Do you have what it takes to survive a disaster? Maybe… maybe not. Far too many preppers focus ONLY on the obviously important aspects of SHTF preparedness: hands-on bushcraft / survival skills, supplies, weapons, and physical prowess.
The mental preparedness and character or any prepper could either become his or her saving grace – or turn into an Achilles Heel that causes failure and ultimately, death.
How you will deal both intellectually and emotionally with a doomsday disaster scenario is just as important as how many #10 cans of freeze-dried meat you have stockpiled in the basement, how good of a shot you are, and how well you know how to grow and preserve food!
#1. Mental Toughness
Possessing a high pain tolerance and being able to lift heavy things repeatedly without tiring is an essential part of prepping, but your mind must be equally tough if you want to survive.
Your mind must be able to adapt and overcome witnessing (and fearing) the most inhumane and dire circumstances that will be looming around every corner after the SHTF.
If you cannot stave off panic and continue to function with a clear mind, all the ammo in the world is not going to save your life. A decline in mental capacity during a TEOTWAWKI situation should be anticipated now in order to prevent the being reduced to a quivering ball of mush in the corner when disaster strikes.
You might be tough and have witnessed combat and its impact on the lives of innocents before – but has everyone in your family or mutual assistance group?
There are very real physical and mental tolls which will happen to your body during a long-term disaster, potentially overwhelming it and preventing you from properly utilizing all of your hands-on survival skills.
Dehydration, hypothermia, fatigue, and emotional stress can creep up on even the most seasoned preppers – regardless of their training or professional background.
Realistic weekend or week-long training drills should focus not just on all the common prepper training scenarios, i.e. going without electricity, tracking, cooking over an open fire, and hunting, but on mental alertness and toughness as well.
During such training sessions, try to push the buttons of your loved ones and attack the most vulnerable aspects of their personalities – especially when they are utterly exhausted. Sure, they will hate you for a few days after the mentally and emotionally draining survival drill, but what both you and they learn from the experience could save lives during an apocalyptic event.
Monitor the behavior and reaction times during the training sessions. Be on the lookout for signs of irrational behavior/lashing out, depression, intense frustration and a desire to quit, hyperactivity, feelings of guilt, and potentially violent anger or rage.
Forcing the loved ones to push through their emotional of mental overload will prevent them from shutting down completely and giving up.
Pessimism will breed failure and perhaps even mutiny when only intense unity will increase the chances of survival. Typically, folks who are or were athletes will have a less difficult time when it comes to keeping a positive attitude and mental toughness.
This has far less to do with any past of current level of physical fitness and more to do with mental/emotional “muscle memory.”
Athletes, even at the high school level, are pushed to the brink of exhaustion during conditioning, practice, and during games – often with a coach pushing them with forward with demanding and unkind words. Athletes learn quitting is not an option – and your loved ones must embrace this concept as well, if they want to survive after the SHTF.
Having a positive or determine attitude may be an inherent part of a person’s character naturally, but these attributes can be taught as well – although it won’t be easy. The family or mutual assistance group must function like a true tribe, all for one and one for all.
That may be a cliché concept, but when things get bad, really, really bad, the genuine love for others and their dependence upon you to survive, just might be the only thing that motivates you to take one more step, throw one more punch, or lift one more heavy sand bag.
Everyone, regardless of age, must learn how to “suck it up” and more forward – standing still will not be an option – not if survival is the ultimate goal.
#3. Work Ethic
This one is so very hard to teach. If you were not raised with a work ethic, or other members of your family are missing this attribute, the uphill battle for survival just became steeper.
Lazy folks, especially pampered millennials, can develop a work ethic… over time, but it will take A LOT of time, determination, and even patience, to get the job done.
Preppers must have a “there is only me” mindset to getting a job done, or an “there is only you” mantra when trying to teach a work ethic to others.
If you or those you are attempting to instruct, do not get the job done right this time and in an expeditious manner, there probably won’t be a next time to try and get it right during a SHTF disaster.
There is no excuse for laziness ever – especially not when your life and the lives of everyone you love are on the line. The ONLY time anyone in the family or tribe should be sitting or in a prone position is at dark after all the chores are done and it is not the individual’s turn to be on guard duty.
There is always something which can be done – no lounging by the campfire or sitting in a corner shivering fear. A busy body will also prevent the mind from focusing on anything but the task at hand – a great deterrent to the loss of mental toughness or positive attitude.
