Problem Solving: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

“Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” is an unofficial slogan among Marines made popular by Clint Eastwood’s movie, Heartbreak Ridge. Whether you plan to bug in or bug out should tough times occur, the ability to improvise, adapt, and overcome problems will be necessary regardless of how well-stocked, tooled, provisioned, or conditioned you are.

Honing this ability will serve you well. These skills can be cultivated easily in any setting and without a lot of money. Moreover, to build your skills quickly, I recommend that you strive to develop them WITHOUT money. Get creative. No one can take a skill away from you. It boils down to changing your perspective, engaging your creative mind, learning to learn, and improving your physical, mental, and spiritual capacity. 

I am greatly indebted to my late father, who grew up on a remote farm without any money. If he wanted or needed something, he had to hunt, gather, grow, build, or steal it. (I don’t advise or condone stealing, but in a survival situation, it is a last-resort option). He taught me these skills. In childhood; if there was a toy or something I wanted, he encouraged me to find ways besides going to the store to get it. As a kid, I spent time with hand tools in a 8 ft x 8 ft garden shed (a.k.a. “the shop”), in junkyards, at yard sales, and in secondhand thrift shops looking for old things that needed TLC or a second use. I got through college doing odd jobs and dumpster-diving for food.

I have made a 26-year career as an engineering professional using these skills. I am a problem solver. When all the options are depleted by in-the-box thinkers, I am the pariah they send into the muck to get dirty and get things back on track. I have chosen a path in life and a career as a generalist, not a specialist. I am always on the lookout for a challenge, both in my career and personal pursuits. 

Specific survival skills are in countless books. Over the years, I have not found a single book which specifically teaches or develops the capacity of "improvise/adapt/overcome" when faced with a challenging situation. Many ideas, tips, and specific skills are offered, but all of the information seems to revolve around specific environments or tools or materials. 

Imagine you were put in the middle of a completely different environment and needed to survive - say, moving from a tropical environment, to which you are accustomed, into an arctic one. Or from a rural environment into an urban one. What would you need to survive? 

To survive, you will need to apply three strengths:

  • Physical: You will need the power, stamina, and flexibility to work with the tools and materials around you.
  • Mental: You will need the intellectual capacity to plan, prioritize, and apply yourself to the tasks at hand.
  • Spiritual: You will need the capacity to deal with discomfort, pain, and suffering while maintaining an attitude that you will use to overcome the problems facing you.

To Improvise, you need physical and mental strength. After you have exhausted all possible avenues to IMPROVISE a solution, you must ADAPT, which will require mental strength to change your approach to the situation. After you have exhausted all possible avenues to improvise and adapt to the situation, you will need your mental and spiritual strength to finally OVERCOME the obstacles.

Here I will define and discuss each part of this approach to serve as a guide to developing your capacity:


This approach can be applied to simple things like building a temporary shelter, fixing a leak, building a water system; or complex ones, like building a part for a car. Anything you need to improvise will require: Materials, Tools, Knowledge of those materials and tools, Skills, and Time.

For instance, a temporary shelter can be built out of any materials: snow, sticks, sod, pallets or cardboard. Tools may or may not be available, in which case you must improvise using your hands, ice, sticks, rocks, or trash. Skills and knowledge are required to work the materials into useful function with tools. And, of course, time is a factor in putting it together and how long it will last. We take for granted the time savings that power tools give us; but bear in mind, EVERY manufactured item we possess is an evolution of centuries of hand craftsmanship and raw materials. Anything can be built with enough raw materials, knowledge, skill, and time.  

Given any challenge, four strategies are suggested:

