While there are any number of uncontrollable factors that will influence your odds of survival in a catastrophe, there also are a number of other controllable elements, many of which are common across crises, which can make a real difference. Quite a few are simply commonsense:
The best survival strategy is to never get in a crisis situation to begin with, by being proactive and avoiding the landmines of life.
Survivors are curious people who often have more knowledge about how to handle a situation, so they tend to be naturally better prepared for the unexpected. All of us can accomplish the same thing by intentionally gaining experience, training, and having disaster backup plans. Survivors gather all the information they can from everywhere. They take training seriously, and are prepared. Ideally, you don’t want to have to think during a disaster, but already know what to do.
There are individual differences between people. Researchers have found a serotonin transporter gene, 5HDT, which gives people a greater capacity to remain calm in a crisis. The 10-80-10 rule says that 10% of people will be clearheaded and do the right thing, 80% of people will be bewildered and do nothing, and 10% will do the wrong thing. Many people simply shut down into a kind of stupor, freezing under the extreme stress of the moment. So, often people wait to be told what to do, and the danger here is one of lethargy.
That 80% is in denial, and people need to get past this and recognize what is happening. Next a person needs to turn off their fear alarm and stay calm. Experts advise people to, “Hug the monster.” In other words face your fears, wrestle with them, and try to get past them. It is also the case that people’s initial fear often then turns into anger, and a survivor will use this to his/her advantage.
People tend to fall back on what they know, and act in accordance with their prior roles and experience. When faced with a crisis you need to readjust your normal assumptions, and adapt as quickly as possible. Having an attitude of humility is important. Survivors know that they don’t know, and this keeps them from overlooking things. Pay close attention and respect whatever it is you are facing, as you make an honest assessment of the situation. Accept the world as it is, surrender to the new reality that consists of those things you cannot change, and make this new place your home.
Having said that, you don’t give in, but try to see what you can do to improve the situation. Then, based on your assessment, make a plan and become a problem solver by setting up small attainable goals. Next, based on that plan, take decisive action, and start eating that elephant one bite at a time. As you get feedback as to how you’re doing, adjust and reevaluate. “Plan the flight. Fly the plan. But don’t fall in love with the plan.” Accept setbacks, you do not have to be perfect, just moving forward.
Your emotional mindset can make a huge difference. Survivors have a general belief that things will probably turn out well in the end. They think they will succeed. Remember that you often have much more control than you realize. You can make a difference, and are stronger than you know. Survivors learn to manage pain, and do what is necessary. Control the controllables, and one thing to control is your imagination. Focus on what you can do right now, not on what might happen. Don’t blame others, avoid self pity, take responsibility for your survival, and do not wait for someone else to save you. Look at your new reality as a deadly serious game to be played, but still see it as a game in which you must take calculated risks.
Try to find something to enjoy in it. Be determined to win, yet accept the possibility you might lose even if you make the correct decision, and then go on. The attitude is, “I might die, but not today if I can help it.” There is always one more thing a person can do to stay alive for the next minute. To help your morale, celebrate even the smallest successes.
Connection to others is one of the keys to group survival. Organize and set up disciplined routines. Having a purpose greater than oneself can be vital. Helping someone else can be the best way of helping yourself, because this will help you rise above your fears. Return the favor by allowing others to help you. Many people, not everyone, do actually consider the common good over their narrow self interest.
Faith is the most universal survival factor. It can be vital to have faith in something greater than yourself, such as family, friends, or God. You are better able to stay alive for a loved one than solely for yourself.
Amazingly, many people find that there is deep wonder, joy, beauty, and humor to be found in such situations. Survivors often look back and cherish the spiritual journey they have had, even with all the suffering. For some, it can become the equivalent of a vision quest. (The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood, 12 Rules of Survival by Laurence Gonzales, Deep Survival; Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales, Doorways of Support and Inspiration: Facing and Overcoming Obstacles by Laurence Gonzales, The Survivors; What keeps them Going by Cheryl Carter New, How to Survive a Disaster by Amanda Ripley)
In different circumstances these principles will play out in different ways:
In Nazi concentration camps survivors didn’t think about anything else, but only today. Find extra food, keep clean, stay healthy, be useful, and keep warm. Today keep out of the attention of any guards, and never call attention to yourself. Do what you’re told. Help your friends. Don’t hate, it takes too much energy. And for this next second, how do I survive? (Nazi Concentration Camps: Surviving Against All Odds, Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps by Andrea Warren, Survival in Auschwitz and Periodic Table by Primo Levi, Night by Eli Wiesel, This Way for the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel)
In prison, similar to a concentration camp, in order to survive you must be constantly vigilant to avoid all the landmines in there. Don’t worry about that which you have no control over, but believe that you can make things better for yourself.
Don’t collaborate with guards against other prisoners. Respect the staff, but don’t be friendly with them. Keep your mouth shut, and do not discuss your crime with other people. Don’t tell anyone your time is getting short, or that you might be transferred to a lesser facility. Other prisoners might out of spite try to sabotage it. Tear up your return address on your mail, and cover the phone when you dial. Other prisoners will contact your family members if they can. Be respectful and cordial, but distant.
