Awareness – Part 4: Distractions Can Be Deadly

All Personal Defense starts with being aware of your surroundings.  Awareness is a comdreamstime_m_13073572 300pxbination of observation, intuition, and mentally developing possible outcomes.  

A person that has developed a good sense of awareness greatly increases their ability to stay safe.  They see problems as they occur – perhaps before they even start.  
 
If we increase our awareness, we improve our personal safety.  This series of blog posts will discuss ways to develop and enhance our awareness.

Distractions Can Be Deadly

To be aware, according to the dictionary, is: to have knowledge; to be cognizant; to have a range or scope of observation; to take notice; to perceive.

Our previous posts have been about increasing our our awareness through increased observation, perception and knowledge.  We looked at the uptake of information, filtering and processing it, and making plans for any potential threats we observe.  These are all things we should do to improve our safety through awareness.

In this post we will shift gears a little bit and look at one thing we should NOT do.  We should not allow distractions to diminish our personal safety.

Too Much To Process
There is a bit of a paradox when it comes to taking in as much information as possible, and trying to understand all of it.  While the human brain can process amazing amounts of information – it cannot process all that info and arrive at a full and complete understanding.

A related part of the paradox is that we are just getting glimpses of information.  Without some context to put around it, we can’t understand these snippets.

So we have too much information to process and not enough context.  That’s the bad news.

The good news?   We don’t need total and complete understanding.  We only need to identify a potential threat – which we often do by noticing the unusual.  Sometimes the unusual is so obvious that we notice it immediately.  Many times it is the subconscious that tips us off.

Distractions – Sometimes Good, Usually Bad
The natural tendency, when we see something that gets our attention, is to focus on it.  That’s not a bad thing, as the focus helps us analyze and possibly understand it.  That is especially good when the object we are focusing on is a potential threat.

But focusing on one thing means that we are not aware of anything else going on around us.  The thing we are focusing on has become a distraction to all other things we could be paying attention to.

Experts tell us that the way the human brain is wired you cannot really pay attention to more than one thing at at time.  As one example, studies show that our peripheral vision can drop as low as 10% of normal when we are simply walking and texting.

We see or hear about distractions causing harm with increasing regularity, usually tied to our smartphones.  People walk into poles, or wander into the street, because they are distracted.  Recently the federal government began to offer grants of $2 million to cities to decrease distracted walking.

Note that this concept of distraction can also apply to having headphones on or earbuds in.  Just having your earbuds inserted decreases your awareness by muting sounds that might alert you to impending danger.  Note that I’m NOT saying to never listen to music on earbuds, but just be aware of the tradeoffs you are making when you do.

Of course distractions come in a multitude of forms, not just smartphones and earbuds.  A distraction could be a screaming toddler, a vendor trying to sell you something as you walk by, or a fender-bender in the intersection.

What to we do about distractions?  They will always exist, so complete and total elimination is not an option.  We need a plan for how we handle them.

Handling Distractions
First step is to acknowledge they exist.  If you start with that concept, with the understanding that you can be distracted, then you are more likely to recognize when it is happening and return to your normal awareness patterns.

For most distractions we need to determine – as quickly as possible – if the distraction is a potential threat.  If so, we will spend more time on it.  If it is not a potential threat then we need to move back to our standard pattern, no matter how intriguing the distraction may be.

A vendor’s entire motivation is to distract you from whatever you were thinking about, and to start thinking about their particular product or service.  Most of us simply force ourselves to ignore them – which of course only makes them try harder.  Practice certainly helps in ignoring them and moving past them.

If you can’t help it- if you are drawn in to the distraction like a ship to a siren’s song – then do a thorough scan, return briefly to the distraction, and scan again.  Yes, some of your personal safety will be compromised.  Some awareness, created by the regular, consistent, and thorough scan, is significantly better than no awareness at all.

What about the potential threat?  Obviously you will pay more attention to them.  Even so you should occasionally scan the area around you.  Why?  The potential threat may be attempting to move to a place where he has a strategic advantage.  Or he may have an accomplice or two.  If you regularly pull back from being singularly focused on the potential threat, you have a much greater likelihood of becoming aware of these key pieces of information.

