The Survival Triangle – How to Minimize “Luck” as a Survival Factor

One of the fundamental things I learned in my police training was the ‘Survival Triangle’.

It has been an important lesson that has stayed with me all these years.

The Survival Triangle has also been one of my secret weapons in dealing with risk.

It is the biggest reason why I have survived (or avoided) some life threatening encounters.

The Survival Triangle is a way for Police to approach dangerous situations in a consistently safe manner.

Police use The Survival Triangle to understand three important survival factors.

While Police use the Survival Triangle on patrol, everyday people can also adopt it to their needs.

The Survival Triangle.

The Survival Triangle is;

  1. Tactics
  2. Practical Defensive Skills
  3. Mental Preparation

Survival Triangle


In this case civilians can substitute Practical Defensive Skills to – Practical Skills…

These three skills support each other. They are all vital to operating in an operational, in this case, emergency environment.

Of the three components of the Survival Triangle, Mental Preparation is most overlooked. But for me, mental preparation is the most important.

When I joined the force I already had several years of martial arts training. This meant I had already been training this mental side. But, I watched as other recruits (and later other officers) struggle with this aspect of the job.

If your mind is correct, you will be correct.

While one side of the triangle needs the other two, the foundation is Mental Preparation. If your Mental Preparation is poor your Tactics and Defensive skills will also be poor.

Think of your Mental Preparation as the base of the triangle which dictates is total size. The bigger your Mental Preparation side, the bigger your Tactics and Defensive Skills can be.

Survival Triangle

Your mind is the most dangerous weapon you carry with you.

When disciplined your mind is devastating to your adversary.

Unprepared it is devastating to you. Because of your minds capacity to sabotage your performance.

If you approach a high risk situation without proper mental preparation, the biggest factor in deciding the outcome is LUCK.

Factors For Survival.

The United Nations conducted a study examining police shootings and survival factors. They allocated a weighting to the factors that determined whether officers survived.

They found that the factors determining survival were;

  • Mental Skill – 5%
  • Physical Skill – 20%
  • Luck – 75%

To be prepared you need to swap this around;

  • Mental Skill – 75%
  • Physical Skill – 20%
  • Luck – 5%

When you do not develop the mental skills needed, your response to a dangerous situation is;

Strong in Uncontrolled Emotions and Weak in Disciplined Tactics.

Survival Triangle

Remember; “If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail”.

The more “tools” you have in your mental toolbox the better equipped you are to handle danger.

Stress overwhelms your thought process, often with results few would have predicted.

Most threats can be defeated or outmanoeuvred.

Luck, good or bad, can never be completely eliminated.

But it’s ranking on your survival scale can be dramatically reordered.

Your mental preparation begins with understanding a fundamental phenomenon of physiology.

The Mind-Body Connection.

Many people think of the mind and body as separate, in reality they are not.

There is an interplay which carries messages back and forth between your mind and your body. So that the influence of each registers on the other.

There are physiological expressions of what is on your mind. And there are psychological expressions of what happens to your physical body.

This unified relationship is the key to controlling stress.

Survival Triangle

Controlling stress improves your decision making and performance through “mental conditioning”.

Researchers have documented a body – mind – body ‘feedback loop’.

People who copy facial expressions of anger, disgust, sadness, surprise and happiness begin to feel those emotions. They also experience changes in their heart rate, hand temperature, skin resistance and muscle tension.

Their brains react to the physical input. The physical ‘mood messages’ get sent from their bodies to the brain. Which causes the psychological change.

The first step in preparing your survival, is to understand the importance of your mind and your mental skill.

The words you use also play into this.

Alfred Korzybski was a Polish born American scientist and founder of “semantics”. Korzybski published “Science and Sanity” in 1933.

Korzybski believed that the words and behaviour are interrelated.

Human behavioral responses can be improved through a more critical use of words. A relationship between words and actions does exist.

Survival Triangle

Words have a distinct positive or negative effect on the way you approach a situation. Eg: nails screeching down a black board. The term ‘smashed’ instead of ‘hit’ when describing a vehicle collision.

The first step in fixing the survival scale in our favor is to first;

Understand the role your ‘Mental Skill’ plays in surviving a life threatening situation.

Pay close attention to the words you use.

Realise that the mental elements of survival are less tangible, but more important.

Keep reading the follow up articles on this as we go into more detail. And we talk about how you can train your mental survival skill.

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