Guest Post: Mindset: It’s more important than gear or skills.

M* is pleased to present the first in a series of guest posts from Bo Smith on emergency preparedness, focusing on information Bo describes as “…what matters most’, to use the Covey-ism.”

Bo describes himself as, “A crackpot fundamentalist living in a small compound with his four wives and fifteen children. His hobbies include collecting ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, amateur pharmacology, shade tree gunsmithing, and yelling at passersby whilst wearing sandwich board signs revealing the end of the world. He resides in Murray, Utah.

You can read more of Bo at his personal blog.

I’ve been involved with preparedness since back when folks called it “survivalism”. I am a product of the tail end of the Cold War. I remember quaking at night at the thought of a nuclear confrontation with the Russians. I’ve seen all of the movies, read most of the fiction (and a lot of the nonfiction), and sung along to “99 Luftballons”. One fringe benefit I’ve always enjoyed by being LDS is its official stance on preparedness and self-sufficiency.

 I’ve always wondered why the majority of the Saints with whom I have broached the topic have rolled their eyes back in their skulls from either boredom or incredulity that someone would take preparedness and food storage seriously. Almost as bad are the individuals and families that treat preparedness like a checklist. “Okay, 1000 pounds of wheat? Check. Two cases of MREs? Check. Okay, done here, let’s go for ice cream.”

 Some experience overwhelming feelings at the thought of devoting already limited resources to fulfilling this commandment. Some believe it takes thousands of dollars. Some devote no money at all, despite having sufficient means. Even FEMA and Red Cross use this checklist approach to preparedness. These attitudes all point to one problem. They emphasize “hardware” (stuff) over “software” (the stuff between your ears), and both of them over mindset. We should work to reverse this order, placing mindset at the top.

 What is mindset? Mindset in this context is more than what you’ll find on It is certainly more than just having a positive mental attitude (although that helps). It’s more a combination of their “Have a Plan” and “Stay Informed” with healthy doses of hope and smarts. Mindset includes mental rehearsals and “What ifs?” It includes planning, and contingencies. Know that even among the “good guys” (not including the criminals and opportunists) there are three kinds of people in any disaster: folks that have a plan, people with a “sort of” plan, and the unprepared. Your position on this spectrum, and the consequences, will depend upon your mindset and your plan more than your “seventy-two hour kit” or food storage. Mindset will dictate your ability to lead and to make prompt decisions in the face of adversity. Rehearsals in preparation will prevent the tunnel vision associated with panic. Let the masses panic. Your plan, information, and mental preparations will leave you calm; to do the things you must do to endure the emergency successfully.

 Your family will rely upon you for leadership in an emergency. Considering potential disasters, incorporating them into a “mental tape loop” by thinking of the outcomes and possibilities will help you to cope with the emergency. Some people cannot and will not be able to cope. The unprepared are most susceptible. They will likely be confused or panicked. When people have not prepared these mental scripts, disaster interrupts their routine. Disrupted routines can cause mental breakdown. This is the time for you to give orders, direct, and lead your family. You can rely upon your “tape loop”, use your coping skills, and influence your family to face the situation with resolve.

Your worldviews act as a mental filter. By paying attention and continuously analyzing your thoughts, always checking your sources for accuracy and context, you can develop a useful, determined mindset. You can face a disaster with hope, having conditioned your mind to rely upon your own decisiveness, your own skills, and your own preparations. Your mindset will be an asset to both you and your family in any emergency.

13 thoughts on “Guest Post: Mindset: It’s more important than gear or skills.

  1. Bo, an excellent point. Clearly being mentally prepared is important, and you present it well.

    I know some people whom I would qualify as “survivalists” or let’s just say “preparedness nuts.” The issue is that they are not mentally prepared because they are not looking realistically at possible threats. Just to give an example, one guy I know has about 20,000 rounds of ammo and about 30 firearms. He says he is getting “prepared.” Well, does he really want to go to war? Think about it realistically: what are the most likely threats? It seems to me they are famine, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards. Fighting off zombies is not a very likely threat. 20,000 rounds of ammo is not going to help you much in any of those circumstances, unless you really think you’re likely to “protect your home” against the hordes of starving people around you. Personally, I’d be much more likely to share my food with the people and eventually flee somewhere else when I run out of food than to set up my own castle defense system and take pot shots at my starving neighbors.

    So, being mentally prepared, it seems to me, means a realistic evaluation of possible threats. Yes, you may need a gun or two with some ammo, but you also need to think about being mobile so you can flee if necessary. You need to have outdoor survival skills. You need to be in good physical shape. You need to have enough food for at least six months, but also a plan for transporting it if necessary. And you need to have a Gospel-based family environment so you are ready to listen and obey to the Spirit when it helps guide you in the right direction.

    I’ll bet you a lot of money that the “survivalists” with their 20,000 rounds of ammo who weigh 300 pounds are going to be going down really fast. Whereas those of us who are fast, smart and mobile — and who rely on the Lord — are going to be protected.

