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Mindset and Mantras: Tales from a Survivalist

Photo by Olga Danylenko/

We may never spend three weeks in the African Serengeti without food, water or clothes, as Kellie Nightlinger did on TV’s Naked and Afraid in 2013, but we might stand a better chance fending off challenges in the concrete jungle if we adopt a survivalist’s mindset.

“If we think we can, we will,” says the adventure guide, now 49. “If we think we can’t, we’re right.”

Nightlinger honed her skills through trial and error while growing up in rural Michigan, where she read military survival guides, played in the woods and was once stung by a swarm of bees. As an adult, she worked as a state trooper and a rock miner before becoming an adventurer. She founded a business, Wild Woman Outdoors, works as a captain on boat tours in Alaska, and is currently exploring the Pacific Northwest and posting about it on her Air Van and Sea Facebook page.

In the Serengeti, Nightlinger adapted to unfamiliar flora and fauna with the same methods used in her childhood. After cutting her feet on sharp acacia tree leaves and thorny plants, she tried rubbing a leaf on her skin. After waiting and seeing no reaction, she put the leaf on her lip, waited, and then put it on her tongue. After biting it and experiencing no digestive issues, she rubbed it on her feet, to soothe them. The male survivalist with whom she was partnered on the show didn’t do this, she says, and developed a serious infection in his feet.

Such experimentation has applications for the workplace, too. “As you’re meeting people and you’re having adverse reactions to input they’re bestowing upon you, listen to that,” Nightlinger says. “Find ways to deal with them or avoid those kinds of people. If something feels toxic, smells toxic and feels toxic, it probably is, whether it’s a person or a plant.”

Women can be culturally conditioned to be subservient, she says, but are stronger than they think. “Realize you’re capable of anything a man can do and in some cases, you can do it better,” Nightlinger says. She points to cold-water swimming conditions, which favor women because they have more body fat than men. “Women are better suited for survival,” she believes. “We have higher body fat because we were meant to take care of children in times of famine. It’s nothing to be body-shamed about.”

Nightlinger practices the seven P’s, or “prior proper planning prevents piss-poor performance.” By creating “if-then” scenarios for yourself, you’ll anticipate problems and prepare solutions that will help you avoid trouble, she says. It can be as simple as keeping your cell phone location services on at all times, equipping your car with a survival kit, or sharing your plans for a blind date or a solo vacation with a trusted friend — just in case.

While exhausted, bug-bitten and searching for inspiration in the Tanzanian wilderness, Nightlinger remembered the story of a housewife whose car went off the road on a trip to the grocery store. She was trapped upside down for days before she was discovered. “She had one bottle of water that she rationed and a package of chewing gum that she ate,” Nightlinger recalls. “She had no formal survival training. She was just an ordinary woman thrust into a survival situation.”

It’s proof that adversity strikes everyone, not just adventurers. “You can’t panic,” Nightlinger says. “Take deep breaths. Try to have a few moments of clarity. Try to find a way out. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the boardroom or on the street, no matter what, you’re not going to give up, and with a survival mindset, you’re going to survive any situation you’re in.”

Carolyne Zinko is the editorial director at Alphy.

Reflect AI by Alphy is a SaaS platform that flags harmful language, including topic, tone, “isms,” confidence, mindset and appropriateness. Our AI language classifier detects risks in emails prior to send, flags conversational missteps (and successes) in video meetings in real-time, and upskills individual communication with targeted and personalized microlearning.


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