10 Tips to Improve Your Situational Awareness

By: TBuzz

Girl looking over Magpul glasses
We often hear the terms “situational awareness” and “head on a swivel”, but do we truly understand their importance.

Situational awareness is your first line of self-defense.

Learning what it is and how to become better at identifying potential threats to your domain may make the difference in avoiding a negative encounter and ultimately saving your life. Developing awareness and a safety mindset is a skill. These skills must be rehearsed regularly. Simply stated, situational awareness is being aware of your environment and whether anyone or anything is a threat to your health and safety. Paying attention to what is happening in front of you, behind you, to the left and right of you, and above and below you requires practice. While scanning your environment, you are looking for anything that seems out of the ordinary and anybody who makes you feel uncomfortable for any reason. You are paying attention to how you feel in the moment…your gut-level instincts, also known as your intuition. You are also paying attention to who or what could be of help to you should a threat arise. Never minimize what your body is telling you. It’s usually right!

Your intuition will alert you to potential dangers before you realize a threat may even exist.

Trusting these feelings and paying attention to how your body reacts will help you begin to train yourself on how to recognize a potential threat and how to quickly respond to it. In that moment, you may feel anxious or scared. You may also exhibit physical reactions, such as clenching your teeth or heart palpitations. You may feel a chill down the back of your neck, along with a feeling of uneasiness. This is your body telling you that something does not feel quite right, and the reactions may vary from person to person. Begin to focus on your five conventional senses daily (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste), which will raise your awareness radar. What makes you feel uncomfortable may be quite different from what makes someone else uncomfortable. Assess each situation for yourself and act accordingly.

Vital to situational awareness training is identifying your boundaries and “personal space” or protective bubble.

Once you have established your personal boundaries for strangers, you will be able to respond quickly and decisively, hopefully before a threat ensues. Your demeanor should relay the unspoken message to a potential attacker that you are not their victim and could make you less of a target. When faced with a threatening situation, you have the discretion to use the ASK, TELL, MAKE approach. If you find a stranger infiltrating your protective bubble and making you feel uncomfortable, ask them not to come any closer. If he or she persists, tell them to back away. If he or she is advancing, make them stop.

Consider the following tips to improve your situational awareness:

(1) Walk with your head held high and back straight

(2) Walk with intention, quickly and deliberately

(3) Avoid texting or talking on your phone when you should be paying attention

(4) Make eye contact with the people around you

(5) Listen for changes around you

(6) Identify exits (windows and doors) should you need to leave quickly

(7) Create space when you are surrounded by strangers

(8) Have a plan to defend yourself, if necessary

(9) Avoid listening to music through earphones when you should be paying attention

(10) Make no apologies for what makes you feel uncomfortable and act accordingly

Understanding Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper’s Color Codes of Awareness will help guide you through the various levels of alertness. The awareness code focus levels or zones include zone white, zone yellow, zone orange, and zone red. 

Zone White – Unaware

When you are in zone white, you are unaware of what is going on around you and you don’t believe anything bad will happen to you. People are typically in condition white when they feel safe at home or are asleep. 

Zone Yellow – Aware

When in zone yellow, you are generally relaxed, alert and paying attention. You are scanning your surrounds and making mental notes and observations. Whenever you are out and about, you should be in condition yellow.  

Zone Orange – Heightened Awareness

In zone orange, you have noticed a potential threat and have focused on the person to determine if a threat exists and what next steps are warranted. If you determine that the person is not a threat, you can return to condition yellow. 

Zone Red – Action

In zone red, action is immediate. You are likely experiencing an attack at the hands of a criminal. Some people may freeze, and others may run. For those who have trained for such encounters, engaging the threat may be their next step. 

Girl with GTM Purse

To enhance your situational awareness training, begin by practicing mental scripting. Mental scripting is the act of planning and rehearsing what you would do if you found yourself in a threatening situation or encounter. The more you practice your plan, the better chance you will have to execute it, if the situation presents itself. When you see or hear stories about attacks, ask yourself how you would have responded and practice that response. In addition, practice with your family, friends, and co-workers often. If you have children, casually begin to enhance their awareness by playing a game. Ask them to identify what a stranger was wearing during a trip to the grocery store. You can also ask them to describe the color of the car in front of you on the way to school. You will be able to assess how much they pay attention to what and who is around them daily. At home, give everyone a role to play as you approach and enter the home. See if they notice anything out of place or out of the ordinary. This preparation may very well make the difference in the overall outcome when faced with an unexpected threat. 

Remember, your primary goal every day is to return home safely or to remain safe while in your home. Practicing situational awareness and honing your intuition daily will increase your chances of being able to identify potential threats and avoid them if possible. By simply paying attention to your domain (“up, down, and all around”), you may increase your reaction time and save yourself and the people you care about most. 

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