Survival Mentality: How the numbers 80 and 20 can help save your life.

Sorry, no flashy pictures with this post – just a good solid discussion about Survival Mentality.

The 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule has been a popular buzz phrase in the business and self-help realms for many years. But what if I told you that understanding this rule could actually save your life?

A quick history …

In the 1800s an Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, noted that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. Ironically, he also observed that 20 percent of the pea plants in his garden produced 80 percent of the peas (anyone feel like the 20% of pea plants right now?). This universal ratio ultimately became known as the Pareto Principle and simply states that “80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes.” It’s also been dubbed as “the law of the critical few and the trivial many.”

I’ll leave the business and self-help application of the 80/20 rule to those who have gone before me. Many people have written and spoken about how this principle can improve your performance and effectiveness in life and business. Today, I will discuss how it can actually save your life.

In a survival scenario, prioritizing your time and resources is critical. You must make the absolute best use of the resources both inside of you (like energy and thoughts) and around you (like natural tools and gear). Understanding and applying the 80/20 rule to survival skills and resources not only helps one prepare and train, but also perform. It all starts with mentally identifying 80/20 patterns. Below are a few of the more prominent patterns that I’ve noticed in my years of practicing and teaching survival skills.

Twenty percent of all survival skills offer 80 percent of the life-saving value

There are literally just a handful of skills that can determine whether someone triumphs over a survival scenario. Then, there are hundreds that are nice to know. There are the critical few and the trivial many.

The ability to provide shelter, source water, make fire, signal for rescue and stay mentally motivated are among the critical few.

Oftentimes, people focus on learning the skills they want to know before the ones they need to know. It’s not always the easy and fun activities that produce the most rewarding results. In fact, successful people (in life and survival) typically do what others don’t want to or aren’t willing to do. Understanding the concept of sacrifice will pay survival dividends.

I use 20 percent of my tools 80 percent of the time

Let the 80/20 rule guide how you prepare for an adventure. I spend a lot of time in the field, and I can report matter-of-factly that I use 20 percent of my gear 80 percent of the time.

Knowing what I use more often helps me prepare in advance for adventures, but it also gives me a keen understanding of what I really need in a survival scenario. If ever faced with a sudden and unexpected survival scenario, I will be able to identify the critical few quickly and clearly. A cutting tool, container, fire starting tools, cordage, water and shelter materials are immediately at the top of the list. Anything else is a bonus.

Twenty percent of the steps in a survival skill produce 80 percent of the results

This 80/20 observation comes directly from students who attend our survival training courses. Often, students will arrive who have read all of the best survival books and watched all of the best survival videos but have never taken the opportunity to practice these skills ‘hands-on.” They may understand the concept, know the basic steps and even have seen someone complete the skills successfully, but they still are missing the 20 percent of critical knowledge that only comes from personal trial and error. Often, the trivial many are meaningless without the critical few. Spend time on the 20 percent that really matters.

Twenty percent of your food sources provide 80 percent of your calories

Understanding this principle alone can save your life. Energy conservation and risk reduction are at the core of survival. It’s easy to lose common sense when your brain teeters at the edge of fear and panic. Understanding when and when not to spend valuable time and energy is critical. It makes no survival sense to spend valuable resources or take considerable risk to hunt or gather food that has little to no calorie reward – but people do it all the time in survival scenarios. Often, survivors will spend more calories sourcing food than it will give them back. Hunting and gathering with the 80/20 rule in mind can help quell the urge to be overzealous and prioritize target foods.

Learn to identify 20 percent of the wild edible plants that you see 80 percent of the time

There are literally hundreds of wild edible plants in any given geographic area – except for some desert, high mountain and arctic regions. It’s just not practical for the average person to learn them all – and certainly not necessary. It can be time consuming, overwhelming and confusing. Focusing on being able to positively identify, harvest and prepare the 20 percent of the wild edible plants that you see 80 percent of the time is a much more effective use of your time. This principle allows you to intensely study a select few plants very easily. An intimate knowledge of the critical few is much better than a marginal knowledge of the trivial many. Start with these: cattail, dandelion, Jerusalem artichoke, wapato, thistles, mustards, docks and nettles.

More 80/20 survival patterns certainly exist. Even 20 percent of the wood species in an area can provide 80 percent of a fire’s heat and longevity. The 80/20 ratios exist on many different levels when it comes to survival and preparedness. As you study, practice, prepare and purchase survival supplies, try to identify the 80/20 patterns that can help your efforts be more effective.

What other 80/20 survival patterns can you identify?

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN.

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