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

Positive Mental Attitude

In survival situations, positive mental attitude can make the difference to get you back to civilization.
In survival situations, positive mental attitude can make the difference to get you back to civilization.
Laurence Monneret/Getty Images

The benefits of maintaining a good attitude in the wilderness seem implicit. Daily experiences have taught us that mood influences outcomes. But just how does this "Pollyanna principle" affect your brain in survival situations?

A little positivity goes a long way when you're calling a handmade hovel miles from civilization "home." While it may sound like a page ripped from a self-help book, positive mental attitude (PMA) is an integral part of survival.

In general terms, PMA combats your unconscious stress, allowing you to think more clearly and make better decisions. For example, remember how the fight-or-flight response limits the amount of things you observe around you? By improving your attitude and, consequently, lowering your stress, you reinvigorate your awareness of your surroundings. Imagine how vital that would be when sharing habitats with unfriendly neighbors.

But how can you think positively when you're in such a jam? Among the many tips offered, here are some from survival handbooks:

  • Stay busy to keep your mind occupied.
  • Repeat to yourself affirming statements about surviving.
  • Recognize your negative emotions and address them.
  • Do not blame yourself for getting into the situation.

Now we know that looking at the glass half full can increase our chances of survival, but how exactly does that happen? Why can positive thoughts breed positive results?

The study of positive psychology that analyses the effect of positive thinking and emotions on people sprang up a relatively short time ago. Research revealed a link between positive thinking and emotions and successful survival. That's because it opens up global thinking capacities in the brain, allowing for more innovation and creativity. In the wilderness, once your initial needs are met, you will require new ideas and prioritization of tasks to keep yourself alive for the longer term.

Physiologically, PMA reverses the toll of stress on our bodies. Think about your body language when you watch a funny movie. You're often more relaxed than when you see a nail-biting thriller. This loosening up will help you conserve precious energy. Proper wilderness preparation and training also contributes to positive thinking because you will better know how to fend for yourself. That, coupled with PMA, can help you cross the bridge to survival.

Want to learn more tips on surviving in the wilderness? Cruise to the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Cooper, Donald. "Fundamentals of Search and Rescue." 2005. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. (April 10, 2008)
  • Fredrickson, Barbara L. "The Value of Positive Emotions." 2003. American Scientist. (April 10, 2008)
  • Hill, Kenneth. "The Psychology of Lost." Lost Person Behavior. 1998. St. Mary's University. (April 9, 2008)
  • Lundin, Cody. "98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive." 2003. Gibbs Smith. (April 10, 2008)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Stress: Unhealthy response to the pressures of life." Sept. 12, 2006. (April 10, 2008)
  • McNab, Chris. "The SAS Mental Endurance Handbook." Globe Pequot. 2002. (April 9, 2008)
  • Snyder, C.R. and Lopez, Shane J. "Handbook of Positive Psychology." 2002. Oxford University Press US. (April 10, 2008)
  • Stilwell, Alexander. "The Encyclopedia of Survival Techniques." 2000. The Lyons Press.