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Situational awareness is an important skill to learn and practice. Your awareness skills will deteriorate over time without practice, just like any ability, so it is important to always train.
The great part about practicing situational awareness is that it does not require any special equipment or gym membership. It is simply a change in the way you think and observe. You can practice anytime throughout the day while going about your normal life.
Going to the mall? To the park? Out for a run? No problem. Follow the tips below for some practical exercises to work on your situational awareness at all those locations.
The importance of being aware
Staying aware can literally save your life, even if you don’t have a job like an aircraft pilot or firefighter. I’ll use a personal example:
One time while abroad, I was walking home alone at 2:30am. I noticed two men in sweatshirts and jeans nervously pacing around an alley. I decided to turn around and walk away before passing them because I knew that this is not normal behavior under any circumstances.
However, I still kept listening in case they decided to sneak up behind me.
Were these men going to mug me? I don’t know. I was not willing to take the chance.
My situational awareness may have saved me from a mugging in this case. I likely would not have noticed the men had my head been buried in my cell phone looking at texts or a map.
As I was leaving, I used auditory awareness to ensure that the men did not run up behind me.
5 practical exercises to help with your situational awareness
Expand your field of vision
Humans have a field of view of about 114 degrees. However, in our day to day lives we mostly have tunnel vision and focus almost exclusively on objects directly in front of us. Tunnel vision is not adequate for self-defense.
One way to expand your field of vision is to constantly scan your surroundings. The easiest way to practice this is by slowly moving your eyes from left to right while walking. I know it sounds easy, but once you do it you’ll notice how much of your surroundings you were missing. Eventually you will subconsciously do this and expand your world.
An expanded field of vision, added with other skills on this list, is an extremely useful combination to learn.
I always catch my girlfriend nearly bumping into people while walking through the city, even when she’s not looking at her phone. She just simply doesn’t keep a wide field of vision, and only seems to look at the precise spot where she’s going.
While that may be a great technique for getting ahead in life, it isn’t going to help you avoid trouble on the streets.
Observational scavenger hunt
Everyone loves a good scavenger hunt.
An observational scavenger hunt is a little different, though, than your normal scavenger hunt. You simply decide on a list of things to notice when going out and then look for them.
An example of a list is looking for a man with a red tie, a woman wearing Adidas sneakers, and a man with a pen in his shirt pocket. The items on the list do not necessarily have to be for defensive purposes. We want to focus on training ourselves to be more observant first.
With enough experience we can move up to more defensive-based observations. Look for people carrying a gun in their waistband or a knife clipped to their pocket, for example. Or look out for certain clues that people are up to no good (pickpockets, for instance).
“People watching” with purpose
The next practical exercise to help train your awareness is doing some “people watching,” but with purpose. Normally people watching involves sitting in a mall and casually watching people walk around.
People watching with purpose is way more in-depth. It helps your skill set and also makes leaving the house much more enjoyable.
You still will sit in a mall and observe. However, we want to focus on holistic observation. Simply put, we look at people and try to determine their career, emotional state, and if they have any weapons. Not only does this make going out in public much more exciting, but it also trains your situational awareness.
For example, while sitting at the mall you notice a man subtly touching the right side of his pants multiple times and adjusting his pants. When he takes a seat he sits with his back to the wall and scans his surroundings. Based off this, we could make the assumption that this man is carrying a handgun on his right hip and likely has a job in law enforcement.
We can use this for more than just identifying undercover police officers. It could help identify potential attackers or possible trouble about to occur.
Create what-if scenarios
Creating what-if scenarios is an extremely useful skill in your self defense arsenal. You always want to be thinking two or three steps ahead in case any dangerous situations do occur.
For example, thinking two steps ahead while going about your daily life. Walking around the block and thinking, “What would I do if a car careens off the road toward me?”
Yes, I know it sounds difficult to always consciously think about stuff like this. However, after a few months it will start to become an instinct. You will not even consciously think about it and just naturally know that you’re prepared to do something in a scary situation.
Navigate by touch and feel
I understand this doesn’t sound like a situational awareness exercise, but bear with me here.
Situational awareness does not only apply to what you can see. Having good perception for what is around you via your sense of touch is extremely useful.
This exercise will combine your sense of touch and your memory. For this, you set up some small obstacles and then turn out the lights. You then carefully navigate by your sense of touch and memory of the obstacles.
This seems easy and intuitive, but it is much harder than you think.
Obviously, with training this becomes easier and then if posed with this situation in real life you will be prepared for the situation. Imagine that you’ve been sprayed in the eyes with pepper spray? Having a snapshot of what the world around you looks like and the ability to navigate with your eyes closed is an invaluable skill.
In the following video, a former Navy SEAL discusses a number of Situational Awareness issues with Wired, as well as some tips on self defense:
Situational awareness is a teachable (and learnable) skill.
That also means that you can practice it with the tips and exercises mentioned in this article. Keep in mind that situational awareness is extremely easy to practice on your own and in your everyday life, unlike more complex skills like martial arts.
There is not really any excuse to avoid practicing when it is so easy to do so in your daily life! Check out this video for more info on improving your situational awareness:
Got a favorite exercise for situational awareness? Let me know in the comments.