Forget survival of the strongest, the meanest, the fastest, the toughest, the fittest or the smartest.
All of those are fine qualities in a prepper but there is one key to survival in nearly any situation that trumps all of the above. Author and journalist Amanda Ripley researched it at length and published her findings in the book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives Disaster and Why. (This book is a must-read for the prepper mindset.)
That key is adaptability.
The ability to change to fit changed circumstances.
The ability to assess a situation and immediately change gears is a vital skill. It doesn’t come naturally for everybody. Like any skill, it takes practice. You must be able to toss Plan A out the window without a regretful look back and plunge immediately and wholeheartedly into Plan B, C, or beyond. You must possess the ability to change your paradigm without hesitation. You can’t cling to the way you want things to be, or the way they should be – you must instantly adapt to the way things are.
Everyone remembers the story about the soccer team whose plane went down in the Andes Mountains. The handful of survivors had no option but to consume the bodies of their teammates. Those who refused to adapt to that grim reality perished of starvation.
Here are some less horrific examples where adaptability might be key.
- You’re out for a day hike with your family when an unexpected storm blows up. This isn’t something you can control – you can only control your response to it. You must immediately accept that the storm is occurring and that you are under-supplied. You must look to your surroundings to create shelter from the elements, and possibly find drinking water and food.
- Your home is well-stocked for any event…except suddenly your home is in the path of a raging wildfire. You can’t cling to the fact that your preps are in your home. Your survival reality has changed instantly and you must evacuate with your family and find a new way to be fed and sheltered.
- Your environment has suddenly changed. Maybe it’s global warming, maybe it’s global cooling or maybe somehow the earth was rocked on its axis. Suddenly your familiar climate is gone. You now have to learn to keep your body at the appropriate temperature and keep yourself fed in a totally different way.
- The power is gone. Permanently. Your heat no longer comes from a thermostat dial, your food can no longer be refrigerated in the convenient rectangle in your kitchen and even a light to read by now requires a different outlook. Some people will spend precious time mourning what is gone instead of planning their course of action with what is left.
So, back to the skill of adaptation – it can really be broken down into steps, no matter what the crisis may be. Some things require immediate action, so you have to get through the steps rapidly, while other situations allow you a little bit of thinking time.
“Adaptability is not imitation. It means power of resistance and assimilation.”
Accept what is.
You have to accept what is. In the event of a disaster, natural or otherwise, many people suffer some cognitive dissonance. Their psyches are simply unable to assess the reality of the situation and accept that it’s actually happening. Sadly, this renders them pretty much useless in a crisis situation. Cognitive dissonance is defined as…
“the feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions…Dissonance is aroused when people are confronted with information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. If the dissonance is not reduced by changing one’s belief, the dissonance can result in restoring consonance through misperception, rejection or refutation of the information, seeking support from others who share the beliefs, and attempting to persuade others.”
Sadly, we are surrounded by cognitive dissonance, by people who stubbornly hang on to the way things were yesterday and refuse to adjust to the reality of today. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, as the saying goes. Some examples might be:
- The person who lost his job but continues to spend money frivolously, using a credit card to make up for the lost income.
- A person in the path of a horrible natural disaster who refuses to believe it’s actually going to hit their home (think those who willfully refuse to evacuate when a hurricane is headed their way).
- A person who refuses to accept the fact that the debt-fueled lifestyle of the average North American is about to grind to a horrible halt.
- A person who stubbornly clings to the belief that groups like the national governments, NATO and the United Nations are actually there for the benefit of society rather than the benefit of the wealthy elite.
In a crisis situation, these people can be dangerous to be around. A lack of acceptance of the current reality can cause fatal mistakes, endangering not only the individual, but those included in their group.
When a bad thing happens, the absolute first step is accepting that it’s happening. Believe that the thugs are really at your door, believe that the power is out and it’s going to get cold fast, believe that the economy is making its last gasping breath. Accept what your senses are telling you and move on to the next step.
The next step is to take action and do so immediately. In a chaotic situation, the first actions you take can set the course for the entire event. So, if there are gang-bangers kicking in your door, tell the kids to hide and grab your weapon. If a tornado is bearing down, go to the basement. If you’ve lost your job, stop all unnecessary expenditures and hunker down. If the power has gone out in the middle of a snowstorm, curtain off one room and concentrate your heating efforts there. If your instinct tells you it’s time to bug out, grab your bag, the kids, the dog, and get the heck out of Dodge.
In cases like this, it helps, of course, if you have prepared for these events ahead of time. Clearly, no one knows exactly what the future holds, but your basic preparations will stand you in good stead in all of these scenarios.
Adjust to the new reality.
