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  It will be a huge encouragement to me – and to others on their Personal Defense journey.

Be Safe!