Ways to Improve Your Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is a critical component to maintaining your safety. Here are some ways to develop and improve your situational awareness.

One of the best things you can do for your safety is to become more aware of subtle changes to your environment and situation that may indicate the presence of danger. This skill is called “situational awareness,” and with practice, anyone can learn it.

How to develop situational awareness…

All you have to do is start paying closer attention to your environment at all times, and all you have to do to start paying closer attention is remember to start paying closer attention. Once you do that, the part of your brain responsible for monitoring sensory input—the Reticular Activating System, or RAS—will take over and help you continue paying attention without reminding yourself every few minutes.

However, the trick is to do so discreetly; in other words, to pay closer attention without looking like you’re paying closer attention.

The key to developing situational awareness is to become consciously familiar with the baseline state of the area or situation around you. Once you become aware of what a place or situation looks, sounds, and feels like on a typical day without anything out-of-the-ordinary going on, you can notice when something is different when the situation changes.

Situational awareness in the real world

Think about going to the bank. You know what it’s usually like there; mostly quiet, with two or three tellers standing behind a chest-high partition, helping customers and entering data into computers to initiate exchanges of money. People are standing in line, probably looking at their phones while they wait, and maybe there’s a TV in the upper corner of the room displaying a neutral channel, such as HGTV or the local news.

Now imagine you walk into the bank one day, and there’s absolutely no one in line, even though there are several cars in the parking lot outside. There’s only one teller behind the partition, and as you approach her, you notice her smile doesn’t reach her eyes, which appear round and terrified. There are beads of sweat on her forehead, and her hands are trembling as she types in your information. A situationally aware person would realize that something is definitely off here, and they’d know to act perfectly calm and normal until they got back outside the building. At that point, they would immediately call the cops, because there could be a situation going on inside the bank.

Normalcy Bias

One obstacle that might prevent you from doing the right thing is called “normalcy bias.” Normalcy bias represents our very human desire for things to be okay, even if they appear not to be. It’s what causes us to dismiss the sound of a robber prying open a door in the night as “just the house settling,” or what causes us to dismiss the unfamiliar car that’s been lurking around the neighborhood as someone just looking at homes for sale in the area.

Focus Lock

Another obstacle that completely prevents situational awareness is what is called a “focus lock”—something so distracting it causes you to focus all your attention on it, neglecting everything else around you. How many times have you walked into a pole or a hole or a sign while texting? If you plan on being more situationally aware, you’re going to need to put your phone down from time to time. And you’ll definitely want to put it away during transition times, like when you walk from your office to the parking garage at night or as you walk down an alley on your way to a nearby club.

With practice, you’ll easily be able to implement these ways to improve your situational awareness. It’s one of the most valuable skills you can learn to keep yourself safe and secure in any situation.

Peace of mind

For added security and peace of mind, take a personal security device with you on your date and keep it discreet but handy at all times. The Topps Security Key Fob is an excellent choice because it attaches to your keys and is easy to keep hidden until you need to use it. It comes with a charger so you can carry it during the day and charge it by your bedside at night for easy access to emergency services in the event of a break-in or home invasion. There’s even an option to wear it like a watch, so it’s a great accessory for everyday use.