  1. Think it through! Your brain is your most valuable asset – use it before you engage your muscles! Every hour of work is worth at least 10 minutes or more of planning. Assess and define the problem.
    • What materials and tools are available? My green-oriented friends say: “Reuse, Recycle, and Renew." Materials for shelter could be: leaves, snow, limbs, tarp, cardboard, pallets, blankets, skins, or abandoned cars. Tools can be improvised: a knife (broken shard of glass or flint, piece of sheet metal), an axe (a hunk of iron with an edge, a big hunk of flint) or a hammer (a rock or a hunk of metal). Keep in mind that you can get materials and tools in different ways, and everything takes a different level of energy. In order from least to most extensive use of energy, one can:
      • Find alternative uses for what is already at hand
      • Steal: Not recommended but an option
      • Beg or borrow: Altruism is a part of the survival of our species
      • Hunt and gather or grow
      • Simplify: Substitute complex parts or tools with simpler versions
      • Adaptation: Do without
    • What useful function or need(s) are you trying to meet? Back to the shelter example: You need to get out of the wind which robs your heat. You need insulation to avoid the heat loss. You need to stay dry. You also need sleep, hydration, and nourishment to survive. As you move up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you need water, food, heat, security, safety, social connections, comfort, and, finally, self-actualization.
    • What skills and knowledge are available? The more complex the project is, the more skills are required. Tools and materials can be replaced with skills. But skills cannot be replaced by tools and materials.
      • In Boston’s Gun Bible, the author suggests that you spend $1,500 on a skills course rather than $1,500 on a firearm, because without the skills the firearm is ineffective. A personal example: I have stayed for several days in a snow cave in subzero weather. I had a snow shovel, sleeping bag, a foam pad, and food, along with some expedition-duty winter clothing. That equipment would have been useless without skills. On the other hand, with the skills gained from that experience, I could survive in a snow cave for a several days or so in winter street clothes with a little food.
    • How much time do you have? How long to build it? Example: If you are cold and wet and getting colder and wetter, you need to create a shelter fast while you have the energy. If you are comfortable and winter is coming on, you need to assess what you can do with the time you have. How long does it need to last? You don’t need a cabin to weather out a two-hour storm. A fire and some natural shelter may be all that is required when you are cold and wet. 
  2. Safety First! Consider the hazards and how you will mitigate those hazards. Take that extra time and energy to plan for safety of yourself and others. Hazards come in three flavors: PHYSICAL (e.g., falling, pinching, cutting, suffocating), THERMAL (e.g., burns or freezing), and CHEMICAL (e.g., burns, poisons).
  3. Implementing: Divide and conquer. Break down the big job into little jobs. Every job has smaller jobs. EVERYTHING complex is built from simple things. Back to our shelter example: Every shelter needs a foundation, walls, a roof, and doors. There is finding a location, gathering materials, cutting, tying, assembling, and testing. If you have a group, then divvy out the jobs according to skill level, condition, ability, and knowledge.
  4. Adjust. Don’t be daunted by the problems that arise during the process. In Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales writes about survivors who stayed alive by doing SOMETHING, even if it was just crawling that next two inches. Backtrack to Step 1 and think it through. If your snow cave falls in, improvise a roof or dig deeper walls or let the snow harden more before digging it out again.
  5. Keep it real. Worry about useful function; not what it looks like. Like my grandfather told me once after I helped him build a chicken coop: “A chicken doesn’t care about whether the coop is off square or the nails are bent. A chicken just wants to eat, drink, stay warm, stay dry, lay eggs, and not get eaten by a fox.” Chickens in the greenhouse:

Insulating the coop in sub-zero weather…


At this point, you have improvised to the best of your ability using the time, energy and materials at hand. The situation maybe isn't secure or comfortable. But it is what it is. You need to ADAPT. 

Adaptation is an approach which requires change. If you are cold and wet and have no shelter, you need to simply adapt or die. We will come back to this example, but first let's wax philosophical and explore the nature of suffering. Suffering is more than pain or discomfort; it is our resistance to pain and longing for pleasure that multiplies our suffering. 

Here is a formula I owe to my meditation teacher, Shinzen Young:

Suffering = Pain x Resistance   AND   Suffering = Pleasure x Longing

This is HUGE! For instance, in the hospital, the nurse may ask, “What is your level of pain - where ten is the most extreme pain you have ever experienced and one is just barely feeling it?” Pain is absolute; suffering is relative. If you are feeling the pain of a twisted ankle and you have previously experienced extreme pain coming out of anesthesia after a major operation, then you might think, "Well, this ankle isn't as bad as the operation" so you tell her, “Aw, about a three”. But if all you have experienced is a paper cut and you are feeling the pain of childbirth, you will yell, “TEN!” What the nurse is really asking is what level of suffering you are at. Drugs don’t take away the pain – the pain is still there. The drugs render you unconscious, block the nerve transmission from the brain, disassociate you from the pain, or relax the muscles. So the pain is still there. Drugs reduce the resistance which causes the suffering. 

In Hapkido, beginners tighten up their entire body and even scream when joint locks are applied. As the student gains experience, he will develop the ability to relax and avoid resisting the lock in order to think through the counter move or simply avoid further injury by resisting. This is the essence of adaptation. Breathing and relaxing will allow you to adapt to ANY situation, be it social, environmental, or physical. The same goes for being cold and wet. The more you relax, the more blood will flow to the extremities (and to your brain) and the less energy will be required to adapt. The more you breathe, the more oxygen will be available for your tissues to maintain heat and biological functions. This is taught in childbirth classes. These classes teach pain management through breathing and relaxation. And it is also taught in public speaking classes and adrenal conditioning classes. Your mind will follow your breathing. Pay attention to your breath – your emotions follow breath – not the other way around.

