Psychology of Survival

Psychology of survival is an extensive topic that many times is not focused on enough. This directly and indirectly is responsible for many injuries and deaths. Too much hubris, risk taking, panic and fear all can lead to mishaps. The importance of focusing on yourself and having introspection into your own insecurities and your own dark side will not only keep you safer but put you in a place to help others.

Subscribe on YouTube

Super Powers that help you avoid injury and even death.

Foundation of the vast majority of situations with survival and reaction to an event is based on past learned behavior as a child, education and emotional and intellectual maturity.

When we are young we are walking sponges soaking up all data we see and hear. We get this from parents, mentors and role models. Right or wrong we accumulate data. Many times we are given false data and implement. A learning process hopefully takes place and we should throw out the wrong data or the data that is harmful or just not correct. When we don’t and we hang on to old teachings we slowly develop a hubris attitude that WILL get us harmed or injured. Hubris ( false pride has killed and injured more outdoorsmen and women than any other outdoor event.  Staying on the lake too long when a storm is coming, placing the deer stand higher in the tree than we should, believing we know when in our gut we are unsure and just NOT admitting failure. It is admission of our shortcomings when we grown, change behavior and mature and subsequently survive.

Many men have their ego wrapped too tight that it chokes common sense and the ability to ask for help. Learning form out parents wrong beliefs handed down through the generations will NOT improve your situation. Sentimentality and tradition is not worth a damn when it translates into failure in hunting, camping and getting injured.

Dunning Krueger in the outdoors

In 1995 a bank robber was told to rub lemon juice on his face and he would not be detected by the video cameras. ( TRUTH ) Well, needles to say he was caught and the story captured the attention of two social psychologists Dunning and Krueger. They researched the phenomenon now known as the Dunning Kreuger effect which concludes that individuals have a cognitive bias in which they believe they are smarter and more proficient at a topic or task then they really are. The foundation of this is the inability to have the skills to recognize their own incompetence. This is the combination of poor self esteem, inability to be self aware and low cognition leads to overestimating their own capabilities. When you have this personality type in the outdoors or in a survival situation you are asking for injury and possibly death. When hunting preconceived beliefs that are not founded are just down right dangerous and not only lead to a zero or minimum harvest but a high chance of being inured. Imagine one is injured and treatment is implemented based on what one “knows” is the right treatment only leading to an even worse outcome. In medicine I refer to this as the “Johnny Rescue” phenomenon commonly seen in new graduates in medical school or any post medical degree.

Getting Lost

The joke goes that men never get lost, they are just turned around. They may be turned around all damn day but they “just got turned around” never the less. This then goes back to Dunning Krueger. The inability to admit one is lost is actually imperative in being found. All of us who have seen any fair amount of time in the outdoors will become lost at some point. Depending on our younger education, maturity, and self confidence in the outdoors will directly dictate how quick you are found and how safe you will be. If you are confident with your abilities and know how to use what you have this will definitely decrease any panic or fear. The movie “Into the Wild” shows an intelligent but overconfident young man that meets his demise due to lack of planning, lack of knowledge and eventually starvation. There are many ways to combat getting lost especially with cell devices however if you do not have service then you regress to bak to the day when I was a young adult. Getting lost these days is very difficult to do unless you are heading into  a large remote area out west or  the dense woods of the North or South. Yes getting turned around is common and I have watched younger individuals get “turned around” literally in a 40 acre plot of woods. In fact I highly advise taking your children out and get them lost and have them find the way out. This is good practice at around ten to twelve years old. They have your support but will have just enough adrenaline rush to feel some fear and how that can exacerbate more disorientation and mistakes. Great practice for when and if the real event should occur.


Panic is when one may have a feeling of impending doom and the sympathetic nervous system kicks in. One will secrete epinephrine, norepinephrine and subsequently your heart rate will increase, hands become sweaty, eyes dilate to let more light in, and urgency to go to the bathroom is common. It is at this time when mistakes will often occur. You may want to run or walk faster in a terrain that is not safe. Individuals often loose or misplace items. It is during panic when the frequency of injuries increase. Judgement decreases and impulsivity increases. This is the time to sit your ass down and stop. Reassess the situation and remember how knowledgable you are and how prepared you are.

