How can you really use situational awareness to be safer?

How can you really use situational awareness to be safer?


Most people who talk about situational awareness don’t really understand what it’s about or how to use it to their advantage. Here are some reasons why that’s the case, and a resource for learning the proper role of situational awareness in your total self defense plan.

A few years back I wrote a very controversial article titled “The Myth of Situational Awareness”, wherein I pointed out that situational awareness — a sort of holy grail for some in the self defense world — isn’t the magic cloak of invincibility it’s often made out to be. While I’ve refined my opinion since, my basic premise hasn’t changed; in fact, it’s been strengthened by what I’ve learned in the interim.

One of the things I’ve come to understand is that our brains can only process a certain amount of information with regard to our environment. We can wish all we want, but that isn’t going to increase the scope of our awareness — we can only choose how to apportion that which we have, and we have to choose carefully because we don’t get any more!

Any one thing in our environment which we allow to consume our attention will keep us from noticing the other things in that environment. Ever been so engrossed in listening to another person’s story over dinner that you didn’t notice the waiter refilling your water glass? You apportioned your awareness to your companion (and probably correctly so!) and allowed everything else going on around you to be processed below your level of conscious awareness. Your brain was certainly processing the information about the waiter’s presence, but was doing so on a perceptual (non-cognitive) level.

On the street the same type of thing happens: you allow yourself to get distracted by one thing and miss the other things happening around you. The problem, of course, is that some of those things pose a risk to your well being! While those risks are still being processed (at a less-than-conscious level), and your brain is capable of bringing anything it feels is immediately threatening up to your level of awareness, allowing that to happen forces you into a reactive mode. Allowing yourself to be distracted (which is the term I use for a poor choice in awareness allotment) means that you can’t avoid a threat, only react and respond to it.

Choosing how you’re going to spend your awareness allotment obviously becomes critical to your proactive defensive posture. Instead of trying to figure out how to increase your awareness (which you really can’t), I think it’s a much better use of your time and resources to learn how to best use the awareness you have: learn what you need to look at and how to use your brain’s pattern matching ability to help classify what you’re seeing.

-=[ Grant ]=-

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On March 25, 2014