This article originally ran Dec. 8, 2016
Whether you are traveling abroad or walking down the same street you've walked down for the past 20 years, dangers can lurk around every corner. Former Green Beret Sergeant Major (retired) Karl Erickson knows this all too well. Erickson has been in the middle of many deadly attacks during his time serving in the Army Special Forces and has faced violent criminals even while retired here in the States. In all instances, Erickson walked out alive, which he credits to a little bit of luck and a lot of preparedness, both physical and mental.
"To survive on the battlefield or in the boardroom, success always starts with the proper mindset," says Erickson, who teaches a high-risk travel safety course at elite military training facility T1G.
Here, he breaks down a few simple mental tricks you can use to help keep yourself on the lucky side of things should disaster strike.
Start with the survival mindset.
"If you have the proper mindset, it can help you avoid 90 percent of the problems you might face. It really is that easy if you have the right attitude. You need to get up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, 'I might have to defend myself or my loved ones today.' You have to start by telling yourself that you are a survivor. I have the personal mindset that 'I can't be beat. I will not sit there and suck my thumb. One day, I will meet my maker, and when I do, He’s going to high-five me for kicking ass.'"
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Maintain situational awareness.
"You can be that sheep who pushes their earbuds in and wanders around planning on being surrounded by nothing but flowers all day long, but the reality is people get mugged, kidnapped and harmed every day. The first thing you have to do is get your head up out of your phone. If you Google 'walking with cell phones' you will find hundreds of videos of people reading their screens and walking into walls. There’s one of a woman walking into a 40-foot wide fountain!
"Americans use their phones more than they use oxygen. I see people walking around completely in their own world. These people could not stop me from walking up to them and doing something bad. There are wolves out there looking for sheep. Don’t be that sheep that looks like an easy target. In nature, a lion could kill an adult cape buffalo, but the lion knows there is a big potential for it to get hurt in that fight. So lions will always be on the lookout for smaller animals, weaker or sick animals.
"Likewise, criminals are always looking for easy targets. And if you look like an easy target, you become one. So just being aware of your surroundings will eliminate 90 percent of threats. And when that other 10 percent shows up, you’ll be prepared with a plan."
Have a plan -- even if it is a bad one.
"Get in the habit of asking yourself, 'If something were to happen right now, what would I do?' It doesn’t matter if you are standing at the counter of Starbucks or at a table at a five-star restaurant. It doesn’t have to be a good or sexy plan, but simply already knowing where the exit is can give you a lifesaving jump start if something bad goes down. 'I’m going to grab my wife and we’re going to run into the kitchen.' Even a bad plan is better than no plan. Otherwise, you’ll just sit there like the rest of the sheep sucking your thumb.
"You’re sitting in your office talking to me right now. If you had an active shooter situation, could you start stacking furniture against your office door to make it harder to get inside until law enforcement gets there? Is there a rear fire exit? Is there a window ledge that you can crawl out on? If you can’t flee, is there a desk or something you can hide behind? Unless they are looking for you in particular, out of sight, out of mind can save your life.
"Having these plans in your head is better than just sitting there. You won't waste time registering what is going on, you'll just begin acting."
Always trust your gut.
"When I pull up to a gas station, if I don’t see anyone at the pumps and I see the lights are on but no one seems to be inside, I move on to the next station. I don’t go in. And I’m a barrel-chested freedom fighter Green Beret. It’s probably nothing, the clerk might be in the back room, but it also might be a robbery. So I just move on the next station.
"I avoid the possibility of walking into something bad. I encourage you to do the same. If you don’t have that warm and fuzzy feeling, if something just doesn’t feel right, don’t go there. That has saved hundreds of lives overseas. I can’t tell you how many times we got a strange feeling about an area and went around it, and found out later that another coalition convoy got hit with an IED.
"Even if nine out of 10 times it turns out to be nothing, that 10th time could mean the difference between you staying safe or walking into a bad situation. Trust your gut."