Finally, once the adrenaline wears off, you may be left with a new type of reality. Even the most adaptable person can find this part difficult. It’s one thing to take action when the blood is pounding in your ears and fear is speeding you along. It’s quite different to live a new life in the day to day. Depression and unhappiness can set in when you are removed from beloved and comfortable surroundings. This is the hardest step for many people. If you’ve planned ahead and prepped your family but then for some reason, like a fire or natural disaster, those preparations are gone, then you may feel like it was all for nothing.
It couldn’t be further from the truth, though. As Hubert H. Humphrey Jr. famously said, “It is not what they take away from you that counts. It’s what you do with what you have left.” If you had to start over, right this instant, think of all the things you’ve learned during the time you’ve been awake and aware. You have learned to prioritize for the future instead of satisfying the whims of the here and now. You may have learned skills like gardening, personal defense, food preservation, or chopping firewood. Your MIND is the number one tool to help you adjust to the new reality, whatever that reality may be. Most of all, you’ve learned how to think. No fire can take away the knowledge you’ve acquired. No thieves can steal your learned skills. No natural disaster can undo the mental preparedness that you have built up.
How can we become more adaptable?
If you’re reading this article you are probably more than halfway there! It’s the nature of a prepper to think about the things that might go wrong. That is how we become better prepared for a variety of events, natural and otherwise.
Run scenarios with your loved ones. This is one case in which television can actually be valuable. Some programs and movies can serve as a teaching tool. For example, I watched an older episode of Criminal Minds with my daughter, in which a child her age was approached by a nice looking man and tricked into going into a secluded area, where she was then kidnapped. We watched the scene in its entirety, then we backed up and replayed it bit by bit, discussing the warning signs and what the girl could have done differently. We discussed ways that something similar could happen here in our hometown and ways to respond to similar threats. When terrible things happen in the world, discuss them and determine a few courses of action that could be taken to avoid becoming a victim.
Keep up with current events. Notice trends in the economy, crime, and government. Pay attention to things happening in other countries too – what happened in Greece a few years ago is happening in the United States now. Learn from their collapse to predict what might happen during ours, and then prepare accordingly.
Think about your preps critically. Have you ever realized that a preparation you’ve made isn’t all it was cracked up to be? I recently discovered that some food I’d stored away was loaded with bugs (gross!!!!!!!) Luckily, I didn’t lose a great deal of food and I learned a valuable lesson about the way I had been storing that particular item. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, are your jars of home-canned food secured against breakage? Do you have “enough” ammo and the means to make more? Do you have back-ups for your primary garden tools? Extra handles and blades? Sometimes adaptability takes a little advance preparation.
Even if you don’t agree with all the conclusions of Charles Darwin, there is much to be learned from his studies of nature. Although he was talking about reproductive evolution in his writings, his premise rings true for those of us who intend to survive challenges, both mundane and extraordinary. You don’t have to be the strongest, smartest, fastest or toughest. You have to be the most flexible. Whatever comes your way, take it and roll with it.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.
It is the one that is most adapatable to change.”
Great article Daisy and 100% true.
This could very be the biggest failure among preppers.
Great article, and one I fully understand. Back in the mid 1980’s to the mid-1990’s, I worked as an outdoor therapist in an OTP (Outdoor Therapeutic Program). In this job, I took a 10 day backpacking wilderness trip every month.
My “campers” were mostly institutionalized teens who were either in a Youth Detention Center (Youth Prison with Walls and Razor Wire), or were from a state adolescent psychiatric facility, which was also a lock down program, and Alcohol and Drug Residential programs, and High School Psycho-Ed programs where the students were identified as having severe emotional and/or behavioral problems.
On every trip, I had to plan every meal before hand, and pack out accordingly for a 10 day trek with myself, the 10 “campers” and two agency staff from the institutions these “campers” came from, and many times, the staff were in many ways worse off than their students, detainees, or patients when it came to dealing with “Reality” which is what these trips were all about. OTP programs which are run professionally with competent and well trained staff who have already dealt with most of their own self doubts, fears, etc. and have become Emotionally and Psychiatrically stable adults.