Some distractions can be eliminated completely – or at least reduced significantly.  You can always make that call later, or wait until you are in a familiar area to read or send that text.  If you absolutely must send that text or read that email, then follow a simple plan of action: find a place to accomplish your task that won’t impede others; stop; scan; complete your task; scan again; and move on.

Remember – Personal Defense is not a destination, but a journey – and awareness is a great example of this. 

Share how it’s going on our forums at www.realitycheckhq.com/forums.  It will be a huge encouragement to me – and to others on their Personal Defense journey.

Be Safe!

Awareness – Part 3: Create Options

Create OptionsAll Personal Defense starts with being aware of your surroundings.  Awareness is a combination of observation, intuition, and mentally developing possible outcomes.

A person that has developed a good sense of awareness greatly increases their ability to stay safe.  They see problems as they occur – perhaps before they even start.

If we increase our awareness, we improve our personal safety.  This series of blog posts will discuss ways to develop and enhance our awareness.

 

Create Options

This it the third post in a series on awareness.  Post one examined how to expand our Awareness Zone.  If you are like most of us, you probably started this journey only looking out 5-6 feet.  We realized the need to greatly expand this zone out to 20 feet – and preferably more.  The second post looked at how to interpret this additional information you are taking in – specifically by looking for what is unusual and by noting safety items like exits.  This highlights what might be a threat to our personal safety.

The next logical step, after we have identified a potential threat, is to start creating options for how we will handle this situation.  Obviously we can’t develop every possible option for every scenario in a single blog post.  But we can kindle your own creativity so that you can develop your own options for whatever unique circumstances you find yourself in.

Options that you might create are pretty easily split into three categories: leave the area; divert their attention; or confront the potential threat.  Note that these are generally the preferred order – if we have a choice.  Sometimes we don’t.

Leave The Area

This one is often the simplest to execute and the most effective in maintaining your safety.  If you see a potential threat in the area, quickly and calmly leave.  Your goal is to get out of their field of vision, i.e. to break contact.  Most perpetrators will quickly give up if they lose sight of their prey.  Once you are out of sight, if they were not a threat, they will not follow.  If they were a threat – they will either try to regain contact quickly or will give up and move on to their next potential victim.

For an example, somebody at the mall has followed you into a third consecutive store.  You aren’t sure if they are an actual threat or just a potential one.  One way to test this is to try and break contact.  You quickly leave the third store to see if they follow again.  You could go back to the first store or head to the food court or the restroom.  If they don’t follow – no immediate problem.  If they do follow, that will require you to implement a different option – perhaps a more creative exit, a distraction method, or you may need to confront them.

Divert Their Attention

This one is not as simple but can be very effective.  If you see a potential threat, you want them to lose their focus on you.  It doesn’t really matter what they turn their attention toward – as long as it’s not you.  This is similar to ‘leave the area’ in that you are trying to break contact.  The difference is that with ‘leave the area’ you are fleeing, and with the ‘divert their attention’ you are staying in the area and – in essence – hiding.

There are many possibilities here: you take a quick side-step around a corner or behind a bush and allow the potential threat to pass by.  You blend in with the crowd, and thereby no longer have their focus.  Or you might enter a busy area with lots of distractions – like a row of individuals hawking their wares from their mall kiosks, or a variety of street vendors and performers, or maybe the food court personnel giving away free samples.  You might even put on a ball cap and sunglasses – anything that will take their attention off of you.  If the threat persists, you will need to implement a different pre-planned option.

Confront the Threat

This is the least preferred method for several reasons – including the likelihood that you will be in close proximity to the potential threat.  It may not be preferred, but sometimes we can’t merely leave or hide.

To ‘confront’ simply means to face.  If you cannot run and you cannot hide – then you have to face the threat.  Many times a threat – or a potential threat – will back down if you merely call their bluff.  Most predators do not want to tangle with someone who is aware, confident, and focused.

