More of a mindset than a skill, situational awareness is something everyone can, and should, develop. With a little practice, it will become second nature to you – and just might save your life.
What is situational awareness?
Simply put, situational awareness is knowing what’s going on around you.
It is the ability to identify, process and comprehend your environment; to sense potential threats, dangerous situations, challenges and opportunities to survive an emergency.
Why is situational awareness important?
To be aware is a choice. We can choose to tuned out – like daydreaming or being engrossed in a thought – and potentially get caught in a dangerous situation. Or we can choose to practice the situational awareness mindset and develop the ability to catch a threat before it involves us.
Situation awareness is so important, it can save your life.
How to develop situational awareness
Recognize that threats exist
We can’t deny that danger is real. However, this also doesn’t mean one should be paranoid or overly concerned.
To recognize that threats do exist means your chances of detecting a threat and avoiding it are much higher than someone in denial.
Be relaxed, but alert
Jeff Cooper, combat pistol instructor and creator of the modern technique of handgun shooting, believed that the most important survival tool was the mind.
He came up with the Cooper Color Code, which is a scale for measuring states of awareness. White = Unaware and unprepared. Yellow = Relaxed but alert. Orange = Specific alert. Red = Fight.
The state of awareness you should always be in when you are in unfamiliar surroundings or around people you don’t know is yellow: relaxed but alert.
In this mode, you are cautious and are aware of what’s around you in every direction, but you are calm. You are also ready to defend yourself if necessary.
Expand your perception
You won’t be able to recognize a threat if you’re looking down at your phone. But situational awareness requires more than just looking around the room or sidewalk. You should be taking mental notes of any changes or odd behavior.
Here are some drills to grow your perception of your surroundings:
1. Look for all the exits when you enter a building.
2. Count the number of people in the coffee shop or on the bus.
3. Choose a seat at the restaurant where you have a view of the entrance.
4. Take note of an obstacle, such as a dumpster, blocking the path you’re on, or obstructing your view.
5. When standing in line, periodically do a scan of your surroundings.
5. Have your keys in your hand as you approach your car, not your phone.
6. Observe people: Something that police officers are trained to do is attempt to figure out the stories of people they see, like guessing what they do for a living, what their mood is, what they’re doing today, etc. A drill like this will help you assess the people around you and their motives.
Use your instinct
Your gut feeling can sometimes detect a threat before you consciously put the signs together. Honing this innate skill is crucial to developing strong situational awareness.
How many times did you “know that was going to happen” but only realize it after the event? We all know the feeling. It’s our instinct. In practicing a relaxed, but aware, mindset, you’re also learning to be in touch with your instinct.
Remember: Developing situational awareness is a choice. One that could easily save you from an impeding threat. Make the effort to develop this important approach to life.