For these, as I said, every day and every meal had to be accounted for, packed out in advance and then distributed amongst the “campers” including myself, and the agency staff. I had to get all the backpacks ready and in good repair before I issued them to the “campers” on day one. Also the canteens, Rain and Wind ponchoes, sleeping bags, tents, tarps, pots and pans and kitchen utensils, first aid pack, emergency radio (to be used Only In a emergency), the bow saw with extra blades, and all the other gear that we packed in order to deal with whatever the weather threw at us. As I said, this was a 10 day trip every month yearround, and you can imagine the varying weather you get in the Appalachian Mountains. Everything from beautiful blue skies and 90 degrees or dark, gray rainy days with temperatures in the 30’s or 40’s with nightime temps in these conditions dropping to single digits, ice storms, snow storms, whatever Mother Nature Threw at us. And, remember, none of my campers or fellow staff, for the most part when they arrived for this trip, had never in their lives been backpacking in the mountains with a backpack weighing at least one third of their body weight. We were not Granola Bar and Tofu campers. We prepared Real Food, and food that would supply us with the carbohydrates, protein, and calories to give us the energy we needed every day as we packed up every day, and hiked for miles (depending on the age and fitness for the hike–I planned the interary in advance based on my first meeting with the groups weeks before the trip, I would develop an intenerary of daily hiking that would tough on the group so as to be effective in creating catharsis and change and growth in emotional development) set up camp. Putting up tents, building a fire pit, gathering firewood, fetching water from fresh water springs where available, and when not available, water had to either be boiled to purify or use water treatment tablets, depending on the condition of the water to be consumed, digging a latrine, putting up the fire tarp, setting up the kitchen area with pots, pans, etc. and then each meal, we had the menu for that meal for that day. That is how I packed it out a menu which was given to the “campers” that told them exactly what this meal consisted of, and packout was labeled, packout 1, 2, etc. and each package was wrapped with tape or in a bag that said, for example “13 slim jims for day 3 lunch”. And, this is how each meal went. The idea being, I had prepared plenty for everybody, but not gluttony or to use things out of turn, because we could not run down to the corner store and get more if we ran out. (Note: What the campers did not know was that in addition to other gear, my own, as well as the radio, first aid pack (13 pounds) my tent, sleeping bag, poncho, canteen, clothing, etc. I also had about 8 pounds of Emergency Food in the event something totally out of our control happened, we would have some food to survive. But, in all the trips I did, we never had to get into the emergency food, because part of what I had instilled in the campers from the very first meeting was that Accidents Do Not Just Happen, they are generally the result of not paying attention to what you are doing and what your surroundings are. Never had to use emmergency food and never ended a trip early, never cancelled a trip and never had to evacuate an injured camper, or to dial 911. I was the only 911, and I was responsbile for every camper, including the grown up staff from the agencies. Also, I packed a 9 MM Baretta with extra ammo, and nobody knew that either, including the folks I worked for as it was Against Policy. Well, policy aside, I am going to be in the wilderness with 12 people that I am responsible for their health and safety, and I take it seriously. Not on my watch!! This was one of my mottoes. But, back to the 9 mm. I kept that just in case some lunatic decides to visit my camp, as has been done on the A.T. before and this was especially true in the 1980’s–1990’s, and in the event of a rabid animal or other attack from an animal, such as a bear, cougars, etc. Never had to use it or even to show it, but my other motto was “Better to Have It and Not Need It than to Need It and NOT HAVE IT. And this was also my thinking when packing out for the trip. I made sure we carried every thing we might forsee, and hopefully not see, but again, better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. The “campers” might ask, “Hey why we carrying these Rain Ponchoes, it ain’t going to rain.” They would try anything to lighten their load, but they were not going to lighten them by tossing any gear. I instilled this in them too. Here is a scenario, on one trip, I had an especially whiny bunch of campers, including the agency staff, who were getting sloppy when it came time to pack out for the day’s hike to our next campsite. They had griped and whined half the morning as we packed up and re-naturalized our campsite (MY Motto–Leave a Campsite Better than you Found it, and maybe those behind us will follow our example and not be pigs and litter bugs.) Any way, each day, we had a new group leader who was selected by consensus the night before in our nightly process group where we would discuss our day, what we had learned, etc. So, on each day, we had a new group leader who was like a foreman of sorts, and it was his or her responsibility to make sure the packs were packed, the area was clear of any trash, the latrine properly buried, and that we had all our pots, pans and other equipment. After the group leader came to me and said, “we are all packed up and ready to go.” And, as was my responsiblity, I would do a walk around and either tell the guys, great job, let’s hit the trail in our usual fashion with the group leader in front and other campers singlefile behind with me at the rear, or I would look around and see if anything was amiss, and if so, I would ask the group leader if he would like to do another look around for stray gear, etc. Well, this particular trip, I had spotted our 36 inch bow saw, which we quite often needed in gathering firewood, which was partially, but not totally covered with the extra firewood we had gathered for the next campers should they be in distress. About half the Shiny Bow Saw Handle and blade sheat was clearly visible. The “leader” half heartedly and half-assed looked around, and said, “Nope, we are all ready to go.” So, I said, saddle up, line up, and let’s hit the trail. Well, I was going to use this as an object lesson. We hiked for about an hour, usually about 2-1/2 miles to 4 miles depending of the group and trail terrain and conditions. We stopped for a breather and water break, and