Situational Awareness

Episode VI - Situational Awareness

As the names implies, situational awareness is simply knowing what’s going on around you. It sounds easy in principle, but in reality, requires much practice. And while it is taught to soldiers, and law enforcement officers, it’s an important skill for civilians to learn as well. In a dangerous situation, being aware of a threat even seconds before everyone else can keep you and your loved ones safe.

If you learn to pay attention to the people around you in public, you will learn to avoid being a victim. Not having situational awareness explains how most people get mugged. When people don’t pay attention to their surroundings, they have no chance to see bad guys coming until it’s too late.

Psychologists tell us keeping ourselves safe is a basic human instinct, however I have found that surviving is something we have to learn how to do. Additionally, if you choose to carry a gun concealed, you certainly want to avoid that worst-case scenario of having to use it to defend your life.

Self-defense trainers often speak of having a defensive mindset; that your brain is your best defensive tool for keeping you out of trouble. Being aware of our surroundings helps us identify dangers and possibly to avoid those dangers. Similarly, being clueless, distracted, and unprepared is far more likely to attract predators. Awareness of what is around you is where your self-defense begins. This awareness of potential danger is something we have to train and cultivate, especially as our world becomes more complex.

An important part of the personal defense mindset is situational awareness. Be alert to your surroundings. Many people go through life asleep and oblivious to the dangers around them. They may sidestep an open manhole cover and not slip on a freshly mopped floor but then miss the street person who is going to assault them for their wallet.

How exactly do we increase our situational awareness? How do we create that “defensive mindset?” I’ve found that concrete exercises help the most—when we have something to actively do, we find it easier to be more aware.

The following tips will help you take in your surroundings and actually register what you are seeing.

1. Don’t look like easy prey

Don’t look easy. Keep your head up and your eyes looking at your surroundings. Research shows that eye contact alone can help eliminate you from a criminal’s wish list. Square your shoulders and try to lift your spine and add an inch to your height. Don’t look like the weak member of the herd.

2. Minimize distractions

Don’t let texting, phone calls, window-shopping, or other activities shift your focus from what’s in your immediate area. Our visual processing seems to decrease when we’re listening to someone talking, or even to music. As a result, cell-phone users make great targets, especially those that have ear-buds stuck in their ears.

3. Be aware of your personal area

Imagine that you are the center of a 15-yard diameter circle. Look all around you—360 degrees—and evaluate each of the people within that radius. Start close and work out. See anything unusual? In that same area, note anything that could be used for defense—something to hide behind and anything that can be used to defend or strike. Lastly, determine your best exit routes.

4. Think like a predator

Pick someone in your personal zone. Now, starting at the head and moving down to the feet, describe that person’s most distinctive features. This exercise helps you look more closely at people; when you do, you’ll naturally process more information about them. Observe if that person is paying attention to their own surroundings and others or not. See if you can pick out the weak and the strong. The confident, and the meek.

5. Listen to your gut

Our intuition is amazingly accurate. Our gut feeling simply represents a different level of our brain monitoring and evaluating our surroundings. When something seems wrong, our brain tries to get our attention. Too often those “feelings” are discounted, discredited, and even banished as we strive to complete the tasks at hand. Criminals know this and count on it to provide them with an advantage.

If the ideal scenario is avoiding a problem, then good situational awareness is your first line of defense. Incorporating these exercises into a daily mental workout will get your mind used to paying more attention to your surroundings. With just a bit of practice, they will get easier, and soon they’ll be a natural part of your daily life. They’ll also help teach you places and situations to avoid.

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series. Be Aware, Be Prepared.