The Psychology of Prepping and Survival

Survival, Prepping, and the Human Brain

Homo Sapiens – brilliant, resilient, stubborn. As a species, we have so much to be proud of. We have evolved from hunter-gatherers, into a civilized group of citizens, and somehow into astronauts. There’s no challenge we can’t take on, and no task too small. Deep down we all have that innate desire to survive. A primal instinct that drives us to keep going and do whatever it takes for the survival of our species… Unless we have to plan for it, because preparation is hard.

I, as a member of this superior group of mammals is no different than any other. I tend to downplay real threats, and often think, “that’ll never happen to me”. It’s easy to become passive and not plan for where life takes you. Luckily for us, there’s change on the horizon. Despite living in some of the more peaceful times of our relatively long history, we’re beginning to see a movement where prepping for disasters is bringing out that internal urge to survive.

At the expense of sounding like the start of a bad joke, I’ll pose the following question: What do the following three things all have in common – winning a court case, passing your calculus exam, and giving a great presentation. The answer might be pretty obvious. If not, I may just be a bad storyteller. Well, the common theme amongst those three scenarios are that they all led to a successful outcome for a challenging situation. At least challenging for most of us. And, what typically leads to a desired outcome such as that? Preparation. I’m beginning to sound more like my father every day.

The growing community of the self-reliant, aka Preppers, are applying the same discipline of preparation that has been a proven method of achieving a desired outcome for centuries, to the task of being prepared for when an event beyond their control has the potential to disrupt, or completely change the way they live their lives. We all know that preparation can help us thrive and be successful, but why do our brains make it so hard?

Full disclosure: I am a procrastinator. Why do today what can be put off for tomorrow? Besides, studying the topography of central Oregon is way more interesting, cause you never know when you may helicopter into the pacific northwest wilderness and need to know the lay of the land. Preparing for something is tedious, possibly expensive, and may not even be needed in the first place. Maybe you would have won that court case on evidence alone, or passed that exam on luck, or delivered soaring oratory with the help of just a little adrenaline. Maybe. Now, what if we’re talking about your life, or your child’s life? Would you be so confident? The reason you would have likely prepared for those three scenarios is that you would have saw impending doom - financial loss in losing that case, disappointment from your parents regarding your grades, or embarrassment from your audience as you stumble over your index cards. When something that dreadful stares you in the face, action typically follows, but not always. Like many other mammals, Humans respond and learn more from positive reinforcement, as opposed to corrections for negative behavior. So, what do you do when that danger isn’t present and immediate?

Prepping Your Emotions

Prepping comes down to motivation. What is driving you to prepare for a given event? Most of us don’t have the discipline to think through a disaster situation, which is understandable. Why simulate something that is unlikely to happen and for something you may be able to survive without planning after all. Besides, your cousin Rob could tell you about a major hurricane he endured during his short stint living in the Florida Keys. All he had was a lighter and a case of beer. Fair enough. But, perhaps your cousins house was on the western side of the eyewall, or maybe he was in his early 20’s at the time and could live off a single can of green beans for six days. Either way, there are only so many near misses before your luck runs out. Enduring a catastrophic storm like a category 5 hurricane can often times embolden people who recognize the brevity of their lives and vow to never be unprepared again. Or, they learn nothing and become numb to it.

Most times quite honestly, what we’re looking for is the reward. Think back to the three scenarios presented of the court case, the exam, and the presentation. The rewards we may seek could be the following: To become whole again financially. To gain approval from our parents for our grades. Wanting to be viewed as an authoritative figure on a given topic. It sounds selfish, but as Homo Sapiens, we respond to positive stimulus. We’re not so complex after all. Despite the importance we place on daily tasks, there’s really only one thing we should be preparing for, our survival. Sounds dramatic, I know.

So, what is the reward? Very few of us have sustained a near miss, so knowing what life is like without the basic necessities is not a ‘luxury’ we all have, ironically. If we’re not emboldened by the past, why plan for the future? To understand human behavior and the things that motivate us will help us frame the conversation around prepping. It’s not all doom-and-gloom. One thing going for us is that we are a very social species. There are plenty of studies out there, none of which we’re going to get into detail here, that show how resilient, but more importantly, how empathetic we can be during disasters.

The more prepared we are, the less strain on our systems when the worst does happen. Spending time now, will buy you time later. Time is the reward.

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