What is the Will to Survive



The Will to Survive, Do You Have It?

© copyright 2004, by Gary Benton

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We all hear a lot about the phrase, "the will to survive." You notice, it does not say the will to live, or the will to die, it uses the word survive. I believe the word survive is there because it is the most important word in that phrase. See, at times in real survival situations, unlike a television show I won't mention, it is easier to just live, or give up and die, than it is to survive. I suspect I may have you very confused about right now. Well, he has finally lost it, you may be thinking. Perhaps, or, have I? Consider the fact that survival is very hard work. Death or living is much easier. Anyone can die or possibly live, but how many of us can survive.


You may be asking, living it surviving, isn't it? Not exactly, because survival means you live by reasoning, determination, training, and actions. Living simply means you continue to breath until you are found. If you are in the bush long enough, without the will to survive or a lot of luck, you will move into category three, death. So, many people are considered survivors when in fact, they were just plain lucky.


The will to survive is a mental conditioning of your mind to survive no matter what man, nature, or luck throws at you. It is easy to think of survival and to say you have the will to survive, but do you really have it? The first thing to consider about survival situations it that no one wakes up in the morning and says; "I think I will be a survivor today." The trauma of suddenly finding yourself in a wilderness survival situation will require psychological acceptance. This acceptance is difficult because deep down inside you know you will now have to feed, cloth, shelter, and take care of your own medical needs. And, even the professionals fight bits of doubt when it really happens (I suspect few would admit that though). It is the ultimate reality check. A failure to accept the seriousness of your situation will, without luck, lead to death.


We as humans, I think, are driven by some deep internal motivation and natural instinct to live in groups. I suspect this was necessary part of our early evolution in order to survive. As a group we would hunt, pick foods, build shelters, take care of our medical needs, and protect ourselves. Additionally, it made it easier to select a mate. During that period any person placed out side of the group would soon perish. Perhaps that is why banishment from a group in those days was almost equal to the death sentence. Once a person was no longer part of a group, and isolated, they could only do so much alone. One of the first theories a psychology major learns in college is the need for mankind to belong (to a group or a society if you will).

The total isolation we feel when forced into a survival situation is difficult to for the unprepared to combat. Some people for the first time in their lives are honestly alone. Many of us do not even know ourselves very well. Or, deep down inside we may not even like ourselves. You would be shocked at how many people in our society do not like being alone, and actually try to avoid it. Once a person is placed in a survival situation, there are no cell phones, no computers, no friends, and no television playing to provide background noise. Survivors have commented about how "loud" this stillness in the field can be. As social beasts we all want, as well as need, to be with others. We are just social beasts. A survival situation isolates us quickly and with perhaps with a feeling of no immediate hope or help. So, how do we fight this feeling of pending doom?


First, before you go into the field, learn what needs to be done in most survival situations. Once you are forced to survive, think then act. Stay focused on your task at hand. Lets say your first task is shelter construction (the priority of your tasks depends on the survival environment). If you have done your reading and had some training, you know what steps to take to make a good shelter for the type of environment you are in. Concentrate on making the strongest and best shelter you can with the materials you have on hand. Then, after that is done, work on another project. Stay busy. An active mind is a healthy mind.


Second, if you believe in a higher power, then it is to your advantage to pray or meditate. Do what your beliefs say you should do and as often as you need to. However, it is important to remember to have faith in your higher power, but help yourself at the same time. It is so easy to allow yourself to pass the buck to a higher power and no longer take any responsibility for you own actions. YOU are the one that must, with your higher powers help, survive. Most survivors I have talked to or read about, prayed at various points during the situation, usually asking for food or water in some form. This communication with a higher power is good because keeps your will to survive strong by giving you hope and that is good psychological support.


Third, enter a survival situation knowing you will make mistakes or use bad judgment at times. All of us will. The key here, or so I think, is being prepared. See, an experienced outdoors man will make mistakes too, but they will not be, usually, as severe as the novice. And, the inexperienced person will make not only more severe mistakes, but they will make more mistakes over all. This is due to poor knowledge or a lack of planning. Both of which can cost you your life. In any survival situation remember to think your actions out way before you act . Use simple logic and use your mind. The best tool you have to assist you in survival is not a knife, matches, or a blanket, but the human mind. If you are preoccupied with self-pity, your judgment could be cloudy.

Watch your diet and water intake. If you can procure food and water, then do so. You never know when the opportunity may disappear. Learn to constantly look for sources of food and water. How, you may be wondering, does food and water apply to the will to survive? Well, simple. Man is better prepared to survive with he has a full stomach. See, a lot of our problems seem to go away in survival, or mentally they do anyway, if we have a shelter, fire, food and water. Sure, it is mostly psychological, but it helps. There is something mentally refreshing when sit around a warm campfire, eating a meal and drinking water after a full days work at surviving. We reap the efforts of our days work by having the fire, the food and the water. It is a "warm fuzzy."

Gradually built on your successful acts and down play the losses. If you do something well, remember how you did it. Think positive about all of your accomplishments. Don't consider it luck, though part of it may have been, you were still the person responsible for the end result. Often in survival a window of opportunity opens and the survivor fails to act. Failure to act at a golden chance is all too common. Each accomplishment needs to be rewarded in your mind.


Guts and determination are also important traits for the survivor. Those individuals who are "hackers" and not quitters will usually survive. They have an attitude toward life that helps them survive. They seem to feed on challenges and successes. Often, when I was in the military, the biggest guys, strongest guys, or the smartest guys would eventually quit. It was surprising to see the one individual who everyone would have picked to be the first quitter, completed training. Often they were of normal size and intelligence. It is all a mind game. It was all about mind over the physical pain or difficulties. The human mind is the most wonderful tool you have, so use it often in the field. And remember, others have survived, and so can you!


One aspect I can speak up with some authority is nature. I don't ever remember being at any survival school where the weather was good, for the trainee anyways. Oh, it was perfect for training, maximum training as our instructors often said. So remember to prepare a shelter as soon as you can. Prepare your body for protection from severe weather, but just as important is the preparing of your mind. I have spent days isolated in shelters due to bad weather. Loneliness, remember the first part of this article, can be a real hard task to confront. I once spent a whole day doing math problems in my head and I remember a rough two days in Alaska where I made up stories in my mind. Keep your mind exercised along with your body.


The will to survive is an attitude. It is a deep commitment to survival. I suggest, while it cannot be learned, it can be reinforced by being prepared, with knowledge, and by developing a healthy survival psychology. Remember to downplay your losses while building your successes up. Confront your difficulties head on and with determination to accomplish your task, no matter what. Keep your faith in your higher power, and keep your mind active. Stay off of your self-pity pot and do get into the "poor me" attitude.

If you have the will to survive, you will survive and not just live. You will be able to return to society knowing you, and you alone, keep yourself alive. You will know that you kept yourself alive where many others would have simply given up..and died. You will be proud of the fact you didn't just live, or even die, you were truly a survivor. The will to survive, do you have what it takes? Do you have the will to survive?

Will to Survive


Gary Benton has over 45 years of outdoor experience in camping, hiking, fishing, and other activities. He's no armchair survival man, he's walked the walk from the arctic to the desert and all the area in between. Gary has an associates degree in Search and Rescue, Survival Operations, a B.S. in Industrial Occupational safety, and all but his thesis completed for a M.S. in Counseling Psychology.
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