If you are wet and cold to the bone, you will long for the pleasure of dry clothes, a warm fire, and hot coffee. This is the nature of suffering. But if that longing has you all tensed up - depressed and distracted from the task of gettting to those comforts - it can be life-threatening. Comforts can become desperate necessities very quickly while precious time and energy is spent lamenting.

In order to adapt, you must see what needs to be done and do it through the pain, discomfort, or social rules. If you need to give first aid and you are squeamish, it is time to dig deep, hold back the vomit and apply your skill. If you need to crawl neck-deep through a sewer tunnel to evade and escape, then you need to fight your resistance to it, empty your stomach if necessary, and get it done. If you need to eat bugs and roadkill to survive, then you do what you have to do. The body has an amazing ability to adapt to an extremely wide range of circumstances – but if the mind isn’t willing, the body won’t have a chance.


By now, you have exhausted your ability and your resources to IMPROVISE and ADAPT. And perhaps it isn't looking too good for you. Maybe your shelter is barely adequate -- you are hypothermic, you have stopped shivering uncontrollably, and a sleepy calm overwhelms you. Maybe, you don’t have anything left in your body to go on. Now it is time to reach deep into your mind and soul. I keep a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Outlaw Josey Wales"When things get bad, really bad, and it looks like you're not going to make it, you gotta get mean, mad dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and you give up, then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is." That is the essence of overcome.   

You have to focus on what you have to do, dig REALLY deep, and do it. This is where the physical and mental strength is drained and the spiritual strength must carry over. Maybe you need to come home to take care of a child. Or maybe you need to save a friend, or maybe you need to save your group. I am not talking religion here. I am talking about a deep realization that every moment is a gift and there is something greater to struggle for than ourselves.

You must know your physical/mental limits, test them often and push them with a safety net. In my youth, I would head out the door with my street clothes and backpack for the weekend. No food. No water. No gear check. Just what was in the backpack. I fished. I gathered. Sometimes, I starved. But the car was only a four-hour walk away. It was a controlled situation that taught me volumes. 

There is another aspect of overcoming obstacles. The men of the Shackleton Endurance expedition got locked in Antarctic pack ice, abandoned the ship when it became crushed by the ice, lived on the ice in tents they could see moonlight through, and in slept primitive sleeping bags while waiting for the ice to recede. They then sailed lifeboats hundreds of miles to a remote island. After 20 months of survival conditions and scarce food, several members sailed to yet another island, scaling a mountain without climbing gear in the process, to reach a whaling port and eventual rescue. The two pictures are only months apart, but look at the change in Shackleton’s face…


While this was going on, some of the 28 members wrote in their journals about it being the most spiritually uplifting time of their lives. Many attribute that to Shackleton’s leadership; however, he was tapping into an aspect of the human species which few understand. Once your ego is stripped down by fatigue and hardship, you see your strengths and truly begin to absorb the beauty of the world. It is truly unfortunate that we develop ego to insulate us from the challenges of the world, because it also blinds us to the true beauty of it. There are other words for this in differend cultures: zen, state of grace, rapture, finding God, being centered, nirvana, samadhi...

Continuous Improvement of Your Capacity

Notice how the Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome mindset requires an ever-increasing reserve of physical, mental, and spiritual strength. By improving in these areas over time, we can develop these abilities. How does one learn all of the above? 

Even if we are not ultimately tested in a survival situation, one can use these abilities to improve and thrive in our current situations. First, I believe it is necessary to take an honest self-assessment of our skills and our competency with those skills in a survival situation. The Self-Assessment on the site is a great tool. Moreover, in our assessment, we need to gauge our ability to apply to those skills in the scenarios we foresee. After this analysis, we can understand where we need to focus our time and interests. 

For sake of illustration, here is my personal list of skill assets: engineering design, photovoltaic/wind/microhydro power system selection/installation, welding, machining, sewing, electrical work, carpentry, surveying, concrete work, gas engine mechanics, diesel engine mechanics, heavy equipment operation, winter survival, mountaineering, wilderness EMT, taekwondo, judo, hapkido, knowledge of edible plants, and a hunter’s level of competency with a bow, rifle, or shotgun. Most of these skills are still accessible if the grid goes down or the economy collapses. 

