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Are you aware?
That’s the most important question in self defense, in my opinion.
Situational awareness, in layman’s terms, is your ability to process your surroundings and notice any changes in those surroundings.
This ability is relevant in a wide variety of circumstances. For our purposes we’ll focus on situational awareness for self-defense purposes as it is a very important self-defense skill.
In this post, I’ll discuss a number of techniques and tips that can help you learn how to increase awareness of your surroundings.
Situational Awareness – One of your most important self defense tools
As mentioned earlier, situational awareness is a critical skill. You can, and should, carry all the tools and weapons you need. However, being aware of your surroundings could save you from ever even having to use the weapon.
Tips to increase awareness of your surroundings
Contrary to popular belief, situational awareness is a skill you can learn with enough practice. You don’t need specialized training like a CIA agent or to be a born “natural” to have good awareness. Following these quick tips can improve your awareness.
This is one of the easiest ways to increase your awareness. In the 21st century your biggest distraction is your smartphone. Think of how many people you see walking around with their head buried in their iPhone?
If you live anywhere in the world, then it’s probably just about everyone you see.
Do you think these people are likely to notice the pre-attack cues of a potentially dangerous situation?
Of course they won’t. These people walk into telephone poles. We both know they aren’t going to notice a potentially dangerous situation.
So put the phone down. Facebook can wait. Your friends can wait. Not playing on your phone might improve your chances of thwarting an attack.
Identify threats before they’re threats
In the same vein as minimizing distractions, you want to identify threats before they become threats. After you’ve done this you can more easily avoid those threats and avoid a potentially violent situation.
As an example, imagine walking down the street and you observe a shifty man with his hands in his pockets hiding in a dark alleyway as he watches you walk toward him. Is this an attacker or just a bored man waiting outside his apartment?
You don’t know. However, we do know this man is acting like a mugger. The best course of action would be to err on the side of caution and avoid directly passing in front of the man.
Eyes wide open, head on a swivel
Keeping all your senses on full alert is a good start to increasing your awareness. I don’t literally mean keeping your eyes wide open, but always keeping a good field of view. Sitting with your back to the wall is a good quick tip.
Don’t use put earbuds or headphones in your ears while you’re outside is also a way to quickly increase your awareness from your senses. You can pick up lots of information up just from listening.
While wearing headphones, can you hear foot steps behind you? What about someone screaming for help?
That might be difficult hearing all that while wearing headphones. Again, I know it can be boring walking around without music, but keeping your ears “wide open” can help your situational awareness.
Even keeping your sense of smell fully available can help in a dangerous, but not necessarily defensive, situation. Smelling smoke, chemicals, or gas might tell you that there is a dangerous situation.
Avoiding complacency can help increase your perception of your surrounding. In other words, not falling into a routine. Everyone that drives a car knows that feeling of forgetting what you’re doing after continuously driving a few hours. Your brain goes into auto-pilot and you slowly stop consciously processing your surroundings.
That feeling doesn’t only happen while driving. It can happen with any repetitive task. You should aim to avoid falling into this auto-pilot mode while going about your daily life.
The best way to avoid complacency is to consciously remind yourself to stay alert. Yes, that is difficult at first. However, after enough practice it becomes second nature.
Take proper precautions
Taking proper precautions covers a wide variety of areas. Precautions generally fall into defensive precautions and offensive precautions.
Defensive precautions includes avoiding walking alone at night, not letting people follow you, and avoiding any form of intoxication from drugs or alcohol while in public. All these activities might help prevent an attack.
Offensive precautions, or those that allow you to more easily defend yourself, include keeping at least one hand free with your keys or self defense tool (not cellphone) in that hand. An even better offensive precaution is to keep a perpetual mental image of every potential weapon and attack vector as you about your daily life.
That perpetual image could include thinking to push your shopping cart into an attacker or using your stiletto heel to fend off an attack. If you’re already thinking about it, then you are more likely to do it in a defensive scenario.
I know this sounds extremely difficult, but I can assure you that it is not as hard as you think. You probably already take precautions in your daily life.
Read body language
Reading body language is a huge factor in training your perception of your surroundings. The reason?
The vast majority of communication is done through body language, not spoken language. With that in mind, the full extent of potentially dangerous body language is beyond the scope of this article.
A few quick tips that might signal potential danger include shiftiness, hands in pockets, and avoiding eye contact. Thankfully for us, most people already do a very good job reading body language and have a good understanding of potentially dangerous body language.
Of course the most important factor in reading body language is just noticing the person’s body. This means avoiding the distractions mentioned earlier.
Why situational awareness may not be enough
Situational awareness is not some magic pill that will automatically prevent an attack. It is still a defensive, not offensive, tool in your arsenal. You can observe all the attack cues in the world and still could face an attack. Don’t fear, there is still hope.
Carrying a self defense weapon turns you from a passive observer to an observer that has the tools to fight back. Keep in mind, carrying a weapon still isn’t a magic pill. However, combining great awareness with a weapon might increase your odds of fending of an attack.