when ready to go, I, as I did after every stop, asked the group to look around to see if we dropped anything and at the same time as we lined up, to have them check the camper’s backpack in front of him/her to see if they had some loose gear that might need to be readjusted, and make corrections as necessary. And, this time, this one camper said, “Hey Joe, everyother day I have been behind you, you had the bow saw bungy chorded to the outside of your pack, (because that was one of your responsibilities) and it is not there.” I then asked each camper to check the other campers packs to see if somebody else packed it out. Of course they did not find it, and like I had reminded them from day one is that we pack out everything and double check every campsite to make sure we do not leave, especially any critical gear, that if we did, we would have to turn around, as a group, and hike back to our last stop, looking as we went to see if it had fallen off, until we get back to the campsite and I asked the group leader one more time to take a walk around to see if he could find the bow saw. After about 30 seconds, he says, “Here it is, it was buried under the firewood.” Note: half of it was not covered and was sparkling in the sun. So, I say, great, we found it. Then, as always after an event, we circled up with packs on and processed what just happened. And, as each camper individually denied any responsibility, as did the group leader, I reminded the group leader that it was part of his responsibility to do the walk around, and that he had reported to me and the group 2 times before setting out that we had everything. Then, I would address the individual camper who had the bow saw carry as one of his responsibilities, and that he too, had been sloppy when packing, and did not inventory his gear. Then, I addressed the group and reminded them that we were a group and that we had to depend on each other, to support and help one another, and if needed to politely and without anger or malice to correct one another and to cover one another as needed. This group, overall had been a whiny and lazy group, including the agency staff, and that is why I allowed them To Have This Experience and to process it, and growth takes place. That settled, we set out again from our starting point after having lost about 3 hours of hiking time, and as I always reminded the, “the sooner we make to our next campsite, set up camp, and get squared away, It’s play, relaxation and recreation time, and the longer you guys take to get there, the less free time you have, because we are still going to do what we have to do first, before any free time. This group began rapid growth from that moment on, and got better and better, and you can bet they never left anything behind again on this trip. But, these trips were not just about having a good trip. The life lessons they were learning and the emotional and spiritual and physical growth they made was transferrable to their Real Life back at home. And, this experience, which was the most difficult thing they had ever done in their lives, and wound up doing it well, gave them the strength and awareness to better appreciate what they have at home, and the tools to make it through life in a more meaningful way.
Side note: Had this been a critical time as to weather conditions, etc. I would have had them get the bowsaw the first time as in that case, it was safety and health of my group. Or, if this had been a really hardworking and conscientious group, in general, I would have let them look around before leaving the first time to make sure they found it. But, for this group, this was just what they needed for growth to take place.
In the capacity as a wilderness therapist, you first and foremost have to have your own crap together mentally and emotionally, but had to be good camper and a therapist and guide at the same time and be able to handle any thing that might occur, and of course well trained in CPR, First Aid, and Mountaineering rescue, if ever needed.
These were the most rewarding and happy days of my life, but it prepared me for Survival and Adaptation, and how to deal with Reality as It Is, and accept it, do what is necessary to carry on. And,also during this time on the trail, I made more growth than ever I thought possible, and that has sustained me throughout my life in the classroom, as an addiction therapist and now, a vocational rehabilitation specialist. And, in all these fields, I used the same techniques as goes to building a cohesive and healty individual and group by consensus.
Happy Trails, Jerome Ennis, MAed/Emotional/Behavior Disorder Teache/Counselor.
Thank you for sharing that, Jerome! Just another example of the importance of adaptability!
2013? Long time getting back to you. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.
Dang, I hope Jerome still follows, because I want to give him mad props! What a way to teach a lesson!
I think that even we, as preppers, a rather large percentage of us, still suffer from cognitive dissonanonce to a degree…admit it. I know I do…while we prepare for ‘the worst’ we also hope for the best…we ‘know’ we are okay for a little bit but are hoping that ‘the grid’ will return to its old self in a short while….I ‘suffered’ ‘prepper burnout’….and if you can’t admit you did somewhere along the line too, then you are fooling yourself…it can be so overwhelming to someone who has just become ‘aware’…there is so much information and disinformation out there….you have to figure out what sources to trust, and glean what info you can…Obviously, I still rely on Daisy…but I also found that the homesteading community is less alarming, more acceptfull and encouraging than a lot of quote unquote ‘prepper’ groups. The goals of the two are not mutually exclusive. The homesteading groups I am in are focused on being self sufficient in all ways, but also aware of what is going on in the world. I offer this information to offer ‘newbies’ who might be overwhelmed about ‘prepping’ that there is still a way to ‘prep’ without being so overwhelmed, as long as you stay tuned in to reliable sources. Figuring out reliable resources can be difficult. But this website is one I trust. And no, Daisy did not in any way solicit this comment. I have been living this life for years, following her for many years. Do we always agree? Nope. But I respect her thoroughness. She doesn’t post crap or clickbait. She has wisdom to share.
Great article, and even gave e a smile while reading about the parade. This is a good article and made me think.
I’ll bet those folks are still trying to figure out who you were, being in the middle of their parade.
And with out-of-state tags to boot. LOL