On the other side of the spectrum, an honest assessment of your liabilities in a survival situation is also needed. I live in an area that could be cut off from food and medical supply if the grid goes down. I can hunt game, but the game would eventually run out. Lack of gardening skill is one liability for me. There is no doubt about it. I am an awful gardener. Heck, I don’t know what those poor plants need. How to keep the bugs off? How to keep the weeds down? When to harvest them? When to water them? When is there too much water? When is there not enough water? What to plant? When to plant? I can maintain all the equipment to till, build elaborate greenhouse and watering systems from scrap, but I can’t grow a single respectable tomato.   

In order to prioritize our time and energy, we need to assess what survival situations are realistic. Every individual and every environment has different situations to consider. Circumstances may be due to geology, a nearby terrorist threat, a collapse of the economy, hordes of population in chaos, or a pandemic. We should strive to be ready for anything, but with finite time and resources, it is nearly impossible to be ready for every situation. 

I propose that you look at your chosen location, evaluate the pitfalls of that location, and assess what you may face, then develop a plan to deal with those pitfalls. Later on, you may decide to move to a better place and take your skills with you. I live in a fairly remote part of Rocky Mountains. My situational vulnerabilities in a time of societal collapse would be: uncontrolled wild fires, food shortages, fuel shortages, economic collapse, power blackouts, tornados, blizzards, clean water shortages, petty crime, and lack of access to medical care. 

After an assessment of your possible situations, assets, and liabilities, it is time to prioritize and develop a plan to fill in the gaps in your armor. Prioritize by time intervals: Situations to be prepared for in the next two years are top priority, the next priority, 5 years, and the next after that, 10 years. Give yourself some measurable goals to work toward. I use the New Year’s resolution tradition to do this every year. I carry that list around with me. I review it weekly. Every resolution has a measurable outcome. Here are some of mine:

  • Modify part of an existing barn for rabbits, at least, accommodating 15 does and 3 bucks.
  • Snag a paddlefish this May.
  • Get my greenhouse and raised beds in full production. Grow at least 50% of my food.
  • Double my chicken flock.
  • Install 4 Harbor Freight solar panel kits in strategic places on the homestead.

Now, with a plan with priorities and goals., here are some suggestions to develop your physical, mental, and spiritual strength:

