Guest Post – Adaptability: How to Develop the Right Mindset to Deal Faster With Changes

Picture of Selco


I am Selco and I am from the Balkan region, and as some of you may know it was hell here from 92-95, anyway, for 1 whole year I lived and survived in a city WITHOUT: electricity, fuel, running water, food distribution, without any kind of organized law or government. The city was surrounded for 1 year and it actually was a real SHTF situation. Our allies were our enemies from one day to the next. Today I’m prepared and share my experience on this blog.

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Far too many people today are overwhelmed by change. No matter whether the changes happen at work, at home, or elsewhere in the community, unproductive responses tend to be out of proportion to the actual situation.  This is just one of many reasons why more preppers are starting to wonder about adaptability and what mindset will work best for dealing with a major crisis.  Without a doubt, if you or others cannot manage a relatively minor situation without making it worse, how do you expect to manage situations that are much worse?  In this article, you will learn about the fundamentals of adaptability and how to develop a healthy mindset that will enable you to deal with any situation effectively and efficiently.


What is Adaptability?

According to Gandhi, “Adaptability is not imitation.  It means a power of resistance and assimilation.”    Managing a crisis situation requires the ability to know which actions to pursue and which ones to avoid.  For example, if you are accustomed to taking a shower each day, adaptability during a hurricane  may require you change this activity.  Here are the options you would need to evaluate and the level of adaptability required to pursue them:

  • You may decide to take a shower using tap water despite warnings and indicators that the water is not safe to use. This choice requires simply following what you have always done – or imitating past actions. It requires no change, yet carries a very high risk of making you sick or killing you because the world around you has changed drastically.
  • You may decide not to take a shower using tap water, but choose to use some wet wipes that you happen to have on hand. Even though this choice is safer, it still requires very little in the way of making a change.  It will work, however, everything depends on what you do or don’t have on hand.
  • As someone living in an area prone to hurricanes, you purchased a camping shower unit, but have never opened the box let alone tried it out. On the surface, this may look like adaptability because you took action to prepare for a situation where you would not have adequate bathing water.  You still run a high risk of failing the adaptability test because the unit itself may not work properly, or you may not have something else on hand to ensure the device will work.
  • Finally, let’s say you purchased the camping shower unit and have tested it out. You know it works perfectly and have everything on hand to take a shower at a moment’s notice. As a seasoned prepper, you also made it your business to practice purifying water and retrieve it from moist air.  This is the level of adaptability you should always strive for.  Not only are you adjusting your actions to fit the circumstance, but you are “resisting” anything that keeps you from living as normal and as healthy a life as possible.  Because you took the time to learn how to purify water and operate new equipment, you have also assimilated – or taken in new information and devices that increase the chances of meeting your objectives.


What Does an Adaptable Mindset Look and Feel Like?

The adaptable mindset looks, feels, and is healthy.  Here are some of the basic elements:

