Meditations on Mindset in a Plague Year

Maybe I’m just trying to find a valid excuse to not go shovel snow, but I find myself thinking more and more about the mindset of a “survivor.” This is something that a lot of us have written about over the years, but we have done so while staying in a hothouse, looking out.  Now that the “S” has indeed hit the “F,” we are in the opposite position, staring into the hothouse wishing, I suspect, that we were still there.

I did a quickie search on Google for “survival mindset” and came up with 34 million results…page after page of “the five steps to…,” the 3 steps to…,” “here’s how you develop….” etc. Hell, I’ve done the same thing myself (I had six steps, BTW). All of them sort of miss the point, and I include me in that as well.

The core, the nugget, of a survival mindset is not positive thinking, or resiliency, or focus, although all three of those things play a critical part. I think that the centerpiece of a survival mindset is acceptance. This is something that Michael Janich brought up in last week’s TBD/SURVIVAL Reunion (and, yes, we will be filming again this week), the necessity of getting past “This isn’t happening to me!” Denial takes place whether the “event” is a street mugging or a pandemic…it’s cooked into our operating system. Shrinks say that denial is “one of the most primitive defense mechanisms” because it is often seen in young children. Denial can be described as the mental processes that allow us to avoid acknowledging a threat of any kind, essentially sticking our collective fingers in our collective ears and collectively shouting, “LA LA LA LA LA…

Acceptance, on the other hand, is facing the world as it actually is and basing our actions on, dare I say it, reality. If you been listening to the podcast or watched THE BEST DEFENSE, you will notice that reality-based actions have been a centerpiece of our training techniques. When we have suggested a training technique or a mental exercise, we have always made sure that whatever we suggested was rooted in reality. That’s why TBD never had an episode on thwarting an international assassin hiding in the backseat of your car or on the necessity of learn how to fast-rope out of a helicopter while not dropping your MP-5.

Funny, but I see myself and my friends either going through or having gone through Elisabeth Kübler-Rossi stages of grief while working our way to acceptance — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. I have friends who are furious and I have friends who are profoundly depressed, but I see them working their way through this.

Acceptance is our saying, “Well, I’m in the soup. Now what?

Well, let’s talk goals — for example, I’d prefer not to be dead. I’d also prefer not to be on a respirator in a crowded hospital.That tells me pretty quickly that I do need to keep my distance from people, continue with what we should all now think of as baseline disinfectant procedures, and not attend any raves. I do not need the government, either local or federal, to tell me that.

I see that trucks are running and stores are being restocked, so — keeping my primary goals in mind — I want to take advantage of that. So I think in terms of a weekly trip to replenish pantry items. Pantry items are different from storage items…in an ideal world I want to eat out of my pantry as long as I can, so it makes sense to replenish it. I am strictly looking for basics — flour, yeast, milk, cream, eggs, fresh vegetables, cheese and frozen items, usually fish, to replace the ones I used in the course of the week. If hand sanitizer, alcohol or hydrogen peroxide is available, i will buy a small amount.

I see that police response times have slowed to a crawl, certainly to be expected in an emergency. In fact, if you are in one of the progressive strongholds, your law enforcement department may well be releasing prisoners as a response to the crisis.  Because I know that YOU ARE ALWAYS ON YOUR OWN (you know that, too, right?), I make sure that I am armed all the time, including when I am in the Secret Hidden Bunker.

I will evaluate any trip out of the Bunker based on my own concepts of managing risks. In general (and this was one of my six points mentioned above), people are awful at analyzing risks. And we think we’re great at it, which is a recipe for disaster. As I mentioned in my podcast two weeks back, there’s a quick and easy way to slice and dice risk — first, perceived versus actual…what am I afraid might happen versus what is most likely to happen; and, second, subjective versus objective. A subjective risk is one over which you have some control; an objective risk is when God points Her finger at you and says, “You’re it.” My goal is to move risks from something I can’t control to something I can control.

For example, the virus all by itself is an objective risk, but you are taking steps to render it a subjective risk by controlling the things you can control.

Risks always exist on a sliding scale, from most likely to least likely. It is a real risk to go to the grocery store in a time of plague, but I am doing my best to mitigate that risk as described above. This is a good time for you to define what “unnecessary risk” means to you, because it means different things to different people. It is also a family discussion…everyone in the household needs to understand what the baselines are.

An additional critical point when thinking about acceptance is that it minimizes “lag time.” I define lag time as the time elapsed between recognizing the stimulus and your response to the stimulus. For example, from “Good Lord! Is that a train coming right at me?” until the time you step off the track. In the real world, lag time decides who lives and who dies. The faster you can react, the more likely you are to come through the event.

The biggest hindrance to quick action is usually our own heads. Denial is a killer, but so is anger. Anger makes it harder to see things clearly…there is a reason for the cliche blinded by anger. Paradigms, being so invested in your world view that you can’t see out of it, is also a regular problem.

One of my other six points that applies here is the final one, where I exhort you to “embrace chaos.” When I say chaos what I mean is that so many factors, known and unknown (and in some cases unknowable) are action on the system that prediction becomes impossible. As I said in my own presentations, you get to a point where “cause” and “effect” are purely local phenomena. I wrote this:

“Your survival depends on your ability to shift gears, move out of one paradigm into another, real quickly. Our current culture places a high value on the question, ‘Why?’ As in, ‘Gee, I wonder why that didn’t work…’ as in the closing words of your life. “Why” is only interesting if it can teach you something for the next time, and that implies you’ll survive the present encounter, which you can only do by ignoring the ‘Why.’ When you’re in a chaos system — and Nature, violent attacks, combat, pesky hurricanes, [add ‘pandemics’ here] etc. are all classic chaos systems…we triumph not by following the well-worn path, but by abandoning it.”

Well, I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now. We are long past hypotheticals, but instead trying to negotiate everyday in a time of plague. And we will get through it.





  1. I have 3 biological kids and 2adopted kids. Of course, they are all grown up now. But my oldest daughter who will be 40 next month, used to believe that I was all knowing, and had everything under control all the time.
    I thought the same thing about my parents when I was young. But I learned that the truth is, none of us have it all under control, or are always able to know the right thing to do, no matter what, and nothing can shake us, because we are all continually learning and growing, and the order we become, the smarter we seem, but only because we have seen this before.
    I tend to appreciate the people who were before me, who passed their wisdom along, not with words, but by the way they lived and the character they demonstrated. If I only am able to pass that on to my kids, I will die a grateful man.


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