  2. I think a balanced approach to emergency preparedness is the way to go. Having things planned out in advance is also very important. This might include having menus for each week. Sure, you have a lot of food storage, but what can you make with it? Plan it out!

    Great post, Bo. Sorry, but I have long forgotten the names of your wives and children. the 8×10 Christmas card was great, you forgot to include names!! Care to remind me? 😉

  3. Yeah, yeah.

    A balanced approach is key, and an underlying theme. Later I will explore short and long term food storage, communications, and getting along with your neighbors. I have touched upon some of them in previous rants, but not to the degree that I would if taken individually. I do look forward to reading more questions and comments.

  4. “Okay, 1000 pounds of wheat? Check. Two cases of MREs? Check. Okay, done here, let’s go for ice cream.”- Yep, that’s me in a nutshell. I look forward to rest of your series.

  5. Ammonium nitrate and fuel oil? Saying that kind of thing is going to get you in trouble…

  6. Bo, I read the rant on your personal blog about not using Ramen noodles and granola bars in a 72-hour kit. My 72-hour kit would not keep me adequately fed. I’m looking forward to learning from you on putting together a proper 72-hour kit and other preparedness information. Good stuff!

  7. Brian, yeah, nutrition is a big deal with me. I can get you through it without bonking.

    Geoff, I hear you on what I call the “butt-crack militia”. I worry about them turning predatory in a long-term disaster. (if they can pry themselves from the couch). Fortunately, we seldom deal with disasters that last more than a week (Hurricanes Katrina and Rita being the major exceptions).

    One more point on mindset: I remember sitting at my computer, posting to a then popular preparedness message board, sending messages back and forth about the possibility of Katrina making landfall as a category 4 storm (she weakened to a category three before landfall). We all knew she was coming Sunday morning. If folks across the country were chatting it up on the internet fully twenty-four hours before landfall, how was it a surprise to anyone Monday morning? Paying attention, and NOT LIVING IN DENIAL is a big part of mindset. If you’ve warning, act on it. When the Schumer hits the fan, act swiftly and decisively.

  8. I think where you live determines a lot of how you prepare. I suspect I’d prepare quite differently were I living in say New Orleans than if I lived here in Utah, for example.

    I also agree that mindset has a lot more to do with things. Do you practice fire drills for instance? Are you and your spouse trained in CPR and the like.

  9. Nice. This has been on my mind lately, and I agree that mindset is key. Which hardware one acquires should be determined by the necessities of the plans.

  10. Nice article, Bo!
    I’d add that there is nothing wrong with a check-list approach if the check-list is self-tailored and accompanied by a proper-mindset. In becoming more prepared for my family I can’t tell you how many check-list’s I’ve crafted thru the years…
    …so don’t discount the value of a checklist in the proper context!

    “I think where you live determines a lot of how you prepare. I suspect I’d prepare quite differently were I living in say New Orleans than if I lived here in Utah, for example.
    I also agree that mindset has a lot more to do with things. Do you practice fire drills for instance? Are you and your spouse trained in CPR and the like.”

    Clark, I appreciate you mentioning that as many folks will loose perspective of more-likely scenarios, even when they are serious about preparedness.

    There is no sense digging a shelter to [attempt to] survive a meteor-strike-event when the batteries in your smoke detectors are dead. Why bother putting up #10 cans of rice when the only dish your family knows how to make with it is rice pudding? Neither is a bad idea by themselves – but ought to be accomplished in order of likely-hood.

    Some folks just need to be reminded to use common-sense when approaching preparedness. It’s not wrong to worry about and make preparations for major events, but do things in order and you’ll be better off, and more likely to succeed and both! Our [successful] pioneer ancestors didn’t walk off Westward before putting their affairs in order at home, getting transportation, and acquiring the proper tools and items to accompany the journey. The ones who didn’t learned some hard lessons, if my family faces a disaster [or needs to migrate across country on foot] I’d prefer to have in place the appropriate items ahead of time.

  11. Brandon, first, thank you for the complement. It’s not make checklists that I am warning off, it’s using those same lists as a crutch to avoid developing mindset. Like the box on the wall that says “Break glass in case of fire”, many put up the bare minimum suggested by some institution (FEMA, Red Cross, LDS church, etc.), check off the list, and never think about it again. That false confidence is precisely what I am shunning.

    Mindset is not about skills. It’s not about your gear, or even your plan. It’s about being able to survive when your gear breaks, your plan goes south, and skills fail. It’s about spiritual (but not necessarily religious) preparation. It’s about mental toughness, but not hubris. It is confidence that you can survive, and the ability to quickly and boldly make decisions. It’s about not denying the situation when you see it. Too many people react to an emergency by dithering, or stopping like deer frozen in the headlights. When there is an emergency, acknowledge it quickly. Act appropriately. Then allow skills to take over. What good is knowing the Heimlich maneuver if you one doesn’t recognize the signs of choking immediately, and act with haste? That’s mindset.

    Everything else comes second.

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