How does your brain impact your survival chances in the wilderness?

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Bear Grylls, of Discovery Channel's "Man vs. Wild," would likely have an easier time surviving in the wilderness than the average Joe. Grylls has years of survival training experience under his belt and makes his living getting lost on purpose. But for all of Grylls' expertise, there's one thing he has in common with everyone else heading into the wilderness -- a brain.

Out of all the factors related to wilderness endurance, your brain can most impact your chances of survival in the wild. When people's minds become overwhelmed with the task of staying alive, they can fail at doing just that.

For that reason, many wilderness books acknowledge that the brain is your make-or-break tool in survival situations. It stores concrete knowledge of any outdoorsman skills -- how to spark a fire from sticks, how to build a shelter in deep snow. And the brain also provides those intangible skills -- intuition and judgment that govern your decisions to stay put or move on, to make that fire here and build that shelter there and so on.

It sounds like a simple recipe for survival success: preparation plus gut feeling. However, the rest of the body twists the story of whether we survive. The extreme stress of trying to stay alive in the wilderness can either sweeten or sour our chances of living, thanks to its physical and mental effects.

To temper this unconscious reaction to extreme stress, survival experts emphasize the importance of a positive mental attitude (PMA). Without it, stress wears down our bodies and brains quickly, and any prior wilderness survival knowledge will fly out the window. In this sense, survival becomes a balancing act between unconscious and conscious impulses in our brains.

Where do stress and attitude meet in the middle? Since stress is inevitable, can thinking good thoughts magically send you home in the same way that Dorothy clicked her ruby slippers home in "The Wizard of Oz"?

Read the next page to learn how stress helps and hurts you when you're striving to survive in the wilderness.