Factor work ethic training into your survival drills. Be harsh – the world is often that way now and will be even more so during the apocalypse. Give a nearly insurmountable task to a person, partners, or small group of tribe members that if not accomplished properly and on time, will cause the entire group to suffer.
Work Ethic Training Drills:
- Constructing a group shelter – doing this during inclement weather is an even better motivator because the stakes are so much higher. If the group shelter is not constructed, do not send everyone home, have anyone else pitch in to help or sleep in vehicles. For the lesson to be worthwhile, the entire group must tough it out and sleep on the ground or make due with sheltering options readily present in the natural environment. A miserable night for everyone and shame for the failed shelter builders will be a great motivator to get the job done and clearly display the real-world consequences to be lazy or inept.
- Food – Again, assign one person, partners, or a small group to find and prepare food for the entire group. Do not inform anyone in the group about the drill until setting up camp or launching the survival training. Knowing no food was packed as part of a back-up plan will drive home the importance of foraging, fishing, hunting, for food and place an exceptional amount of pressure on the food seekers – motivating them to either success or a failure they never want to repeat.
Learning how to adapt and overcome is not only a superb Marine motto, it is a guiding survival skill. Being too stubborn of rigid to adapt to an ever-changing situation will get you killed during a long-term disaster.
Being able to decide when it is time to abandon a plan, give up on a tool which is not working and finding another way to accomplish the task, could one day mean the difference between life and death.
Being stubborn is not always a bad thing, not at all. Stubbornness is part of mental toughness and helps to develop a strong work ethic. But never allow stubbornness to rule the day and prevent you from adapting or changing your plan or path.
When attempting to teach flexibility and adaptability to members of our family or survival group, remove one essential tool or item needed to accomplish a task, or place a virtual barrier along the planned escape route – forcing those involved with the drill to draw upon both their mental and physical survival skillset to accomplish an essential goal.
Becoming depressed or feeling hopeless is understandable during a SHTF disaster, but those emotions cannot be allowed to trump common sense and zap your motivation for survival. What motivates one person to keep going might be far less important to another – keep this in mind when engaging in preparedness training with your tribe.
Everyone should be able to rally around the concept of group preservation. Keeping the lives of your loved ones on the forefront of your mind will help keep feelings of depression in check. All of the emotional and mental survival skills work in conjunction with one another – like a chain that will weaken if not properly reinforced.
During prepping drills, motivate those who are struggling by reminding them (or yourself) what is most important to them, how they are essential to making that happen, and reminding them in brutally honest terms how bad things will get for those they love if they give up or shut down. Guilt can be a useful tool when wielded properly.
Enhancing Emotional and Mental Survival
Rules and the Emotional Toll of not Having Any
Now is the time to make sure everyone is on the same page about the guiding principles and protocols. If you wait until a potentially emotionally charged problem arise, dissention can occur and provoke a loss of mental toughness or hopelessness.
Discuss the potentially heart-wrenching scenarios the family or tribe will likely face once the SHTF and agree to how they will be handled now. Actually, putting the rules into practice and making a decision will likely still take an emotional toll, it will at least be a heartache you have anticipated having and have prepared to face.
When I first told my husband that I was “all in on this prepping thing” he was so focused upon about six years ago, I said some ground rules needed to be established, or I was out. We had this discussion after a short-term natural disaster in our region.
I was concerned about how my loving husband would react not when the marauding hordes showed up on our property, but kindly strangers and quite realistically, even friends who ignored their opportunity to prepare for a doomsday disaster.
If a crying woman holding her extremely hungry toddler begged for just a little bit of food, I know my husband would be so hesitant to turn her away.
Giving away food, or any valuable asset, would cause one of two things to happen in my mind:
1 – The woman and her child would live another day, maybe two. She would not only likely return begging for more, but many others surely would as well. Our generosity would not extend any of their lives very long, but the overall acts of charity would substantially decrease the number of days our own grandchildren would go without food. This was an unacceptable result and I would not allow it to occur, with tears in my eyes perhaps, I knew I could turn the woman away, our family had to come first if we were going to survive.
2 – The woman either voluntarily or under duress, showed up on our land begging for help. Once she and those hidden behind her realized we had food, they would attack and not only our food, but our medical preps, animals, tools, and even our shelter and lives would be lost. Another unacceptable outcome.
