Five Brain Hacks That Will Help You Survive a DisasterS

We all like to fantasize about how awesomely we'd perform in the face of a disaster like a plane crash or zombie invasion. While you may imagine yourself pulling off Chuck Norris spin kicks and living off the land, a Ka-Bar knife and survival training will only get you so far. To get through a disaster alive, you need to react properly under horrible circumstances. Luckily, you can reprogram your brain to do it, but you have to start now. The August, 2008 issue of National Geographic Adventure focused on "Everyday lessons for making it out alive." Author Laurence Gonzales offered a bunch of ways to cope better in a disaster simply by changing your way of thinking. Here are some highlights.

  • Use a Mantra - Whether it's something simple to keep you focused ("I will survive.") or an inspiring reminder of what you'd miss if you give up ("I love my wife and kids."), repeating a mantra over and over can help clear your mind and get you through a chaotic situation.
  • Don't Be a Victim - Once your basic needs are taken care of (like, you're not going to bleed to death in the next few minutes), divert your attention to the other people around you. See what you can do to help them. This takes your focus off of your own injuries and mental trauma. People who maintain this kind of selfless behavior have better survival rates in disasters. That's just one more reason to start leading a less self-centered life.
  • Learn New Things - When you devote time and effort to learning a new task or skill, such as playing a musical instrument or speaking a foreign language, it literally changes the shape of your brain. If your life is in a rut and you follow the same routine, never trying anything new, your brain will have a hard time dealing with the sudden upheaval of a disaster. Keep your mind limber and you'll adapt more easily if the worst happens.
  • Stay Emotionally Cool - Anger, frustration, or despair will cloud your thinking and lead you to make poor, possibly fatal decisions in a disaster scenario. Staying calm and cool is perhaps the most important thing you can do in the aftermath, but you can't just decide to be calm. You have to train yourself to be cool while in line at the DMV, dealing with the "customer service" of your cell phone provider, or whenever you visit your in-laws.
  • One Step at a Time - What do you do when you find 100 zombies staggering through a corn field toward your isolated farm house? Lock the doors, barricade the windows, and find a gun. Seems simple, but could you clearly think through and prioritize those steps under such circumstances? This is a skill that you can use in your everyday life, whenever you feel totally overwhelmed by work and other responsibilities. Decide which one thing is the most efficient and important thing for you to do right now, then do it. Then do the next thing. Practice that and it will come naturally when the inevitable zombie apocalypse comes.

Gonzales offered many other excellent survival tips in his article, but I'm baffled at his complete failure to mention any zombie survival scenarios. Image by: underexposed949.

Deep Survival with Laurence Gonzales. [National Geographic Adventure]