Part of your planning for a ‘Confront’ option is acknowledging that it may lead to a use of force encounter.  You must put yourself in the best situation possible – in case the threat attempts to use force on you.  We don’t want to use force or have force used against us, but we need to prepare for it.

Note that ‘Confront’ does NOT mean being aggressive – most states assume the aggressor has provoked a use of force encounter – meaning you could be criminally prosecuted.    But know that once you confront a threat, if they attempt to use force against you, then you MUST be as aggressive as you possibly can… until the force being directed against you stops.

Creating and Implementing a Plan

Creating a plan is very important.  But even more important is setting it in motion.  You must have a framework in mind for when you will set your plan in motion.  If a threat becomes real you must act, you must be able to execute.

In all three areas you can set one or more ‘triggers’ or ‘decision points’ to start the execution of the planning sequence you devised.  These ‘triggers’ provide great clarity in the moment, and increase your confidence.

What do these ’triggers’ look like?  Here are a couple of examples:

  • If this person follows me into third store, then I will leave immediately and backtrack to the first store.  If he follows me there, I will chat with the Security Guard next to the door.
  • If they get within 20 feet I will put my hand on the pepper spray in my purse and quickly walk toward that group of people.

Know the Law

You should also know the law regarding the use of force in your state.  As crazy as it seems, some states actually mandate that if a route of escape is available to you, then you must use it.  This applies wherever you are, even if an intruder enters your home in the middle of the night.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse, it is not a way to avoid criminal prosecution.

Summary

As you identify potential threats, develop options on how you will handle them should they become a real threat.  These options should include ‘triggers’ that put your plan in motion.  You also need to become familiar with the use of force laws in your state.

 

Remember – Personal Defense is not a destination, but a journey – and awareness is a great example of this.

Share how it’s going on our forums at www.realitycheckhq.com/forums.  It will be a huge encouragement to me – and to others on their Personal Defense journey.

Be Safe!

Awareness – Part 2: Strategic Awareness

Strategic AwarenessAll Personal Defense starts with being aware of your surroundings.  Awareness is a combination of observation, intuition, and mentally developing possible outcomes.

A person that has developed a good sense of awareness greatly increases their ability to stay safe.  They see problems as they occur – perhaps before they even start.

If we increase our awareness, we improve our personal safety.  This series of blog posts will discuss ways to develop and enhance our awareness.

Situational (Strategic) Awareness

This is actually a natural extension of the first step – increasing your Awareness Zone.  You are taking in much more information – but what do you do with it?  Processing this information is the underlying theme of this post.  Just having additional information is good, but it won’t improve your safety.  You have to start to recognize what is, or may become, important.

What is important to note?  That is the challenge, as it can vary substantially depending on your location and activities.  Start with the simple things that you know are safety related, like where the exits are located.  Add to them things that are unusual or out of the ordinary.

As you become more intentional about looking around, you will naturally start to ‘see’ more – meaning you will mentally file things away that might be useful if you are being threatened.  You begin to make mental notes of little things, like where the exits are located, or where the security guard is standing.  You see what portion of the parking lot is not well lit.  You notice people coming in doors that you thought were locked or are designated as exits.

This extends to noticing others and making mental notes of them as well:  That person over there is carrying that package a little strange.  That guy must be with those two over there.  That person has been to the same three stores I have been to… and now I think they may be watching me.

Note that you don’t need to make mental notes of everything and everyone – you couldn’t do that even if you tried.  You are primarily looking for things related to safety, and things out of the ordinary.  Like someone wearing a long coat in the middle of summer.  Or taking off a backpack, sitting it on the ground, and then leaving the area.

This practice applies to any area of your life.   Consider how you would apply it to driving:  That person is drifting back and forth in their lane – and I’m not sure if they are impaired or distracted.  There is a big truck pretty close behind me.  That person reached this 4-way stop about the same time I did.  We call this ‘defensive driving’ – which most of us were taught before we got our license.  It’s a bit ironic that most of us were NOT taught anything about ‘defensive walking!’

Of course this aspect of awareness hinges on the what we discussed last time – increasing your awareness zone.  If you are not looking out far enough, it greatly decreases what you see (obviously) and it decreases what you might find to be helpful – or detrimental – to your wellbeing.

