The power of acceptance
In an exclusive extract from her book, Mind of a Survivor, Scout Ambassador, Megan Hine, writes on the power of acceptance in survival situations and everyday life.
In a real survival situation, panic can be your worst enemy. It is a normal response to finding yourself lost, or stranded, or injured, but if there’s no one to help, you need to find a way to suppress it. If you can’t control your emotions you won’t be able to use your greatest asset – your mind – to its fullest capabilities.
It’s pretty common when something goes wrong to want to blame someone for your predicament. ‘If only we hadn’t taken this path’ or ‘You should have packed that’ or ‘I should never have listened to so-and-so’. I hear this sort of thing all the time when expeditions don’t go to plan. I call it ‘going into victim mode’, and if there’s a time when you don’t want to behave like a victim, it’s when your life is on the line.
The best way I know of making sure you don’t adopt this mindset is by accepting that bad things have happened to you: accepting your situation is the first step in dealing with it. You took a wrong turn. You didn’t fill up your water bottle when you had the chance. You forgot to pack a penknife. Blaming yourself – or anyone else – won’t help you. So, you took a wrong turn. Now what? So, your water bottle is empty. Where are you going to fill it? You don’t have a penknife. What can you use instead?
When things don’t go to plan
Just as in everyday life, expeditions will throw curve balls at you: the weather may be too bad to go for the summit, or there’s a political uprising, or maybe it’s something as simple as someone becoming unwell, all of which are beyond the leader’s ability to control. When expeditions don’t go to plan, people may find that their trip of a lifetime has become one of the most stressful experiences of their life, which manifests as disappointment, anger and sometimes fear. Occasionally I’ll have someone in my group who is so fixed on achieving their expedition goal – because it’s their life’s ambition – that they rail against the situation to the extent that they lose touch with reality.
You see it in everyday life too, whether it’s the guy on the train fuming into his phone because there’s a delay, or someone complaining in a restaurant because the kitchen got their order wrong. If they could keep a clear head, they’d be much more likely to resolve their problem quickly.
In the wilderness, irrational thinking impacts on your survival chances because it stops you accepting your situation, which delays the point at which you can take back control. Of course, the same is true whether you’re in the jungle, the mountains, or at work: raging against injustice only clouds your thinking.
I’ve noticed that those who reach acceptance first tend to be people who have been tested in other areas of their life. By the end of the expedition, I’ll have learnt a lot about those I’m travelling with, and it’s not a coincidence that the ones who have been through major life events, such as bereavement or illness, are often the ones who more easily accept that the expedition hasn’t gone to plan. It seems their traumatic life experiences have made them more adaptable to, and more accepting of, change.
Why resilience is transferrable
In order to survive we need to bring everything we have to the wilderness, and that includes our life experiences. Resilience is transferable: whatever happens to us, in whatever walk of life, can be useful preparation for a survival situation.
When someone really can’t shake their victim mindset, one of the things I say to them, which sometimes helps, is that the wilderness is neutral. It doesn’t have a personal vendetta against you. It doesn’t care if you live or die. It’s not your enemy or your friend. Once they realise the wilderness is not out to get them, and that the victimisation they’re feeling stems from something internal, it helps them to accept that we are where we are. Instead of fighting something that we have no power to change at that particular moment, acceptance unsticks their thinking so we can move on.
As long as you feel sorry for yourself, or see yourself as a victim of circumstance, you won’t be in a position to solve your problems. This is true in all kinds of other areas: how often have you felt that ‘the establishment’ doesn’t care? Corporations, bureaucracies or computer glitches make life difficult for all of us from time to time, and although it might feel like they’re waging a vendetta against us, our reaction says much more about our own stress and anxiety – how we feel about ourselves – than about how we’re viewed by those entities.
I’ve noticed that younger people tend to respond more quickly to survival events, and I wonder if this is because they don’t have such fixed ideas about how things are meant to be. One of the most famous survival stories concerns seventeen-year-old Juliane Koepcke, the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Peruvian jungle in 1971. She was travelling with her mother on a commercial flight that was struck by lightning and broke up in mid-air. Although a few other people, including her mother, had survived the impact, the debris was scattered over such a large area that Juliane was unable to locate them. After finding some sweets at the crash site – which would be her only food for the next nine days – she started following a stream in search of rescue. Juliane had spent some time in the jungle before the crash – her father worked as a researcher at a remote station – so she had a little knowledge, but that advantage was countered by the fact she had lost her glasses (she was very short-sighted), a shoe and was wearing only a flimsy cotton dress. She had also sustained several injuries in the crash.
Getting more out of every situation
It would be so easy in that situation to believe everything was hopeless, or to be so afraid, or so angry, that you’d see no point in even trying to get out. But Juliane took just a day to decide to leave the crash site and start walking. She accepted the enormity of what had happened to her extraordinarily quickly, which might have saved her life: without proper food, rest or clothing, the harsh environment and her injuries would have drained her resources quickly. It is even possible that if she’d waited another day, she wouldn’t have had the cognitive function to make the huge decision to leave. Making it so quickly meant she retained enough physical strength to reach help in time.
Even when your life isn’t on the line, acceptance and open-mindedness can help you get much more out of any situation.
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