How to Improve Senses for a Survival Situation: Survival 101

There is an aspect to our survival that I was thinking about the other day that everyone relies on daily. I do not believe it is talked about much because from the moment we are born, we take them for granted. I am talking about our senses. 

The human body has five senses, sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. While a human’s senses may not be as incredible or refined as some animal’s, they are still pretty amazing.

Right about now you may be asking yourself, “what in the world does this have to do with survival?” Our senses are what allow us to experience the world around us in a variety of different ways and without them it would be difficult to survive. In short, by improving our senses we increase our chances of surviving, and we also improve our situational awareness. 

The other day I was working on my laptop when there was a loud noise outside. Sometimes when I am working, I can tune out what is going on in my surroundings so that I can better focus on the task at hand.  

Now, this was an extremely loud, atypical sound that I ignored while I completed what I was working on. When I was finished, I remember thinking to myself, “What was that?” I got up to investigate but I couldn’t find the source of what made the sound.

Usually, I am quite aware of my surroundings but this time around I allowed a good ten seconds to pass before I even wondered what had happened. A lot can happen in ten seconds, and this is what got me thinking about the topic of our senses and how it pertains to our safety and survival.

The Problem With Our Senses 

For people that live in towns and cities, there is so much going on in the environment. A constant flow of vehicles going down the road, people walking about, dogs barking, planes overhead, construction noise, and on and on the list goes. It is not so much that these things get toned out as a person becomes used to them. 

When we get used to something, whether it’s seeing or hearing it, we tend to ignore it and we do not fully process everything about it. Our brains are pretty darn good at quickly processing a sound or a picture and making the decision if it is worth paying attention to. But when certain cues are always present, we ignore them, as if they were not there, and that can be dangerous. 

Throw technology into the mix and our senses become worse as well as raising the level of danger to ourselves. If someone is using a piece of technology, such as a smartphone, they have almost zero situational awareness. This means they are hardly taking in any information about their surroundings for the brain to process. 

Imagine the following scenario. 

A person is standing on a street corner waiting to cross the street. They are standing with a group of people and on the opposite street corner, there is another group of people waiting to cross. 

While they are standing there, they are listening to music through headphones and are staring down at a screen. The group around them starts to move away. The person does not look up but thinks it is time to cross, so they take a few steps into the crosswalk. A second later, the person gets hit by a speeding vehicle. 

Without the music and phone to distract them, the person most likely would not have been hit. They would have heard the other vehicles honking down the street, people shouting, an engine roaring, and see other vehicles and people getting out of the way. Just a few seconds of paying attention can make a big difference.

Also, people’s eyesight is probably not as keen as it used to be. Nowadays, a lot of time is spent staring at screens that can have harmful light sources to the eyes and the screens are usually at a fixed distance from the eye. (I know, the irony here is that I am writing this article on my computer) The eyes do not get a proper “workout” when most of their time is spent staring at one item at a fixed distance rather than looking around.


Improving Your Senses 

To begin, I should say that the following section is not necessarily meant to greatly enhance our senses (sorry no superpowers today!) but rather to use and hone them. Also, I will primarily be focusing on two senses; hearing and seeing. This is because I believe these two senses are the ones most negatively affected due to our modern way of life and visual and audio cues are among the most critical for our ability to survive. 

As you can probably tell from the previous section, I am a bit against technology in terms of how it can affect our senses. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that my first suggestion for improving eyesight and hearing, is to limit the use of devices.

Prolonged use of certain devices can be detrimental, causing eyesight and hearing to become worse. Also, if you do not have a phone or tablet in your hand or blaring music in your ear, you will be more perceptive to your surroundings. This will allow the senses to flex naturally on their own.

Secondly, get out and exercise your senses. This may seem like an odd thing to say but as I said earlier, we tend to only use them to a certain extent. Such as looking at objects from a fixed distance or listening to only one thing while completely tuning everything else out. 

In an environment where there are many different noises jumbled together, try to pick out all the individual sounds and identify them. If you are somewhere where you can safely close your eyes, do so. This can help you to focus on just the sounds and to pull individual ones from the white noise. 

For your eyes, look everywhere! People spend so much time now looking down that the sky could turn purple and I’m not sure that many would notice. Look at the things all around you, see how far away you can read signs or lettering, pick out an object and see how many of them you can see from certain distances or elevations, and pick out their characteristics. 

Another great way to improve your senses is to go to the woods, a park, or any other outdoor setting. Many things in nature love to camouflage themselves and there are a lot of interesting sounds as well. Everything likes to blend in, see if you can pick them apart. 

 Find yourself a comfortable place to sit. Do your best not to move around too much or fidget, just sit. Look at an area in front of you and try to identify as many objects as possible that you can see based on different colors, patterns, and movements. 

If you grow tired of that, switch to focusing on what you hear. I have often heard people complain about how quiet the outdoors can be, which is part of the appeal for the outdoorsman. However, even on quiet days, nature always has something to say. You would be surprised at what you could hear if you take the time to really listen. 

Of course, you do not have to go to nature to perform these exercises, they can be done anywhere and can be applied across many different environments. 


Wrap Up 

We rely on our senses a lot and in terms of our survival, they can help us get out of a bad situation or prevent us from getting into one in the first place. If we pay attention to our senses and take care of them, they will take care of us.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the above article. If you have any thoughts or questions, be sure to sound off in the comment section below and let us know! 




Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.