Return Home then Evacuate
Pick other areas as well, if your survival plan includes a get home walk form work, get dropped off and start walking! If it includes a bug out to a remote location, drive! Ditch the GPS and use maps, better yet use no map and all back roads.
Push yourself to learn new skills to the point of mastery and minimize the unfamiliar.
Exercise 8) Learning from History
“Those that ignore history are doomed to repeat it”. The analog is that are students of history have the opportunity to shape their future. By studying past events you learn from them and use the experiences of others to shape your potential future.
This mindset exercise is a research mission. Seek out local, regional, and international events. Find ones that mimic SHTF events on your threat matrix. Research events big and small. Don’t just dwell on the biggies. The small ones are the most probably.
The internet is filled with videos that review and analyze violent encounters. YouTube and LiveLeak have a plethora of fights, shootings, mob engagements, aggressive drivers. Each one has a lesson to teach.
Review each video in detail. What are the decisions that lead to the incident, what are the ones that got them out or made it worse?
For regional and national events seek out blog posts, autobiographies, and news articles about the events on your threat matrix. Regional weather events are a great source of information. Try to find stories of persons trapped by snow or floods and impacted by significant power outages.
National events are often documented in both personal blogs and books. Become a student of these. Learn the signs of system failure and personal impacts. What is life like as a refuge? How did they travel? What did they eat? What were the most significant threats?
As you find and study the stories of survival events large and small put yourself in their place. How would you react to the events you read about? What are your emotions? What would your fears be? What would your priorities be?
Exercise 9) Survival Visualization
Visualization is a powerful tool. Used by professional athletes every day, it helps them achieve top performance. Ever stand in the shower and rehearse an important conversation or reenact an old argument. These are simple visualization exercises that are adjusting your mindset for those interactions.
This is my personal favorite mindset exercise. It can be done at any time for any duration. Pick a “What If?” event and mentally run through what you would do and how you would handle it.
Step 1: Redo History
Visualization goes hand in hand with the prior exercise. Place yourself in the position of a historical figure and visualize what you would do. Where would you find food? How would you travel? How would your current stockpiles of survival goods have helped you?
Step 2: Road Trip
During your commute visualize what would happen if there was a crash five cars ahead or two cars ahead. Do you turn left or right? Do you go into the median or force the car on your right out of the way? What course of action has the best chance of minimal damage?
Step 3: Active Shooters Everywhere
During your next movie, or mall trip visualize an active shooter. Where would the shooting start, what is your escape route? The possibilities are endless.
To make the mindset shift positive visualize the event as viscerally as possible. What are the smallest details, the sights, the sounds, the smells?
Step 4: Wash, Rinse, Perfect
Incorporate all the other mindset exercises into this one. Rehearse the familiar (an event in your house) and unfamiliar (in a new restaurant). Play out the same scenario with disassociation and again with focused anger. The possibilities are endless.
Make visualization a part of your daily activities. If the unfortunate happens one day may it play out in a way that you have already rehearsed in your head. When this happens there will be no pause, no critical lack of action.
Exercise 10) Survive for Those That Depend on You
Who depends on you? Is it a spouse, children, parents? Is it a greater community? Are you a MAG leader or the team medic?
Find those that depend on you and add them to your mindset. You are not surviving for yourself but for those around you. When you have to make it home or survive the fight it’s incredible how you are able to push the limits of your physical body when you have someone to live for.
After you have identified who you are surviving for do me one favor. Look in the mirror. Not just a glance but a deep look. Look into your eyes. Now imagine doing that every day, for the rest of your life, knowing that you didn’t do your absolute best and failed the ones you love.
Exercise 11) Find Your Survival Trigger
Finally, find your trigger. Spend time looking both forwards and backwards for that one thought, that one concept or emotion that drives you. This is your trigger.
Your trigger does two things. First it is your reason for living. It is that one concept that pushes you farther and helps you to dig deeper. Secondly, it is the thought that initiates action. Consciously or subconsciously your trigger signifies “Go Time!”
Work your trigger into your visualization exercises. Envision the lead up to the event in great detail. When the critical event occurs think of your trigger as your driving force to survive. Repeat this process until the trigger is brought into play immediately and automatically.
The rule of three has treated me well. It helps me organize my bug out bag. It helps me organize my prepping dollars. Mostly it keeps me in the right mindset from them moment I wake up, to when I turn off the light at night.
Mindset gets your day going with the will to tackle anything that life has in store for you. Whether it be a fender bender or an EMP. You establish from the moment you wake up that you have the faith, will, and drive to succeed.
With the passage of your day keeping in a survival mindset keeps situationally aware. Mindset opens up the details of the world around you. Each is a detail resource if things take a sideways turn. However, they become unutilized resources if they go unnoticed.
Proper preparation puts you into the correct mindset to manage an unfolding event. Executing your plan clinically or with focus emotion gives you key survival advantages. Unchecked fear and anger can only lead to missteps.
Complete the preparation of your mindset through history and visualization. Learn from the past and use it to predict the future. Play the “What If” game constantly.
At work, at church, at home. Imagine the worst and work your way through it. Find inspiration for both the good and the bad in the news, fiction books, and on the internet.
Finally, find your core and find your trigger. You are living for something. What is it? This is the one thought that will keep you alive. Find it and use it.
It’s all about mindset. Develop a survival mindset. Without it you may survive the first three seconds, but you may not survive the events that follow.