Don’t cut in line. Do not sit on someone else’s bunk, or pick up someone else’s property, unless invited. Don’t reach over someone’s tray at meals. Don’t spread lies. Do not stare at other prisoners. Never tell anyone what to do. Don’t make sexually explicit jokes. Do not discuss politics. Don’t ask people about their case. Don’t believe much of what other prisoners say.
Try to associate with those who are trying to better themselves through educational and vocational training. Avoid the gang leaders.
Don’t show emotional vulnerability. When walking look ahead, and not at your feet. Always stand up for yourself, and always fight when challenged to. In a maximum security prison, you will be challenged. You can lose every time, but you have to fight hard every time, so you aren’t perceived as an easy target. Backing down only once will have a snowball effect. You might have to choose to kill someone to avoid a worse fate, because what protects you is your reputation, and you simply can’t afford lose that.
If possible, get allies by being useful to someone. But don’t accept protection or gifts from others who might just want to use you. Try to practice charity when you can.
Don’t get involved with gambling. Do not borrow money. Don’t use drugs. Avoid coffee, drinking, and smoking; anything habit forming. Don’t get a tattoo. Never drink or smoke after anyone. Do not waste your time on television.
Set up a schedule with both short and long term goals. One of the best ways of spending your time is to read and educate yourself. Get a prison job.
Keep physically clean and get enough rest. Get as much fresh air and sunlight as you can. Work out and take up a martial art. Practice meditation and fasting. (Basic Survival Techniques for Incarceration, How to Deal with Being in Prison, 13 Survival Tips for White-Collar Women of Wall Street ,Survive Jail A comprehensive Guide, Prison Survival Manual)
Surviving in a prison hostage situation begins with calling attention to it right at the start. Pay attention to everything about the situation, who the leader is, weapons, etc. Create a rapport, but don’t show weakness, and do it with dignity. Make eye contact, use their first name, and talk about your family. Try to find common interests. Listen to their point of view, you don’t have to agree, just understand. Avoid appearing insincere by being overly interested in the situation. Don’t refuse favors they give you. Do not resist if threatened with weapons and there are multiple attackers. Otherwise, resistance is a judgment call. Follow their instructions. Avoid drawing attention to yourself, study them, but don’t be obvious in doing so. If they are attempting to conceal their identity, don’t give any indication you know who they are. Don’t talk back. Do not make threats. Only attempt an escape if you are confident it will work. (Survival Tips If you are Taken Hostage by Tracy E. Barnhart)
Gavin de Becker lists 7 warning signs of predatory manipulation: Forced teaming is when someone pretends they have something in common with you when they don’t. “We have a hungry cat tonight.” They might use charm and niceness, and when lying use too many details. Typecasting is using a guilt trip, “A classy lady like you would never talk to someone like me.” Loan sharking is when someone gives unsolicited gifts, and then expects far more in return. A person might give an unsolicited promise, which won’t be kept. He/she probably won’t respect your boundaries by discounting the word “No.” (The Gift of Fear – Wikipedia)
In the wilderness you need to determine your survival needs and inventory your resources. Personal protection involves such things as clothing, shelter, and fire. You need to think of how to signal for would be rescuers. Look at your food and water needs. How is your physical and mental health? Avoiding injuries can be crucial.
The common methods people use to try to get back to safety are: People try traveling randomly, others pick a particular route, some try backtracking their route, and still others sample different routes and see which looks most promising. Another tactic is to try view enhancing. Some people will use folk wisdom. Staying put is one often recommended strategy. Navigation can be done by the stars, terrain features, and map and compass.
Survival skills that are commonly recommended are firearm use, climbing, mountaineering, knife usage, knot tying, tool making, and being able to make ropes, rafts, and boats. (Wilderness Survival by Gregory J. Davenport, The Psychology of Lost by Kenneth Hill, Survival skills – Wikipedia, What are Primitive Survival Techniques? What is Modern Wilderness Survival? What is Bushcraft? Survival Grounds, Survival, Trueways Survival School)
(See also: The Worst Case Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven & the Extreme Edition, etc., Survival Books, Publications and Videos, The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency: The Classic Guide for Realists and Dreamers, SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea, United States Army Survival Manual (FM 21-76), United States Air Force Survival Manual (AB 64-4), PREPAREDNESS NOW!: An Emergency Survival Guide for Civilians and Their Families, First Aid Guide (100 Pack), Wilderness Living, The Art of War, War of the Flea: The Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare, Sas Jungle Survival (SAS Survival), The Doomsday Scenario: How America Ends, Survivalist’s Medicine Chest, Wilderness Survival, Surviving the Desert (Simply Survival; Greg Davenport’s Books for the Wilderness), Fruits and Berries for the Home Garden, Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties: And How to Build Them, Shelter, How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelter, and Self-preservation That Makes Starvation in the Wilderness Next to Impossible , The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, When All Hell Breaks Loose by Cody Lundin, 98.6 Degrees, The Art of Keeping your Ass Alive by Cody Lundin, Never Again – A Self-Defense Guide for the Flying Public by Mark H. Bogosian, The Survival Guide: What to do in a Biological, Chemical, or Nuclear Emergency by Dr. Angelo Acquista, Life After Doomsday by Bruce Clayton)