True North Blog

The Power of PMA Witnessed

The Power of PMA Witnessed

At some point in all of my wilderness survival courses, I explain to my students the paramount importance of keeping calm and focused during periods of stress or privation.  This proper psychological balance is what I learned from Byron Kerns, a former U.S. Air Force SERE Instructor, to call “Positive Mental Attitude” — otherwise known as PMA.  The essence of PMA is that, when the chips are down, it doesn’t matter how much specialized training that you have, or how much gear that you have in your backpack, it is only what’s in your head and heart that counts.

This is most often easier proclaimed, than actually done, as many may say that they have great PMA, or that they are cool under fire, but few seem to actually demonstrate it when it counts.  Trust me, I’ve witnessed first hand the scene of someone absolutely falling apart when someone else badly needed their immediate help; or, watching a group leader abandon his charges during a crisis.  Such an experience can have painful and scarring consequences all around.

By contrast, few things engender more confidence and camaraderie in a group, than seeing one act, or when appropriate, not act, when it is needed.

Case in point, watching Becca Mix last week as she assisted Dave Rohm of Paddle Without Pollution during its “Allegheny River Sojourn and Program for Urban Youth” on the Allegheny River near Franklin, Pennsylvania.  Unbeknownst, to Becca, or “Miss B.B.” as the kids came affectionately to call her, a snake, estimated in length at about 4 1/2 feet, slid across the river towards her canoe as we approached our campsite for the evening.  Jaime Shairrick of the Allegheny Conservation District was able to capture this series of images (click on each to enlarge) as the snake approached, inspected the occupants of the canoe, then swam off.

PWP Becca Snake 01

PWP Becca Snake 02

PWP Becca Snake 03

This event may not seem like a big deal, and, I confess, we all enjoyed hearty laughs long after the fact, but at that time we all knew that it wasn’t a laughing matter … It was serious.  None of the rest of us were close enough to see if the snake was venomous or not, or even to somehow block it from reaching her canoe, and, besides, believe me, any snaking swimming up to you in the water is intimidating, especially when it lifts itself out of the water to look at you over the gunwale of your canoe.

Many other adults would have panicked and started to swing blindly at the snake.  This could have risked injury, or worse, in a few ways.  Amongst others, it could risk a bad bite from the snake (venomous or not); and it risked capsizing the canoe.  Not only, then, would the adult be at greater risk, like drowning, so would the child in the front of the canoe.

Anyway, Becca demonstrated remarkable PMA.  She listened to our instructions, she remained calm and focused, and, in so doing, she helped keep the boy in front safe too.

Which is why the guys from Paddle Without Pollution and True North love having her along on their trips.  Who knows, Dave and I might have easily panicked in her circumstance.

But, then again, we never expect any less from Becca anyway!

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook.

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