It happens to thousands of people every year, and it could just as easily happen to you. Your airplane goes down in the wilderness; or the train you’re riding derails miles from the nearest junction; or your car breaks down in the desert; or you get lost while hiking in the woods; or a snowstorm strands you in the mountains unprepared...the possibilities are endless.
In any case, you may survive the initial trauma event only to quickly realize that you are now in a terrible, dangerous predicament. It’s possible that everyone who was with you has died, including your spouse, child, or friend; or maybe some have also survived. It’s likely that you or others have sustained bad injuries. You may find that you have little-to-no resources available—no food or water. No tools, no communication device, and no clue where you are or how to get to someplace safe. But the biggest question of all is whether or not you will be able to handle the reality of the situation in your head and heart: Do you have the will to survive?
By far the most important factor in anyone’s survival is something that anyone can develop and carry with them at all times. That is, a strong psychology for survival—the will to live.
You must say this right now: "I will do everything and anything it takes to stay alive and to keep going with every ounce of my physical and spiritual energy, until I get back home to the ones I love."
The single most important tool in survival is the will to NEVER QUIT!
The general rules of life clearly state that if you’re ready for something, it won’t happen; and if you’re not ready, it surely will! This phenomenon is sometimes called "Murphy’s Law" and it also translates perfectly into "Hawke’s Law of Survival."
And you’d be surprised at how a sense of humor can benefit you in the worst of situations. Look at it like this: it would be pretty funny to survive a plane crash or boat sinking, and then die from lack of food or water! But look at the upside—either way, if you die fast, there’s no suffering; if you die of starvation or exposure, at least you had time to make peace with your maker. Either way and in all things, always look for the positive, and don’t dwell on the negative any more than you need to in order to identify it and learn not to repeat whatever caused it. If something you’re doing or thinking does not fix or improve your situation, it’s wasting your time. And the clock is always ticking towards your death, so don’t squander one moment in unproductive depression or self-pity or any of the other things that only serve to drain your energy without benefit.
Now, of course you should take some time—after you’ve done all you can to handle the immediate disaster and are having a well-deserved and well-timed break—to give small things a think, even have a cry. This is healthy if controlled, and even necessary for your psyche. We must mourn if we experience loss. And accept the possibility that more anguish may be on the way—otherwise, you will fear it, and fear will beat you down faster than anything and spread like a virus. It will consume you in a heartbeat and even spread to others very quickly if you’re in a group.
That is why combat commanders cannot tolerate fear in the ranks. Fear is that dangerous, and you should view fear as your worst enemy in any survival situation. The way commanders manage it, is to keep the troops busy and productive. All that apparent "busywork" that soldiers always seem to be doing has a purpose—commanders are making sure the men don’t have time for fear to set in. You should do the same.
Most fear is the result of ignorance; it’s a fear of the unknown. By sitting down in Fort Living Room, right now, learning techniques and gaining confidence in your knowledge of what to do, you are putting yourself in a better position to handle a survival situation when you’re in a real hurt box.
Reading and thinking about it is better than nothing, but nothing is better than hands-on experience when it comes to the survival arts. So get prepared by reading, taking courses, trying skills and techniques, getting good at the ones that feel most natural to you, and practicing them every once in a while. This will give you the hard skills and confidence that will keep you prepared for anything. And that is the number-one way to fight fear—to know what to do.
No matter whether you are a man, woman, child, old, young, fit, or even disabled—you can make it as long as you work on the basics, know what you want to live for, and never quit. Heart, Mind, and Skills (in that order!) vanquish fear. This is the key to survival.
The most important skill you can have and develop is simply good old-fashioned common sense. Ultimately you need to be mentally prepared for the harsh realities of surviving. Death is real and a real possibility always. The key is, if you find yourself in a bad situation and you have nothing, then you are surviving!
When you have nothing, this commitment is all you have, and more times than not, this can actually be enough. You don’t stop to think and let the fear get a grip, you just keep driving on and never quit. Keeping a grip on one’s courage has carried countless many through almost certain death in battle, and so it can serve you, too, in the battle for survival. It cannot be repeated or stressed enough: Never quit!
Adapted from Hawke's Special Forces Survival Handbook; photo credit, The Discovery Channel.