In the next post, we will look at extend this concept a little further.  For now, keep working on extending your awareness zone and on noticing things that could be of strategic benefit (or detriment).

Remember – Personal Defense is not a destination, but a journey – and awareness is a great example of this.

Share how it’s going on our forums at www.realitycheckhq.com/forums.  It will be a huge encouragement to me – and to others on their Personal Defense journey.

Be Safe!

Awareness – The Foundation of Personal Defense

Part 1

All Personal Defense starts with being aware of your surroundings.  Awareness is a combination of observation, intuition, and mentally developing possible outcomes.  

A person that has developed a good sense of awareness greatly increases their ability to stay safe.  They see problems as they occur – perhaps before they even start.  
 
If we increase our awareness, we improve our personal safety.  This series of blog posts will discuss ways to develop and enhance our awareness.

 

Increase your Awareness Zone

How far away do you pay attention to others?  Or to put it in a Personal Defense perspective, if someone from 5 or 6 feet away wanted to do you harm, would you have time to respond and defend yourself?  Let’s look at some research findings to try and answer that question.

If you are paying attention to your surroundings, it takes about 1.5 seconds for you to recognize and then respond to a surprising event.  So to be able to respond, you have to see the bad guy when he is 1.5 seconds – or more – away from you.  That sounds pretty doable, don’t you think?

To know for sure that we can do this, we need to know how far can a bad guy travel in 1.5 seconds.

What would your guess be?  6 feet?  10 feet?  Perhaps 15 feet?

It turns out that a person can travel further than you realize in 1.5 seconds.  From a standing start, a reasonably athletic person can travel about 21 feet in this brief 1.5 second span of time.  How far away is that?  To put it in context, a full-size SUV is about 19 feet long.

Now it sounds impossible to do unless you are part superhero.  But before we throw up our hands and surrender, let’s take a little closer look at this concept of awareness.  You will find that you don’t need superpowers to improve your awareness.

Let’s start with where you are – how far away are you paying attention to others?  When you are among other people, perhaps at the mall or a restaurant, how far away are you noticing other people?  Probably far enough away to avoid bumping into them as you are walking along, which is a common courtesy among citizens.

But that doesn’t tell me, in concrete numbers, how far away you notice others.  What distance away do you have to see someone to keep from running into them?  If you are walking at an average pace, you are probably looking about 5 to 8 feet in front of you.  That distance tends to shrink as we slow down, and extend as we speed up.

Let’s call this area where you notice people your ‘Awareness Zone.’  Right now, your Awareness Zone extends in front of you 5 to 8 feet, and probably 20 or 30 degrees to either side of you.

For the next week, try and extend your Awareness Zone by one foot.  That is something we can do without needing superpowers.  While you are doing this, be intentional about looking a little further to each side.  This is called scanning, and it will widen your Awareness Zone significantly.

If you can extend your Awareness Zone by one foot, and widen it to 45 degrees on either side of you, then you have dramatically increased your awareness.  How much is hard to quantify, but I would say by at least 20%.  In one week, you have developed better awareness than a large majority of the population.  Congratulations!

Know with certainty that improving your awareness has also increased your personal safety.   You are now seeing potential problems earlier than you were, making it even easier to avoid them.

Awareness is similar to other basics of Personal Defense.  The concepts are not hard to learn, they improve rapidly at first, and you can continue to develop them for the rest of your life.

Keep working on extending your Awareness Zone.  Next week increase it by a foot, get consistent and comfortable with that distance, then extend it another foot.  Before long you will have doubled your Awareness Zone, improving your personal safety, increasing your confidence, and giving you more peace of mind.

I do have a confession to make.  I don’t do this perfect all the time.  But I am getting better.  I see things further away and I anticipate what someone will do much earlier than I used to.

Personal Defense is not a destination, but a journey – and awareness is a great example of this.

Share how it’s going on our forums at www.realitycheckhq.com/forums.  It will be a huge encouragement to me – and to others on their Personal Defense journey.

Be Safe!