  1. Keep Informed. Check three blogsites daily to stay current. There is a list of Recommended 3E sites on the right side of Chris Martenson's home page. Look for trends. Review your priorities. Review your assessment. If things fall apart, they will do so quickly, so you will have to re-prioritize quickly.
  2. Educate yourself. Get interested in something pertaining to your liabilities list and start by using every free learning source available on the net and at the public library. Find community education classes. Get the DVD archives from Homepower or Mother Earth News or Farm Show Magazine. Look at local college classes. Your local county extension agent can help you with reams of information and put you in touch with Master Gardeners who will give you classes or all the advice you can stomach. Look for a Backyard Gardener's group. Talk to people at farmer's markets. Go to and to find videos on nearly any subject. Look for people with the same interests. Go to shops that sell equipment to find others who might have the same interests or have some advice. Google up PBS’ House series and watch how those folks coped with the challenges. Read 1940s thru 1960s vintage Popular Mechanics or Popular Science magazines. Go to the educational toy store and find toys that teach basic electronics, physics, or chemistry. I learned electronics from a 100-in-1 Projects kit from Radio Shack that I got when I was 13. Now it is 30 years old, and I pull it out with my 10-year-old daughter to relearn and teach. Here is a modern version of that kit: Go to to find books about how to do things by hand and with limited tools. Get online to find ways to build things from junk. Google “how to build a {blank}” and see how many people who are proud of the {blank} they built provide chronological documentation of their {blank}. A good website is: or Another good website for some educational humor is Great stuff on that one. 
  3. Apply yourself. Find cheap, low risk ways to apply what you have read about and talk about. (If you want a taste of what I'm talking about, read this.) You can grow a garden in a box on your balcony. You can go out with your law-enforcement-trained brother to the shooting range. You can build a chicken coop with hand tools, scrap wood, and chicken wire. (Remember what my grandfather said.) Standing back to see the results will build your confidence, knowledge and skill. Don’t listen to the hypercritical neighbors or voices in your head! Remember it is the DOING that develops the skill, not reading about it or assembling that kit or buying the latest tool.
  4. Find an elderly mentor. Go to your local senior citizens' center or find the local coffee shop where they hang out. Trust me – they will talk your ear off. Our neighbor has lived in our remote little town her entire life of 85 years. Her body is failing but she has a sharp mind and can remember life before powerlines and fast transportation. She remembers the blizzards that stranded folks for weeks. She remembers when there were gardens and chicken coops in every yard. Read the Foxfire Series or any of the books from the Museum of Appalachia. On display at the Museum of Appalachia are over 20,000 tools and implements. The particular display is of homemade tools to build blackpowder rifles. The apparatus in the foreground to the left is to cut the rifling in gun barrels.
  5. Create mock scenarios. Camping is a mock scenario for life on the run and off the grid if you look at it that way. Develop lists of skills and equipment needed and desired. Pay attention to the boredom factor as well as the anxiety factor - both need equal attention in a troublesome times. One mock scenario is to spend a weekend at home with the grid off. Another might be to go on a backpack trip with only a fishing pole and no food. Another might be to build a kitchen table with only hand tools. All these situations provide a chance to learn and build confidence. Here is a personal example: One time a friend was snowmobiling with vintage 40-year-old machine. He was nearly 16 miles deep in the backcountry with about two miles left to go to the cabin for the weekend. He stopped briefly for a nature call and got started again but the machine limped all the way to the cabin; he barely made it. At the cabin he diagnosed the problem and figured out that a gear was nearly stripped inside the ancient transmission. Using a small ammo can full of hand tools, he tore down the transmission. He salvaged the Reverse gear which was a close fit, and the oil. He cleaned everything up with fuel. He used a small flat file to file down the gear to fit. He used a piece of copper pipe found in the cabin to hold candles to build a temporary bushing for the gear, which he “welded” in place with JB weld. There were a few other improvisations with wire and a bolt robbed off another part of the machine. He made it back to the trailhead on a packed trail the next day before a storm came in. No, it wasn’t the perfect fix, but he didn’t have to get another snowmobile to tow him back, or wait until summer to pack it out either. That experience gave him the confidence to handle other situations.
    • Wild food gathering for a weekend is an example of a mock scenario.   Beaver tail, anyone? No, it doesn’t taste anything like chicken.
  6. Build kits to prepare for different situations. Develop lists. Research. Start with Googling “bug out bag list.” Personalize your list. For each item, list the uses, both obvious and not-so-obvious. For instance, I have an improvised repair kit with the following items: small roll of duct tape, roll of wire, 10 ft of paracord, multitool, JB weld, shoe goop, dental floss, large darning needle and assorted buttons, screws, and nuts. It all fits in a quart sided freezer bag. I have used it dozens of times, from repairing a ski pole to sewing up split pants to repairing the fitting on a carburetor. I have specific lists for backpacking, ice fishing, winter travel, travel with old vehicles, electrical repairs, gadget charging... the list (of lists!) goes on. I keep them all on a thumb drive, review, and share them when needed.
  7. Learn to learn. Check your bucket list. Follow threads of curiosity that intrigue you. Learn a language. Solve a math problem. Take up an art or musical instrument. Hack your kid's computer. Learn a card game with your bored, computerless kid. Don’t just read about it – just do it! Build or write something tangible. Stress your brain. Work your muscles. Every skill will enhance and refine another. 
  1. Explore the gifts of your ancestors. I owe this piece of wisdom to my martial arts teacher. We come with a set of gifts by natural selection which allow us to survive and thrive. Physical attributes evolved such as skin color, physical stature, muscle mass, hair color, lack of hair, affinity for cold. Mental attributes evolved such as demeanor, aggressiveness, cleverness, attention to detail and regiment. This is a list of assets that is well worth noting and understanding. Often times, a liability is a disguised asset, and the other way around. Small, short stature isn’t an advantage on the basketball court, but it is a tremendous advantage as a smaller target, in a cold climate where heat conservation is required, or you need to survive periods of starvation. Personally, I am of German/Slavic descent. My ancestors evolved in harsh

    This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Mooselick7, that is one fantastic read!  WOW!  Encompassing skills, methodology, and attitudes that can be used in a crisis or in our everyday life.  I can’t remember the last time a read such a comprehensive and inspiring article.  I personally have many of the IAO traits as you have.  I’ve always taken them for granted.  The article helped me realize that I’m perhaps better prepared than I think, but there are areas and opportunities for improvement.  I too am totally lacking in gardening skills- fortunately, that is my sweetheart’s passion so we most likely won’t starve.  Perhaps I should start studying over her shoulder… Thanks again for an excellent article.   Aloha, Steve

OooooRAH! My hat is off to you and thank you so much for the best thing I’ve read in weeks. I will print this and read it over and over again.

Awesome work - this is exactly the kind of advice people need.
Very well put together, bold and conscious.

I dig it the most.



Thank you!