  1. Situation Awareness and Response
  • you are aware of everything going on around you without becoming distracted by unimportant things or taking them out of context. For example, you may be aware that four other people may be standing in line at the checkout, however, you don’t pay more attention to them than tending your own items.
  • Unusual or important details get your attention, but you do not overreact.  Now let’s say you are standing at the checkout, and of the four people in line with you, one person has just walked up and is wearing a hoodie and his/her jacket looks like it is stuffed with something heavy.  Someone with a healthy, adaptable mindset will keep that person in their peripheral sight (or use some other discreet means to observe them) until it is certain that the person poses no threat.  An adaptable person will also be aware of the fact that the heavy jacket could mean the person is carrying some kind of explosive device.
  • You respond quickly and appropriately to threatening stimulus.  In the escalation of this scenario, let’s say you are watching the person with the hoodie and are certain that he has pulled a knife from his pocket.  At this point, any rational person would conclude that something bad is going to happen, and force is going to be required to stop it.  While it may not be appropriate to immediately use lethal force, you can do any number of things including try to disarm the person, or try to take cover and call for help.  A lot of how you handle this situation will depend on what tools you have on hand and the level of training you have to deal with these situations.  The more you train and practice both mental and physical skills, the better chance you have of making the right decision and preventing yourself and others from being injured.  There is no substitution for training your mind, body, instincts, reflexes, and emotions.
  1. Awareness of risks and dangers does not stop you from living a normal life. This includes being able to go out with friends and feeling safe in your home and outside of your home.  You also choose appropriate tools (including weapons) to fit a specific situation and project a body language of confidence without being cocky.
  1. You have realistic goals and expectations. This includes financial expectations as well as where all of your skill sets are and what the optimal levels are for surviving catastrophic situations.  When you have an honest and fair assessment of where you are, it is much easier to make plans to get where you need to go.
  1. Have full emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, and social responses. Many people today think they must be without emotions or that everything must be based on logic. When you put these kinds of blinders on, then you never see answers that might work better. If you are feeling sad, then be sad, if you are angry, then be angry. It is fine to have emotions, just don’t get lost in them or stay in them for an abnormal period of time.  Make sure that you know how to quickly move from one state of feeling or thinking to another, and how to control your movement from one state to the desired one.  Controlling stress levels is a key part of this process.
  1. You are well connected to the world and community around you. One of the most important aspects of adaptability is that you can be comfortable with other people as well as when you are alone. You never know when teamwork will be required in a crisis, or when you will have to gauge whether or not you can trust the other person.  Being around other people is the only way to learn and develop good assessment skills.


Know What Your Strengths and Vulnerabilities Are

There is no such thing as a person that doesn’t have weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  The key to being adaptable and surviving any situation is knowing where those weak points are in yourself and others.  Next, you should know best how to use your strengths to compensate for areas that still need work.  It is also very important to assess strengths and weaknesses in other people so that you all can benefit from pursuing tasks that best match each person’s skills and capacities.   A highly adaptable person does not fear weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Rather, they see them as challenges to accept, overcome, and work around as needed.


Keep Learning, Developing and Exploring

You are bound to find preppers that say if “Plan A” fails, you have a whole alphabet of plans to go through before you give up.  If you are going to move from one plan to another, then you need to be open to new information at all times.  Even if you think you know everything about a particular topic, keep researching, learning, and experimenting.  This includes studying related fields where you might pick up different theories and concepts that can be adapted for use in other areas of survival skill development.

Overall, the most adaptable people never stop asking questions and looking for answers.  When you stop asking questions, it means that you have reached a point where adapting and changing are going to be limited.  It may also mean you doubt yourself or your ability to learn something new.  This can undermine confidence more than anything else.    In a crisis situation, you may need to go through the trial and error process dozens of times.  As long as you are asking questions, then there is a chance you will hit on the right answer.

One of the biggest secrets of being adaptable is knowing the difference between asking questions and being confused.  When you are asking questions, you seek to obtain information that will either fit into a pre-existing plan, or it may be used to make useful adjustments.  On the other hand, when you are confused, you may not have the experience or knowledge to know that you need to pursue another path to success.  If you are confused, asking questions can help you gain clarity, however, the usefulness of the answers you get will only be as good as the questions you ask.


Make Plans But Keep them Flexible

Consider a situation where you are focusing your prepper budget and skill set development on obtaining clean water.  By the time you factor in how to obtain water from multiple resources (example lakes, ponds, rivers, the ground, underground waterways, air, plant leaves, animal remains, morning dew, and salt water), and how to purify the water (bone char, sari cloths, charcoal, sand, distilling, and boiling), you can easily make one or two plans with dozens of optional branches.   There is an easy way to format your plans for maximum flexibility without losing sight of your goals.

Start out by saying IF (these factors are present in the situation)

  • THEN (do the following things)
  • ELSE (do the following things)
  • continue making ELSE clauses for each option that you can apply to the situation as listed in the IF statement.

You may need many “IF” statements to cover every single scenario that you may encounter. For obtaining potable water, you might build your IF statements around locations such as desert, city, mountains, near the ocean, or you can build them around specific situations such as during hurricanes, after a nuclear strike, or anything else that you want to develop a plan of action for.

