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In the real world, you never know when Mother Nature will pull your name from the hat and thrust you into a life-or-death survival situation. Think I’m being overly dramatic? Turn on the evening news and count how many stories relate to natural disasters—wildfires, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and more. Real people are affected by these situations every day and often there is little to no warning. You have to prepare in advance if you want to be able to weather these storms, and we’re talking about more than just physically.

The first chapter in every survival book should be about attitude. Your survival mentality will have a huge impact on the outcome of the situation. Attitude is the rudder that steers your ship. It can keep you on a focused and deliberate course of action or it can send you crashing into the rocks. Though invisible, your mental state is the most powerful force behind getting out of a nasty situation alive. It can also be your worst enemy. If you choose to give up and feel like a victim, you are signing your own death sentence. When you give up mentally, the rest of your body follows suit.

Victors Have Goals

The first step in any survival situation is to set goals. In a survival situation, aimless wandering is a waste of valuable time and energy. Many people panic when thrust into a survival scenario. Panic leads to poor and potentially fatal decisions. Goals help reduce panic by giving you clarity, pushing you forward, and helping you focus on specific tasks.

Some sample survival goals are-
• I must build a shelter by dusk tonight.
• I must start a fire.
• If help has not arrived in three days, I will head east toward the river.
• I will set four snares before I go to sleep tonight.
• I will build a signal fire as soon as the sun comes up in the morning.

Victors set goals and pursue them relentlessly. Instead of just “going with the flow” of life, victors strive with purpose to achieve meaningful goals. How can you expect to go anywhere if you haven’t first chosen a destination?

Victors have seemingly simple goals, such as “complete shelter before dusk.”

Victors Are Brave

Bravery is a prerequisite to victory. Cowards are only successful at failure. Brave people are not fearless. They simply decide to stare fear in the face and press on anyway. Bravery is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to overcome fear and persevere through it. The word “impossible” should not be in your vocabulary and failure should not be an acceptable outcome. Victors are not only brave for themselves, but for others as well. No one follows a cowardly leader. Surround yourself with brave people. Sometimes, you must decide to be brave even when everything in you wants to be scared.

“Instead of just ‘going with the flow’ of life, victors strive with purpose to achieve meaningful goals.”

Victors Are Positive Thinkers

Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher once said, “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” Everyone has moments of self-doubt. It’s natural to question yourself. Every survival battle begins in the mind. You must first win over your mind before you can expect to conquer any circumstance. Survival is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. It has been said that whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right either way. Negative expectations will always produce negative results.

Victors Form Alliances

Working together with others in a group is a common theme found in many accounts of surviving against great odds. Developing partnerships and alliances lets you share resources and skill sets with fellow survivors. Given the opportunity to think about it, we realize that an alliance can mean more than just sharing survival resources and knowledge. Companionship and friendship are intrinsic human needs and make any survival scenario more bearable. True, meaningful relationships can develop from survival alliances.

Everyone has a skill set. Some people’s skills may be more obvious than others, but it’s important to find the value that each person can offer in a survival scenario. It must be a win-win relationship for the individual and the group or the alliance won’t last. Everyone has different backgrounds and life experiences that can help the group achieve its goals. Whether you are coping with challenges in an untamed wilderness or dangerous urban streets, teamwork proves crucial to surviving and accomplishing a common goal. In many scenarios, the only way to survive is by working with others.

There is power in numbers. If at all possible, use teamwork to meet survival goals. Partnering with others can have exponential survival payoffs.

“Companionship and friendship are intrinsic human needs and make any survival scenario more

 Victors Adapt and Improvise

There is a reason why the United States Marine Corps has popularized the motto, “Improvise, adapt, and overcome.” They are keenly aware that the ability to adapt and improvise is absolutely necessary for success.

If you cannot, or do not, improvise, your chances of survival are slim to none. Improvising is more of a mental skill than a physical skill. It is the ability to think creatively and use the resources you’ve been given to meet your basic survival needs. If you had everything you needed to survive, you wouldn’t be in a survival situation. It’s the lack of what you need that makes things dangerous. Using what you have to get what you need is the key. Many items can be used for multiple purposes. For example, a square piece of plastic sheeting can be used in countless ways to meet survival goals, including duty as a shelter, solar still, water collection, poncho, ground cloth, and container. For some, thinking outside the box when it comes to meeting survival goals can be a challenge. Begin by looking at an everyday item and list three ways it can be used directly or indirectly to meet one of your basic survival needs: shelter, security, water, communications, health or food. You may even surprise yourself.

Victors Prepare in Advance

Whether your turn comes or not, being prepared is vital for survival.

Victors try to eliminate risk by preparing for the unexpected. This practice and preparation will pay off when the time comes to rely on your skills to survive. If we invest the effort now to learn survival skills that we might need later, the odds begin to shift in our favor. There still are no guarantees, but it does increase our chances. I grew up in Boy Scouts, and they say it best with their no-nonsense survival motto: “Be prepared.”

Victors Live for What They Love

The human spirit is strongest when it’s fighting for something or someone else. There is something powerful about fighting for something greater than yourself. Survivors know why they want to live. The greatest survival stories of all time are motivated not by the fear of dying, but the fear of losing what makes life worth living. For some, that is a cause; for many, that is a person or family. Search your soul and find that one thing other than yourself that makes surviving your only option.

“The greatest survival stories of all time are motivated not by the fear of dying, but the fear of losing what makes life worth living.”


Attitude is important, but sometimes the will to live just isn’t enough. You need preparedness and skill to step in to pick up the slack. This is where the fun begins. When I teach survival skills, I always start with what I call the Core Four. These are the four most basic human survival needs that have been the same since the beginning of time.

Your Core Four Basic Human Survival Needs are:

  • Shelter
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Food

These four needs are loosely based on the Three Survival Rules of Three:
In extreme conditions-
1. You can live for three hours without shelter.
2. You can live for three days without water.
3. You can live for three weeks without food.

In extreme conditions, shelter and fire are top priority.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Fall 2013 print issue of American Survival Guide.