  • Jim

What a superb, inspirational, and valuable article!  You are my brother in spirit.

Ah, shucks…
Thanks for the compliments, everyone!

Mooselick, that is absolutely fabulous!  Your piece reminds me of so many times of adaptation, like when I was 19 and my 75 Saab wouldn’t start again at the car wash and I was late to pick my date.  Using the basic improvisation skills you list, I narrowed the problem to a faulty fuel pump relay and replaced it with a paper clip I found to complete the circuit.  Do kids still do things like that today?!?  And ultrarunning has given me incredible lessons in Overcoming, like at a 100 miler in Vermont last spring in snow, sleet, and mud that took me 31 hours to finish third and last place. There were times it was like a death march, but I embraced the pain and refused to think negative thoughts. From experiences like that, there is little in everyday life phases me.  Yet that’s nothing to what Shackleton and his crew went through.
Who else has stories of improvising, adapting, and overcoming?

Ok, I’ll give you a story.  About 1981.  I’m driving one of the best little cars I’ve ever owned- a 1964 Datsun 410 sedan- up to Lake Tahoe for a Thanksgiving Day family gathering.  About 2200 hrs, getting up into the Sierras, it starts to snow.  No problem, the Datsun has a great heater and I’ve chains in the trunk.  Traffic on Interstate 80 is heavy and slow.  I think I’m at about the 5000’ level, creeping along, when the engine quits.  I roll the car over to the side of the highway, where the snow is piled about 6’ high.  This could really suck, I’m thinking.   Pop the hood and check things out.  These cars had a little carburetor that had a handy glass window on the float bowl.  I could see that the bowl was empty even though there was a 1/2 tank of fuel.  Now, I was working as a auto mechanic at the time, so some of this stuff was not exactly rocket surgery.  My basic tool kit, which I never travel without, allowed me to do some basic diagnostics and determine that the fuel pump was not working.  I wasn’t about to wait  ‘til morning to try to get to a parts store to find a fuel pump that was probably not available for two days.  So, by flashlight, I removed the fuel pump, got back into the car and disassembled the mechanical pump on my lap.  I discovered one of the springs on one of the poppett valves on the pump had rusted away to nothing.  This was, by the way, the first time I had ever disassembled a mechanical pump even thought I was in the repair business- usually they’re just replaced, not repaired.  I found a retractable ball point pen in the glove box, took the spring out of it and inserted it into the valve, put the whole thing back together in about 45 minutes, and continued on to the lake and my family.   The storm got worse and the power went out all over the north shore of Tahoe.  On T’giving Day, out of the 5 family vehicles gathered, my lil’ Datsun was the only one that started.  It transported all 7 of us to dinner 20 miles away, where the power was on at a great restaurant.  It was never really life-threatening, but I’m still amazed at how it all came together, with a bit of skill, luck, preparedness, and deternination.  Dang, I miss that car…What’s your story?   Aloha, Steve.

A magnificent post!  Thank you so much for putting skills development / mind set / spirituality together so well.
Take care.  Bob


A nice read, I really enjoyed it!

Adaptability and opportunism will be the ways forward.

When I had my first car in '93, I did all the work on it myself and that continued up until about 2003 when I got lazy. Then for the last few years with a car that does less than 7,000km per year I started servicing it again myself and fixing any issues ranging from replacing a power steering pump, starter motor and replacing the discs and pads all round. I actually found that I was quite rusty and unsure of things when I started doing these jobs again, but remembered those time when I had issues and had to fix things by the road, usually in the rain and at night.

I guess for many of us, we either grew up with mothers and fathers who did many of the things around the house themselves usually out of necessity, be it plumbing, electrical work, plastering, or car mechanics. I have to say, I hated having to help at the time, but now, there is a huge range of things I can turn my hand to and if I’ve never attempted that type of job before, I can normally figure it out.

I’m really keen and encourage my kids to watch/help where ever possible, I even got them some overalls to get them into the spirit, in fact my 2 year old was wearing her’s proudly last night whilst she “helped” me replace two cartridge bearings in a bike wheel. I feel very sorry for the masses that haven’t got a clue of how to even attempt any kind of repair or job around the house, I think they will be in for a very hard time in the coming years!

Wow.  That was truly amazing.  If I have 1/10th your skills and mental preparations, I would be a lot better off.  Thx for sharing…

Thank you for an incredible contribution.  I will be distributing this link widely.

You point to what in my opinion is our single biggest weakness as culture and that is lack of critical thinking skills.  Most people are quite content to let someone else tell them what the best solution is and that simply does not translate to survival.

