It’s the new year, and there is plenty of talk about adopting a positive mental attitude in order to succeed in 2019 and achieve your all important goals – but did you know that a positive attitude can help face the biggest of challenges, including a survival situation? Read on to learn why you should focus on developing a positive mental attitude this new year.
The three fundamental physical things any one of us need to survive in a difficult situation are water, shelter and food. We’re certainly not arguing with that, but there is a fourth aspect that is also critical in determining your chances of survival and that is your mental attitude.
The importance of attitude
A positive mental attitude in survival is not the same as being happy-clappy, forcing a permanent smile or doing any of the random things that the latest ‘wellness’ fads spout out. It is about controlling your emotions, staying calm and applying an optimistic outlook in order to to successfully negotiate and survive whatever situation you might find yourself in.
Your brain is the most powerful tool you have to work with. Psychology can be a subjective science but plenty of research, backed up by real life experiences, has proven that maintaining a positive mental attitude benefits your entire physiological condition in several distinct ways. A positive mental attitude actually helps you to think more clearly, make better decisions, be more aware of your surroundings, stay motivated (and help keep others motivated), conserve energy and enable you to learn new skills.
Think more clearly & make better decisions
When faced with a life endangering situation, our bodies instinctively adopt the fight or flight (or freeze) response. This acute stress response triggers the release of adrenalin and causes several physical changes within the body and brain, including faster heart rate, rapid breathing and many more, preparing the body to take immediate action in the form of running from or fighting the perceived threat.
It’s an evolutionary and automatic response which is effective if you need to deal with an angry wild animal. However a lot of the modern stresses we face, as well as many survival situations that we could potentially find ourselves in, require a more complex plan of action than just fight or flight.
It’s normal to feel this fear and reaction in many daily settings. If you know you have made a big mistake in work that your boss is going to pull you up on, you will likely experience this acute stress response. Unfortunately, actually fighting your boss or running from them when cornered in their office is unlikely to work out well for you.
The problem is that this level of stress reaction negatively impacts your cognitive function, or ability to think clearly. You can become so stressed, miserable, angry, panicked or singularly focussed on escaping the perceived ‘threat’ that it limits your problem solving skills and your decision making ability right when you need them most. In a survival scenario, that could get you (and others) killed.
Seeing the bigger picture
The same negative emotions and behaviours also act as blinkers, preventing you from being able to fully assess the whole picture because you get hung up on one thing. In this state you are more likely to miss or ignore relevant details that might otherwise influence your actions and decisions. In a survival scenario, not being fully aware of your surroundings could also get you killed.
Thinking and acting positively is being able to control our natural default fear reactions and remain calm, rational and optimistic, giving us the best chance of processing the information around us and figuring out solutions. A person with a positive attitude is more aware and better equipped to stay motivated, to try new things, to practice, learn, build new skills in the process. By avoiding negative behaviours which waste valuable energy with no gain, they are also better equipped to conserve and direct their energy resources towards staying alive.
Building and keeping a positive mindset is not always easy, especially in the face of extreme adversity. Some people naturally appear to possess the right attitude and others will need to work on it, yet everybody is different and reacts differently to different stimuli. In truth, no-one knows exactly how they will react in any given situation until they are in it.
No matter what your individual outlook on life is, it is worth training and preparing yourself to think more optimistically, look for the solutions, not the problems and learn to stay calm and rational. It can take years of training but not only could it save your life, it can improve your life generally. In the next article, we will look at practical tips on how you can build a positive mental attitude.