9 Tips to Improve Your Situational Awareness for Self-Defense
According to Pew Research Center, almost half of gun owners have at least one gun for the purpose of self-defense. But if you're not aware enough to see the threat coming, a defense gun may not do any good. Read on for 9 tips for improving your situational awareness, so you’re ready to defend yourself and others from potential threats.
What Is Situational Awareness?
Situational awareness refers to the ability to be cognizant of events, environmental elements, and people around you and having the capacity to interpret their significance. Or, to put it another way, it's being able to actively see and understand everything around you so you can react to changes accordingly.
This makes situational awareness a crucial piece of the self-defense puzzle. Some would even argue that it's the tip of the spear when it comes to self-preservation, because if you don't notice a threat coming, it really doesn't matter whether or not you're armed.
At any given moment, most people are actually pretty situationally unaware. Unfortunately, that's a consequence of life. An ever-increasing number of things fight for our attention, so it can be progressively harder to maintain awareness of your environment as the day goes on.
Work, school, children, relationships, even technology — any of those could cause distractions throughout the day, but when you combine them with other day-to-day demands, it can be difficult to not be distracted. Worse still, situational awareness decreases as distractions increase.
Increasing Situational Awareness
The good news is that since it's a perishable skill, it's also an exercisable one. As with any skill, the more you practice, the better you get. Here are nine tips for increasing your situational awareness and training yourself to be more attuned to your environment in any situation.
1. Don't Be Paranoid
In talking about situational awareness, it's a good idea to start from a foundation of what it isn't. Telling someone they need to have more situational awareness can sometimes lead to paranoia. That's not situational awareness.
Being paranoid can cause you to be on edge and treat everything as a potential threat. If you focus your energy on treating everything as a threat, you may miss the things that actually are worth noticing. Not to mention the toll that constant hypervigilance can take on your mental and physical well-being.
Situational awareness is not about treating everything as a threat. It's about maintaining the ability to detect a threat coming. Despite what some would suggest, you can't "always be ready." No one can be "on" all the time. You need mental breaks and relaxed down time to allow your senses to recover.
2. Stay in the Moment
Situational awareness requires the ability to take in and assess the information present in your surroundings. So, to put it bluntly: Put down your phone. When you're on your phone, you're not aware. Numerous videos online show people walking into doors, falling in fountains, and even crashing cars because they were on their phones.
More than that, though: Make the effort to take in and understand your surroundings. It isn't just the phone that reduces situational awareness; it's any distraction.
Make a concerted effort to look around, listen, and smell. Let your senses do the work for you and be aware of what's occurring around you. Understand where you are and what is happening there.
3. Familiarize Yourself With the Environment
Have you ever walked into a room and noticed something was different? Or, maybe you got in your vehicle and noticed the seats had been moved as soon as you sat down. In most cases, this is because your brain was subconsciously used to that setting being a specific way.
Understanding where you are and what you can expect to see goes a long way to noticing something out of place. Make the effort to familiarize yourself with the people, places, and things you deal with daily, and you'll increase your situational awareness drastically.
4. Plan Ahead
Knowing where you're going, what you're doing, and how you're getting there increases your ability to notice things out of the ordinary. When you're going into any situation blindly, you have no idea what to expect, so nothing would seem outside the norm. But if you've taken the steps to prepare for things, you have at least a small idea of what to expect.
Even in situations as simple as daily activities, if you're leaving work for lunch, make a plan of how to get there and know what the restaurant looks like. With everything being on social media, you can have a good idea of the interior, even if you've never been there before. This can help you know about potential crowded areas and exits to use if something happens to block the entrance you came in through.
It doesn't have to be much: Just a cursory glance to familiarize yourself with a place or route can give you a leg up on any potential threats. Anything you can familiarize yourself with beforehand reduces the number of things you have to focus on, letting you focus on being aware of your surroundings. Bad guys scout out potential targets; shouldn't you at least do the same?
5. Train Your Brain
The brain can be exercised. Treating it like a muscle and giving it a workout is effective for a number of reasons. You can increase your response time, ability to process information, and overall brain health by working to actively engage your mind.
There are a number of ways to accomplish this, but it comes down to keeping your brain involved. Instead of zoning out on social media during lulls in your day, play a game that makes you think, such as matching or strategy games. Simply reading a book can help keep your mind sharp. Even if you're watching TV, you can get work in by watching trivia shows and guessing the answers.
Increased brain functionality means increased brain capacity; this is priceless for situational awareness.
6. Eat Right and Exercise
These could be their own separate points, but they work together to help you in a number of areas essential to situational awareness. Good nutrition aids in brain function. And if you eat junk, it can lead to you feeling sickly or tired. That means you have less energy available to process information.
Speaking of brain function, the better your physical health, generally the better your brain health. By performing a daily exercise routine, you increase strength and improve circulation and other body processes; all of which can drive better brain health. In short, when the body fires on all cylinders, so does the brain.
7. Set Yourself Up for Success
Work to place yourself in a position to maximize your ability to respond. Whether you're going to a restaurant, walking down the street, or at a social gathering, it's good practice to briefly scan for the best place to be within it.
Consider the restaurant setting. Being aware of the exits, entrances, where the kitchen is, and the best place to sit starts you off with an advantage. If you're positioned with your back to everything, you won't see any issues happening until it’s too late. Being aware of your surroundings starts with being able to see your surroundings.
The same holds true for walking down the street, driving, or anything you're doing. No matter the activity, there's a way to put yourself in the most favorable position available. Practice doing so and it will get easier and eventually become a habit.
8. Learn to Profile
As with other brain activities, learning to profile increases your ability to process information and recognize potential issues. Profiling is sometimes thought of in negative terms because it's often associated with racism. That's not what we're discussing here. In fact, racists make the worst profilers, because they can't see past race. The profiling we're discussing is recording information so you can use it to predict potential outcomes.
Learn to read people's body language and facial expressions as well as the inflections in their voices. To be clear, these aren't meant to be judgements. It's an assessment of things that may be out of place, such as noticing that the temperature is in the upper 80s but you see someone wearing a long rain coat.
9. Guard Against Complacency
The last is the simplest to say but potentially requires the most effort. Stay vigilant. Keep in mind that the more you do these things, the better you become at them. Put in the effort to vary your routine to maximize your chances for repeating all these steps. That way, they stay fresh.
The goal is to make this habitual rather than repetitive. Repetition breeds complacency while habits become instinctual behaviors. You never want to act as though you're finished working on this, because potential threats always exist. Treat these items as your daily habits, and that's what they will become.