With deep gratitude,


Sharing stories of IAO is a great idea, Woodman!  I liked hearing about your adapt/overcome trials in ultrarunning.  I am involved in the Big Horn Mountain Run, a yearly event that attracts ultrarunners from all over the world.  I am always impressed at the level of human courage and endurance displayed at these events. 
A reoccuring theme is vehicle repairs and it brings to mind a few points…

First, when it comes to improvising a solutions, complexity of the system we are trying to make work for us is an issue.  Vehicles have become increasingly more complex in the last 30 years.  That nasty ol’ exponential curve can be applied: For every bell, whistle and comfort, the number of failure points seem to exponentially increase.  Here is an insightful article about this: 

Second, if one is considering purchasing a vehicle or keeping one for the long term, consider what it will take to keep that vehicle running without the support systems such as: just-in-time parts, internet support, exotic metal availabilty and grid up diagnostics.  Consider stocking up on maintenance items of your vehicle such as belts, starters, battery, hoses, etc.   As a rule of thumb, electronics and electrical systems in general are EXTREMELY difficult to troubleshoot and improvise solutions without special tools.   I prefer old, tried and true diesel vehicles.  (Diesels are simpler.) BUT, my wife - who is not so keen on IAO - prefers the bells/whistle/comforts - BELIEVE me, I have heard both sides of this arguement.   Here is a CM forum discussion on this as well.

Third, thatchmo brings up a good point: “My basic tool kit, which I never travel without, allowed me to do some basic diagnostics”  Having lived in SD and WY all my life, I always carry a basic tool kit, a shovel, a sleeping bag or blankets, a little high energy food, a flashlight and an entertaining book.    Because I never know where I may need to repair something or if I will be stranded.  These items are useful for everyday situations as well, but; I am always reminded of my grandmother who spent 2 days stranded inside her car in a blizzard in SD. 

BTW my basic tool kit has: a set of common open end wrenches, filter removal tools, set of common sockets with rachet driver, a set of common torx and/or hex end drivers (if the vehicle has those), common screwdrivers, a cheap multimeter, a roll of duct tape, a roll of wire, a few zip ties, a lighter and a multitool.  

Britenbe brings up a good point about our children.  I believe it is absolutely imperative that we teach our children directly and by example to improvise, adapt, overcome.   We need to teach them to use tools, to work with common materials and to encourage their imaginations to find other uses for junk.  We need to encourage them to adapt to change.  We need to teach them spirituality to overcome adversity.  This reminds me of a speech by Joel Salatin at an Acres USA conference who talked about the greatest loss to modern agriculture is two generations who left the family farms behind.  He writes in this book about this:

Do-it-yourselfers are among the most empowered people I know.  I have a neighbor without a lot of money who is fixing up her house.  She doing it a little at a time and insists on doing the work herself.  She asks me for advice and will often show me some of her work.   Even though some of it looks like soup sandwich, the real beauty of the work is the pride and sense of accomplishment she has in it. 

I love all your stories.  Let’s hear more!


Now that was a rockin’ good read, Mooselick!  Thanks!

This is an incredible post; thank you so much for sharing it with us.  I loved your formula for suffering- it is precisely  what I have learned through Vipassana meditation.  I need to reread your article many times as there is still much to glean.
Thanks again,


Mooselick, great read.[quote=Woodman]Do kids still do things like that today?!?[/quote]
If you don’t know about Make magazine (mooselick referenced it above), it’s a great way to help people build up the “improvise/adapt” mindset by working on small projects.  They sponsor the Maker Faire which is interesting to attend if you happen to be near one.  I have been to a couple of Maker Faire and there are a lot of kids doing quite complicated things.  They sell kits to help get you started.

Thanks, Becca.  Im glad to hear of others who are learning vipassana.  I think Vipassana is the most accessable form of meditation for the American mindset.  My teacher, Shinzen Young ( teaches an ecletic blend of vipassana and zen.  And, he is in your neck of the woods - at least by WY standards.  (Burlington, VT)  PM me for more information about him. 
I had these paragraphs in an earlier draft but maybe I should have left them in…

When resources are limited and travel is restricted,  isolation and boredom are ignored as  “adapt, overcome or die” situation.  Cabin fever is real and can become deadly.  Cabin fever is also not just being stuck alone in a Yukon winter - think isolation, crowded conditions and/or LOOONNNNGGG periods of simply nothing to do.    Without acknowledging this situation fully and understanding the nature of the suffering, the 5D’s of Dysfunctional Coping come into play:  Distraction, Denial, Drugs, Depression and Divorce (both marital and from reality)  

The 5D’s are dysfunctional because they tend to warp or mask our sense of the reality of situation.  Dysfunctional coping is resource draining, addictive and weakening.    The functional skills are to develop the capacity to be acutely aware of your surroundings,  to explore our inner self,  to  absorb the intricacies of each moment and to develop equianimity with all this.   These skills strenghten and require only our time.