People that adapt easily to sudden or major changes are the ones most likely to survive just about any kind of crisis.  Practice your skills, be confident in yourself, plan carefully, and always safeguard and seek to improve your mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and social health.  When you are in the best position possible, you will always find it easier to make the kinds of choices that will improve your chances of keeping yourself and your loved ones safe.

Selco Comments:

 Carmela raises some excellent points in this article. Adaptability is very often formulated in a way that you need to act (or not act) in split second based on your mindset that you achieved both through mentally processing (‘thinking’ of sorts), understanding of the world around you, and learned skills.

It is easy (and correct) to say that you need to adapt to the new world around you. If you do not have running water you will not take regular showers, and you still will functional and be alive.

If you do not have your favorite food you will adapt to that and so on and so on.

But let me give you one real life experience story:

In the chaos when SHTF and armed groups started with terrorizing people, in the days just before everybody realized that law is gone for the long time, I was trying to get something useful from the ruined grocery shop. On my way back some 20 meters from the shop, five or six guys were badly beating a man on the street. In the moment when they saw me, I saw them too. I could not go back, only choice was to go right up next to them. They were pretty drunk, the guy who they beat was down on the ground covered in blood.

When I was right next to them, two of them look at me, and on the face of one of them I almost saw question “what the fuck you are looking at?” Maybe in the split second before he asked me that I yelled at them “yeah, fuck that asshole, mess him up man, go for it”. All of them put a happy smile on their faces and yell something like“yeah dude, woohoo” and stuff like that.

In that moment I simply made a connection with them, I put myself on their side.

That lasted for a moment only, but I just needed that moment, I passed them, and I was safe. I thought later about that a lot, and I concluded that I did not ‘create’ that plan, words simply came out from my mouth, it was gut instinct. If I did not do that, guy would probably have asked me the “what a fuck you are looking at” question, and they would have simply started beating me.

It is not my bravest moment in life, but again I am talking here about real life experience not nice stories.

Point here is:

Sometimes you will be forced to adapt and act very fast, and in the way that you do not like, and will not be proud about later on. But it is about adapting to things that you do not like, but you will be force to adapt to in order to survive. In the SHTF there will be some very ugly thing that you will adapt to.

About the author:

Carmela Tyrell is an experienced prepper that enjoys spending time working in her garden and exploring new ways to generate off-grid electricity and water for her family’s home. She prides herself in working hard to cut reliance on all things “municipal” and transition to a more self-sustainable living. She is also very knowledgeable about herbal remedies, surviving a nuclear disaster and bugging in. You can read more of her work on Survivor’s Fortress. You can also follow us on Twitter.






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8 Responses

  1. Adaptability means always thinking of solutions. When I come to a stop at a traffic light on my motorcycle I don’t do what most harley riders do which is shift into neutral and rev the engine to declare freedom… I put the bike in 1st and hold the clutch in while looking around, What is the car behind me doing, the car behind him, what about the car to my left and right? Can I squeeze between the two cars and get away if I need to? I update my situational awareness and look at what escape routes I have when the little blonde lady in the SUV that is busy playing with her phone decides that plowing a motorcycle into the rear of another car is more important than paying attention to driving. Doing this at every single stop sign makes it instinctive now. I do not even think of it as I automatically check, I have trained myself to not trust other people because in reality we should NEVER trust others to do the right thing. The lady in the SUV will happily murder a motorcyclist so she can text her BFF, and will simply tell the cops “I did not see him”. Walking to work, as you look to where you are going, what are the number and colors of cars you just walked past? Most people can not remember those kinds of details because they just do not pay attention.

    Situational awareness is the key to adaptability. Dont be like 90% of the population that is focused on a 3 foot circle around their phone. you can see dramatically farther if you look up and out at everyone else as you shop, walk to work, even in your own yard. And honestly even in your own house, I can tell you what room my wife is in even when I have not seen her go from the kitchen to the bedroom. Because I pay attention to sounds and their locations.