How to be found

(1) First and foremost STOP and reassess. Flag your spot and look around for possible familiar markers, tree, rock etc. You can slowly stop out ten to twenty yards keeping your marker in sight. If that does not reacquaint you with a direction stand firm at your location and realize you may camp here for a few days. ( I cannot stress the importance of telling someone where you went and when you think you will be back.) For children stress to them the importance of STAYING PUT. In search and rescue fly overs are always done in a grid format. If the child or an adult was in grid four and inadvertently walked into grid three they may not get back to you till the next day. So stay put. (2) Decide on a reasonable shelter. Assess the area. Can you get to a higher location? Is there a storm coming or expected? Will you have a wind block? Any dead trees standing in your area that could fall if it became windy? Are you in an area where animals migrate and are you in a path? Ie: Elk, Bison etc. Ideally you are prepared and you have a tarp and a chord for a ridge line. Do you have the proper clothes and will you be warm?  (3) Signal ability. Do you have a whistle if so you should be aware one blow on a whistle will often not get the attention of someone, however three short bursts and repeat is much more effective and should alert anyone with common sense there is someone in distress. Do have tape? Duct tape, Electrical tape etc. Something to place an “X” large enough to be seen from the air. Yes, three “X’s” are used for distress. I am here to tell you I have given presentations to county and state law enforcement and you would be surprised how many do not know three “ X’s” are the sign for distress. If you have the time and material do the three “X’s” if not one is fine. Remember people are looking for you an X will get they’re attention.  (3) Fire, not only helps you to stay warm but is a huge psychological reinforcer. It instills hope and there is an existential warmth that is tied with fire. You now have light, warmth and a signal. This is why fire is imperative and the knowledge on how to start a fire quickly.

Preparing for Death

Very few like writing about this topic hence there is very little on the subject. There may be a time when the rare and unfortunate reality may occur in the outdoors where death is eminent. Now one should never ever give up however that does not mean you cannot prepare for death. The two are separate and one can do both. Preparing for death DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE GIVING UP. Photos are good to have to give one motivation. Photos of your loved ones and at the same time paper and a writing implement or a recorder on your smart phone. Loved ones DO want to hear what you have to say, and they do want hear your feelings and thoughts. Give them that. Apologies are not necessary. They love you remember? Although I write this, you probably will still apologize. I have been with hundreds who were dying. Those that dies slowly and those that died quickly and practically all had some form of regret that followed with an apology. If you need to do that for you then do it.

The Super Powers of Survival

If you knew it would be your last good bye imagine how careful you would tread.

The vast majority of injuries are due to Hubris, Poor choices and an inability to admit error. So the antithesis of these would be your super powers should you choose to hone them.

They are:

  1. Introspection
  2. Judgement
  3. Humility

Introspection. To have introspection is to be able to look inside and find out why you consistently implement unhealthy behavior. It could be communication or selfish behavior or the inability to ask for help. All of that stems from gross insecurity and most likely bad parental teachings or lack of parental teachings. One must learn how to look inside and see the Darth Vader in us all.

Judgement. The ability to make consistent and healthy choices. The decision making process must be honed. To be able to see a thunderstorm coming while you are fishing on a lake while have a great day. The fish are biting do you choose to leave early and avoid the storm and possible lightning strike or do you risk it and become a Darwin statistic.Good decisions save lives and save injuries

Humility. The ability to see your mistakes and frailties and realize “you are not all that.” Humility the antithesis of hubris. Remember all narcissists have hubris but not all those with hubris are narcissists.

When you break an egg from the outside you shatter it however when you break an egg from the inside you get life. Learn how to look inside and create a new you especially when it comes to tackling Mother Nature.

Please see our video on the Psychology of Survival