We are all born dying. Take a moment to convince yourself of that fact. We will all reach our expiration date, and it will require little to no effort on our part. Dying is easy, it is surviving that takes real effort.
As a species, our needs are no different than most other animals. We need to maintain our Core Body Temperature, Hydrate, Consume Calories, Rest, be Secure (protect ourselves from harm), and reproduce to continue the species. While those needs have not changed over time, the means in which we provide for them have. We have consistently adapted to, or changed, our environment to survive.
Our ancestors harness the element of fire, built shelter from natural material, made weapons and tools off the landscape to hunt, fish, and protect themselves. Those same tools were used to process and preserve kills and turn them into not only food, but useful hides and other tools. They source their own water from the land and often did not stray far from that or the next source. The fact that we exist today is because they were able to harness the elements of fire, water, and earth to provide for their daily needs long enough to continue the species. Our existence today is a testament to their mastery of survival.
Today, it is much easier to provide for those same needs. We have changed our environment and organized ourselves socially to the point that it takes very little effort individually. Core Temperature needs are now met by a home with a digital thermostat; water is on tap or in bottles; a seemingly endless supply of food is available at the grocery, or you could dine in, have it delivered, or carry it out if you wanted; we have closets full of clothes and comfy beds with plenty of blankets. Everything we think we could ever need can be purchased online and delivered to your door. In fact, our actual needs are so easily met that most of what we buy are now wants and desires.
One could argue that we are much more “advanced” as a species, and many would argue that we are the “most evolved” animal on planet earth. A biologist would likely disagree with that, but that does not change the perception that people have of ourselves. We stand on top of man-made buildings, peering out across a sea of artificiality, and quietly say to ourselves “look at everything we humans have accomplished”. We have mastered the manipulation of our environment so well that daily survival is not even given more than a fleeting thought.
In my opinion, most of our collective advancements have come at a considerable cost to the individual. As individuals, we have outsourced everything we need for basic survival except for rest and reproduction…we are the ultimate creatures of comfort. We rely on energy we do not produce; live in homes and sleep-in beds we did not construct, under blankets we did not make; we drink water that someone else located, made safe to drink (we assume), and built a system to deliver it directly to our homes; we eat food that we had no part in harvesting or processing (many have no idea where it even came from). We did not just outsource these things to others, we outsourced the knowledge of how to provide for these needs ourselves. We have traded self-reliance for comfort and convenience, to the point that we may now be the only species on earth that cannot survive in its own natural environment.
At best, I can agree that we have achieved a collective progression, at the cost of individual regression. For so long as we stay within the confines of the artificiality and outsourcing that we have created for ourselves as a collective group and all systems are functioning well, we will be fine. It is when we are stripped of that system we rely on and thrust into a situation where everything is on us once again, that we suffer. This situation is unfamiliar, often hostile, and it will force you to rapidly adapt to it to provide for your needs, using skills and knowledge you no longer possess.
It is often said that “survival is 99% mental”. In my opinion, this is misleading. This can be misinterpreted (and often is) as meaning that survival is only going to require 1% actual physical effort. As if you can sit on a log and think your way to staying warm and hydrating. Many see this as an “out” and use it as an excuse for not taking the time to learn actual physical skills, wrongly thinking they will just figure to out on the fly using their highly “advanced” brains and the bounty that Mother Nature has to offer (that they not only cannot recognize, but do not know how to use). After all, the physical aspect is such a small part of it all, right? One should be able to live on little more than a Positive Mental Attitude in a life-threatening emergency, right?
It has also often been said that you must have the “will to live” and that is most important. Apply some critical thinking to that and decide for yourself just how valuable that statement is. Of course, you WANT to live, the question is how you in this extreme circumstance can. Got it…I want to live. Now, how do I do that?
Personally, I do not completely disagree with either of those being important, I just do not feel they are very complete. This is the case for a lot of regurgitations I often hear and read. I would not put a percentage on the mental aspect of survival. I believe it starts with having the will to survive, and then mentally deciding that you are physically going to do everything you can to provide for your needs for as long as it takes to survive. You may have to make that same decision repeatedly each day, but it is still just the one decision. Physically work to provide for your needs or lay down and die.
This is by no means meant to be taken as being able to check out mentally, either. It is not saying that having a positive attitude is not important. You must stay in the game if you are forced to make that one decision in the beginning, and possibly remaking it daily, or even several times per day. However, none of that matters if it is not followed by actual physical work to provide for your needs.
In my opinion, survival must be a balance between the mental, emotional, and physical aspects. You will rely on all of them in different ratios at different time. I do not believe you can put a percentage on something like that.
Mother Nature is neither for you, nor against you. She just is. Learn to adapt to, and work with her, and you increase your chances of survival. Fight her, and you will lose. She will not teach you what you need to know in an emergency. She is going to be whatever she is at that moment, and you are not part of that equation. It is up to you to adapt to whatever she is throwing at you. She will make it cold to the point that you need to make a fire to stay warm, but she will not teach you how to make it. She will soak you to the bone, and may even provide the natural materials you need, but she is not going to teach you how to build a shelter. In an emergency, you will have very little time and the learning curve is steep.
You would be better served learning how to provide for your needs now, before you need them. This is the knowledge and skillset that you can fall back on when things get real. You can begin reclaiming all of what you outsourced and level out that steep learning curve. This will lessen the demand on you to rapidly adapt to this situation. Knowledge and skills will give you confidence in your ability to better provide for yourself.
Although much of this could be considered academic, do not allow yourself to believe that understanding something intellectually or conceptually is the same as being able to physically perform a skill. There is no substitute for actual experience. Another pitfall that should be avoided is performing tasks only during optional conditions, with little stress. This is not a bad place to start, but it cannot end there. Isolating skills to develop them in a stress-free environment under optimal conditions is a great idea in the beginning. This allows you to develop the academic knowledge and some of the physical muscle-memory with the skills. That must be followed with performance of the same skills under stress, and in less-than-optimal conditions, so that you are confident in your own ability to perform under those conditions.
In short, it does not matter as much what you can do when conditions are good. It matters what you can do when you are cold, wet, tired, and hungry. How you react to those stressors, in essence, strips you down to the real you that you will be relying on in a stressful emergency. It is important to know who that person is ahead of time. In all things, seek “knowledge of self”.
Human beings are creatures of comfort, and most will never push themselves outside their own comfort zones. If they do, it probably will not be as far as it should be and will not be for long. Seek out tough, realistic training. Find people that will take you well outside your comfort zone so that you can build your knowledge and skills to meet any situation you could find yourself in. Find out who you really are when things get rough, because that is who you will see again in an emergency.
I am fortunate enough to be a professional Wilderness Skills Instructor. This is what I do for a living and I am thankful for it. I teach academic knowledge and physical skills, and recognition of resources (both natural and man-made) to apply both of those in different environments and situations. The underlying lesson, however, is “knowledge of self”: learning who you really are. For that, Mother Nature is the Professor. My part is to get you to the wilderness to learn it.