"The foundation of all mental illness is the avoidance of legitimate suffering." - Carl Jung

Excellent work mooselick!
I’ve had some mental issues to deal with lately…it seems to want to snow every other day! I’m a new homeowner and this is my 1st winter in my house. About 3 weeks ago, it occurred to me that my roof had quite a bit of snow on it. I’m guessing 2 feet or so was piled up and packed down, on a pitched roof no less. I went looking around and found out about snow rakes for clearing roofs. My uncle just happened to have one and I borrowed his to clear a good part of my roof. Flash forward to last week. It looked like Black Friday where shoppers were lined out the doors to get a snow rake. Hot commodity. In the past 2 days, dozens of roofs have started to collapse and more are expected. My roof is mostly clear and I have had piece of mind for weeks. I can thank this great site for getting me to think ahead. However, the relentless snow and ice is taking a mental toll on me. I am shoveling what seems like everyday. It is really wearing me down, mentally and physically. I’m trying to improve my mental toughness to get through this stretch of weather. Trying to focus on the positives, the longer days, the fact that we are halfway through winter, cracking jokes about the groundhog!, etc. Fingers crossed, I’ll get through it. I just hope nothing breaks!

Mooselick, excellent post, thank-you so much!  I think you address a really important aspect of preparing for an unknown, dynamically changing future. It’s also very inspiring, and I am glad for a dose of inspiration and hope right now!
You asked for other stories. I’ll share one, but it’s really a story about my husband, as you’ve hit on one of my husband’s strengths that I most admire. 

I sometimes compare my husband to “McGyver” because “jerry-rigging” (creative problem-solving for real-life applications) is something he is gifted at.  For example, we bought our house cheap many years ago, before either of us had good jobs, so it was all we could afford.  My husband decided it was too close to the road for comfort.  He also wished we had a cellar.  Others might have felt stuck with with the existing situation.  But not my husband!  He devised a plan -to the good-natured ribbing of his friends- to dig a small cellar behind the house, and move the whole house back from the road on top of it.  Hydraulic jacks would lift the house up, he would get a crew of his friends to put metal rollers/bars underneath it, and then they’d pull the house back with ropes, on the metal rollers, onto its new cellar and foundation. 

Well, the day to “move the house” came, with pretty much everyone sure that it wouldn’t work, but everyone fully enjoying the folly of the situation, (not to mention the free beer), and breaking my husband’s chops.  But my husband had the last laugh on all of us, as his plan worked smoothly, just as he’d envisioned!  Needless to say he earned the respect of his friends (although that still doesn’t stop them from busting his chops!). 


I’ve had some mental issues to deal with lately…it seems to want to snow every other day! I’m a new homeowner and this is my 1st winter in my house. About 3 weeks ago, it occurred to me that my roof had quite a bit of snow on it. I’m guessing 2 feet or so was piled up and packed down, on a pitched roof no less. I went looking around and found out about snow rakes for clearing roofs. My uncle just happened to have one and I borrowed his to clear a good part of my roof. Flash forward to last week. It looked like Black Friday where shoppers were lined out the doors to get a snow rake. Hot commodity. In the past 2 days, dozens of roofs have started to collapse and more are expected. My roof is mostly clear and I have had piece of mind for weeks. I can thank this great site for getting me to think ahead. However, the relentless snow and ice is taking a mental toll on me. I am shoveling what seems like everyday. It is really wearing me down, mentally and physically. I’m trying to improve my mental toughness to get through this stretch of weather. Trying to focus on the positives, the longer days, the fact that we are halfway through winter, cracking jokes about the groundhog!, etc. Fingers crossed, I’ll get through it. I just hope nothing breaks! [/quote]

Hang tough, Joe!  I think this has been an unusually snowy winter here in the northeast US.  So if you can make it through this winter (and you will!)  you can make it through most any winter here.   Also, maybe if you look at this more as a “work out”  for “building your physical, mental and spiritual strength”, per Mooselick’s advice for “Continuous Improvement of Your Capacity”, it will give you a better handle for coping with the situation.  I.e., you aren’t just raking/shoveling snow, you’re building up your reserve of physical, mental, and spiritual strength!   Winters are tough, but they also make you tough!