“Ignorance is bliss” is a dangerous adage to cling to when it comes to personal safety. Waking up each day so carefree that you do not give a second thought to the possibility, no matter how slim, that in some way your safety could be jeopardized is simply a luxury you cannot afford. Evil exists in the world, so you must remain vigilant for yourself and the ones you hold dear. Make no mistake, being watchful when it comes to your safety does not mean you are paranoid. Vigilance is living prepared. You do not need to fear the “what ifs.” Instead, you should maintain a mindset of confidence, readiness and strength that becomes a part of who we are, making it more difficult to become a victim. One of the key elements to reaching this sense of empowerment is situational awareness.
Situational awareness is the ability to utilize your senses and rationale to be in tune with your surroundings. To perceive and understand what is going on all around you. The key purpose is to not become a targeted victim. What exactly is a targeted victim? Most people understand the concept that a perpetrator wants easy prey. Someone who is submissive, weak or seems as though they will not fight back. Stereotypically, women fall into this category. Although I would naturally agree that women tend to be easier targets, this is astoundingly not always the case. Gender and size are not a consistent or significant factor when an assailant is in the process of zeroing in on a victim.
A study conducted by Betty Grayson and Morris I. Stein eerily transcends what we may commonly perceive. In this study, 60 people were unknowingly recorded as they were walking on a busy sidewalk in New York over a period of three days. Footage was later played individually for a group of criminals convicted of various violent crimes. They were asked to identify whom they would choose as a desirable target. Each criminal shockingly came to his decision within 7 seconds—and they did so with an alarming consistency. Most women were dismissed in choice over larger men. The study found that age, race, size and gender did not play a role. Instead, the chosen victims had very similar traits:
- A slower walking pace with a seemingly lack of purpose.
- A relaxed gait and shuffling or dragging of the feet.
- They walked a bit awkwardly, with less coordination or balance.
- All chosen victims similarly displayed a slump in posture, eyes to the ground in downward gaze indicating unawareness.
The walking demeanors cited display a lack of self-confidence, and criminals pick up on those non-verbal cues when choosing a victim.
With the study fracturing our profile of a victim, it is imperative that you understand the power of perception. Furthermore, how paramount it is to comprehend physical energy and the power it holds? Energy is that non-verbal aura that you can feel and see as you are just passing by. It allows someone to almost immediately differentiate between people who are bold, strong and confident versus those who are more timid or unsure of themselves. Once you understand that, you can take situational awareness to the next level. We not only use our senses to absorb our surroundings, but we need to project an energy that will thwart others from viewing us as weak, or an easy target.
So how do you do that? Well, you do not have to change the character of who you are to demonstrate good situational awareness. Remember, this is the power of perception. You are not divulging who you are, our strengths or weaknesses. You are merely giving off a perception of readiness, a sense that you are in tune with what is happening around you. The following are tips you should begin to incorporate in your daily life. At first they may seem to take effort, but with daily practice, they will become a natural habit.
- Walk with intent and purpose. Show confidence. This is easily achieved with good posture and picking up your feet.
- Scan your surroundings. Pay attention to where you are and who and what is around you. If you are leaving the grocery store, for example, and there is an unsavory group of people in the path to your car, avoid them. Take an alternate or longer route. Also stay in an optimal or prime position. Avoid alleys, or any narrow unpopulated passages. When inside a restaurant, for example, position yourself where you are facing the doors and note all possible exits. Knowing who and what is around you and making mental notes of such is an invaluable skill that anyone is capable of learning.
- Make eye contact. It is OK to look someone in the eye. This is not a stare down or scowl of intimidation. Making eye contact simply lets people know you are aware that they are there. It allows others to perceive you as non-submissive and prepared.
- Stay off of your cell phone or anything that will distract you from your surroundings. Whatever it is can wait until you have reached your destination. When we are on our phones our two most powerful senses, sight and sound are more dialed into the task at hand, so it makes paying attention to what is happening around us difficult.
- Do not ignore your gut instinct. If you have that feeling that something is just “off,” avoid it. We tend to rationalize this gut feeling as paranoia or dismiss it as over-reacting. Don’t worry about that. If you sense anything that seems abnormal, acknowledge this and do what is necessary to avoid the situation. This does not mean to confront a stranger with your hand on your concealed carry gun. Remember, a gun is a last resort means of protection.
There is far more to this topic, but these five points are a great starting place for improving situational awareness. Practice the strategies above so they become part of your life. Remember that prevention is the most effective way to stay safe. We owe it to ourselves—and to everyone we care about—to remain prepared.