  2. Funny this should come up today…. we just had a hurricane where I live. There were several things I had to do to adapt… One of them was to find a shelter area in case it got really bad.

    Why? My house is old, frail, and surrounded by HUGE trees, any one of which, or part of which, if it fell, would destroy the house immediately. I had to leave the house as the hurricane approached. Friends offered shelter, but they were too far away… if the storm was really bad, I would not be able to get back to my house and all the gear in it due to fallen trees, downed power lines, official restrictions, etc.

    So I scouted out my neighborhood… where could I safely park my vehicle, with me and my gear in it, to ride out the storm without being too far from the house? It only took about 20 minutes to find 3 really good buildings I could shelter near that would block the possible severe winds/flying debris… and the best one was horse-shoe shaped, 2 stories tall, and made of cinder block and cement. I could park in the open area of the horse-shoe and be protected on all sides except one. Super!

    -In the end, it wasn’t needed. The storm weakened and did not come as close to my location and originally expected. I was able to hang out in my vehicle on my own property, away from the trees. The storm passed with only minimal incidents and all is well. But it was a good lesson on finding a solution quickly in your surrounding environment.

    I’ve come to think that occasionally “shaking up your routine” and “playing scenario games” might be good training for what may come.

    Thanks, Selco and team, for keeping us on our toes.

  3. Selco,

    I have read every one of your posts for years. I like what you have to say.

    However, this guest post from Carmela Tyrell put me off my feed on a number of points. Here is one example:

    “Situation Awareness…
    …you are aware of everything going on around you…”

    No! Being aware of “everything” is IMPOSSIBLE. Perhaps, something along the line of “you are constantly seeking to be aware of as much of your surroundings as possible” would express it closer to reality.

    So, I popped on over to Survivor’s Fortress in an attempt to get a better feel for this Carmela character. I was sincerely disturbed by what I saw there. For example, there is an aluminum pot picture displayed with an article about water purification and there is an article entitled, “What is the Best .357 Revolver?” [wtf]. I didn’t spend a lot of time but right off the site struck me as disingenuous. That is probably just me but I am comfortable with my general distrust of people’s pitches.

    I am waiting on a couple of possible developments that could shed additional light on this person or persons.

    Thanks, Selco. Some of your experiences that you have shared have been extremely valuable to my world view.


  4. I suppose all of this intellectualizing is good. Your head can analyze a lot of data and make good calculations.

    Sooner or later you will have to deal with things you can’t see, things you can’t know and people who are not what they appear to be. Reasoning will fail.

    The most valuable asset one can have is a well developed gut sense. It can keep your foot off of the mine. It can keep you out of the cross-hairs. It can tell you when that harmless person is about to kill you..It can do a lot more.

    A large part of being adaptable is being able to work with the unconscious part of your self.

  5. In my humble opinion I believe an important consideration is self awareness and striving for greater “consciousness” about our default outlook.

    Do you typically think:
    More short term or long term
    More reactive or creative
    More small picture or big picture
    More single solution or interconnected systems

    The challenge is not to change from one to the other but to practice shifting the mental outlooks to be appropriate to the situation. If I am a long term big picture systems thinker normally, I might not act quickly enough in an emergency. If I jump to quick conclusions without considering all the connections I might make some fatal mistakes. Thinking versatility is a key to resilience.

    Also changes are emotionally disruptive depending on how much surprise or novelty they create and how much unfamiliarity they create. I must get information quickly, or make assumptions quickly, and also develop my skills base to reduce the surprise and unfamiliarity. The quicker I can reduce the novelty of the change the faster I can be effective.

  6. I think adaptability is the key in a SHTF situation, and in life in general. Don’t get too attached to ones preconceptions and habits. Meditation helps.

  7. I always learn, whenever I try to put a prep into practice. I think I know what I’m doing; then I try it and it turns out that I had more to learn. I feel for people who buy all this prepper food and don’t know how to prepare it, so that it tastes good.

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