Write down a similar set of scenarios and draw them from a stack during an evening of survival training. Let the entire group ponder the scenarios and discuss the possible solutions or ways of handling each and then create a set of governing rules the group agrees to follow should any of the dire situations be presented after the SHTF.
Knowledge is power. Read or watch something related to homesteading and survival skills on a daily basis. A simple 15 minutes of learning scheduled into each day and then later put into practice will add to both your mental and physical preparedness. Cross-training and discussing how equipped the group is to carry out or deal with the situations focused upon during the learning sessions is an important follow-up activity.
Introducing new skills training into upcoming preparedness will keep the group mentally sharp and focused on not only perfecting the skills and knowledge they already have but will also make them realize how much they still have not mastered and motivate them to learn more.
Push yourself and others by way of a little friendly competition is another great way to improve both physical and mental toughness while helping maintain a proper attitude. Incorporate what everyone learns during their daily preparedness education sessions by turning the new knowledge into survival skills challenges.
Everyone in the family or mutual assistance group can write down one thing they learned during the week on a piece of paper and place it on the table in card deck type fashion. Each member of the tribe draws a card and gets 10 minutes to learn what they can, however they can, about the survival skill they are challenged to complete.
When the 10 minutes is up, the card issuer and the card holder go head-to-head to see who can complete the skills both the fastest and with the best results – as members of the tribe cheer them on.
Full cross-training can occur later and should be recorded to further a little more friendly competition among the group. Keep a chart of each survival skills challenge and the mark down when each member of the tribe successfully completes all the topics on the list – not just the ones they personally selected from the pile.
Hold an awards ceremony at the end of the month or quarter to acknowledge the success and progress of each group member – perhaps even make some type of award/trophy the leaders on the board can proudly display or make the awards a “traveling trophy” the winners must complete to maintain.
Incorporating Survival Skills into Your Daily Life
In addition to the daily preparedness learning sessions, do something physical each day to hone your bushcraft or survival skills. This practice will keep both your mind and body sharp and help to continually motivate you while keeping prepping a constant part of your life.
Record your endeavors somehow, by writing a short report about the experience and/or videotaping the endeavor to share with the group. Making survival supplies or putting together preparedness would be an excellent use of your time as well.
Survival Daily Life Skills Tips:
- Make fire starters for yourself and to share with members of the tribe. This could become a coordinate project with each person making something or putting together a kit to share with others or to add to the group stockpile.
- Learn about and make home remedies that have a long shelf life and increase the medical preps of the group. Focus upon alternative remedies for medical conditions of loved ones and likely diseases which could spread during the SHTF. This project will add to the preparedness coffers and force you to contemplate what will happen when you can’t call 911 – preparing you for the emotional and mental toughness required to get through such potentially situations – and motivate you to mitigate the impact on your tribe as much as possible.
- Forage your area and learn to expertly identify all potential edibles during each of the four seasons, what they can be used for medicinally and how to preserve them. The more you know, the more you are prepared, the better you will be able to adapt and stave off the desire to panic and give up.
Chart your own survival skills progress, both physical and mental. Get a couple pieces of poster board and some stickers or stamps and record your progress.
Make a chart that includes what you know now and using three different color stamps or markers, note if you have a beginner, average, or advanced mastery of the skills. Mental and emotional progress could be gauged by others in the group after a survival skills training session to ensure proper results.
Look at the board each day and use it to guide your learning sessions and daily life prepping goals – making all of your time and efforts a coordinated effort. Seeing your survival report card in living color will foster both a sense of pride and motivation to change the colors of each column from beginner to average to advanced.
Enhance your physical and mental toughness at the same time by drilling yourself – and others in your tribe. Devise a survival training scenario where you alone, or with others, engage in physically demanding behavior. This could be simple exercise activities or a necessary manual labor chore on the homestead or prepper retreat.
Immediately after the physical activity is over, launch into a competition against yourself or others to determine how you perform but mentally and physically while in an exhausted state. Working through exhaustion will require mental toughness, alertness, self-motivation, and the ability to adapt and overcome.
Before engaging in the survival challenge, complete a known skill when not physically taxed, recording the results on video if possible and timing how long it took to complete the challenge.
Compare how you performed in both challenges to help pinpoint your physical and mental weaknesses. How long did it take you to become frustrated during the challenge after physical activity? Did you make more mistakes when incredibly tired? Did you not work well with others, if it as a group project?
What you learn about yourself will be invaluable information that could one day save the lives of those you love.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.