Imagine you’re sitting with friends on the outdoor patio of a classy restaurant on a balmy late afternoon.
Your group blends perfectly into the eatery’s cheery hubbub — clinking drinks, bursts of laughter, soft music, and the undulating murmur of the crowd.
Suddenly, you hear a loud crash and the tinkle of breaking glass. You freeze with fear until you hear folks laugh at an embarrassed server.
Then you realize that you’re having flashbacks to reports of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Many of the victims had been caught by surprise while out on the town.
And you wonder: What would happen if terrorists attacked right here, right now. Would I live or would I die?
Well, by admitting the dangers, you’ve taken the first step toward becoming a survivor. And in this column, I’m going to teach you how to enhance your security mindset.
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I’m going to tell you how to cultivate the vital skill called “situational awareness,” which will help you recognize, avoid and evade dangerous people and situations.
In a past column, I talked about the “color codes of awareness” and how they can help you determine what level of awareness is ideal for you at any given moment. Now I want to empower your mind to transition rapidly from one level of awareness to another.
To acquire situational awareness, you must first “choose” to pay attention to your surroundings. Once you make that choice, you essentially flip a switch in your brain that triggers its “reticular activating system.”
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The reticular activating system, or RAS, helps the brain filter and sort out information, deciding what’s important and what can be ignored. Without this filter, we’d be distracted by everything around us. We couldn’t focus on any one thing for being unique or different.
Now, imagine you’re working at an office, talking to a client on your telephone. Next to you, your co-workers are also talking on phones, sometimes loudly. Meanwhile, several televisions blare from the walls.
Yet despite all the commotion, you hear the crack of gunshots! Your RAS filtered out all the harmless ambient noise and focused on the gunshots, which were suddenly critical to you.
|What are they wearing? Are they holding knives, forks or spoons? And where are the exits?|
So when you consciously decide to become aware of your situation, your RAS will automatically scan for crucial cues and bring them to your attention.
To help your RAS do its job, you must have an idea of what to pay attention to. So you need to get a “read” on the environment. We call this a “baseline.” The baseline is the “norm” for the place.
Look for things like how people dress, how they talk, how they express their culture, how they behave uniquely to that environment. In other words, what gives that place a special “feel” and “look” at certain times of the day or night. These are all part of the baseline.
If you understand what’s normal for each environment you enter, then it’s easier for you to recognize when there is a change in the environment, especially a change that might signal danger.
For example, if you take a brisk walk at 6:30 every morning – going the same way and seeing the same people and things – you have a pretty solid baseline for that route.
One day, you see a man who’s dressed in a dark, hooded sweatshirt and carrying a crowbar in his right hand. Your brain is telling you that something is just not right. This is your status change, and it is alerting you to potential danger. So you change your route avoid him.
Now, not every status change is bad or dangerous. You might live in a very quiet neighborhood. Then one day a big van filled with wildly screaming kids comes up the street. The kids are cheering with joy because they just won a soccer championship. This is definitely a status change, but there is certainly no danger.
So understanding the baseline in your environment is crucial to situational awareness. Make it a daily practice to establish the baseline around family and friends and at work, home or play. Make mental notes of things like entry and exit points. And think about what is normal in your various environments so that when something out of the ordinary rears its head, you can identify it quickly and react accordingly.
Here are a few fun awareness exercises you can do to help sharpen your senses:
- Walk into a room, look around the room for only 2 seconds and then close your eyes. Try to recall the room in as much detail as possible.
- In a public parking lot, walk down a lane for 10 seconds and then try to remember as many license plates as possible.
- After being seated at a restaurant table, try to recall as many details as possible about the place without looking around.
Can you describe people at other tables? What are they wearing? Are they holding a fork, knife or a spoon? In which hand?
What about the people who just walked in. Can you describe them? Are they right- or left-handed? Are they friends or family or meeting for business?
Also, do you know where the exits are? The bathrooms and kitchen?
You can play these question-and-answer games with friends or family members while you’re enjoying a meal. But bear in mind that although these are just fun, they can and do amp up your keen awareness skills.
At the end of the day, becoming a victim is often decided in a matter of SECONDS.
The greatest weapon in the fight of your life is the security mindset. The faster you are able to detect changes in the baseline, the faster you can react to potential danger.
Join me next time as we discuss critical tips on how to prevent a home invasion.
Until then, stay alert, check your six and stay safe!