James Bond is in a crowded restaurant, his contact smiling smugly across the table from him. Its meant to be a double cross, and this person thinks he’s about to take out the illustrious agent. Except that Bond already knows what’s about to happen. He’s identified every man on the contact’s payroll and has a pretty good idea how the attack will come. He’s always one step ahead, and survives another day.
There’s a scene similar to that one in nearly every movie that contains a highly trained hero. But this ability isn’t the stuff of fiction, nor is it reserved for government agents. It’s called Situational Awareness, and it’s something you can – and should – learn.
Situational Awareness Is Already Part Of Ninja Training
We’ve written before about how Ninja prepare for all aspects of conflict, including what comes before, during and after a confrontation. While good Situational Awareness is relevant to all three aspects, its especially crucial before.
Simply being aware of your surroundings all the time – and not walking through life with your head down or buried in your cell phone – can go a long way toward preventing an altercation in the first place. But true Situational Awareness takes this a step further.
Our Military members will recognize the “OODA Loop” which stands for “Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.”
Observe: This is what most people associate Situational Awareness with, but really its only the first step. Pay attention to your surroundings. Keep your head up and observe with all of your senses. Danger may not come in the form of a lurking stranger, but perhaps in the scent of smoke, or the sound of screeching brakes. Or maybe it’s the subtle shift in posture your spouse takes that lets you know you just said something that could spark an argument. Not all conflict is of the life-threatening kind.
If you’re in a public place, take note of the people around you and the room itself. Where are the exits? What is between you and them? Who is around you and could any person be a threat?
Orient: The information you Observe is just data until you put it into context and give it meaning. In this step, you’re looking for baselines and anomalies. What is normal in this situation? What sights/ sounds/ smells / feelings would be out of place?
If you’re sitting in Starbucks… what’s normal behavior here? You expect to see people calmly chatting or working on their computers, looking relaxed. What would be out of place? A guy 3 tables over who has his computer up but keeps fidgeting and looking over his shoulder. What’s he nervous about? Someone in line who seems very focused on another customer. Why?
Let’s say it turns out the guy in line is focused on another customer because he is stalking her. He may or may not be a danger to the entire room. But once he acts you’ll have precious few seconds to decide what to do. Should you escape out the nearest exit? Should you intervene? What if he has a gun or a knife? What if he merely wants to cause a scene and emotionally assault his victim?
Part of the Orient step is asking yourself, “What would I do if…?” This way if a situation ever does arise you’re ready for steps 3 and 4.
Decide: Our Starbucks Stalker has stepped out of line and headed toward his intended victim. Because you’re paying attention, you see what’s about to happen mere seconds before everyone else. At this point it’s too late to formulate a plan. All you have time for is choosing your best option. Do it quickly.
Act: Your Ninja training kicks in, your path is decided and you act on it.
Situational Awareness As A Way Of Life
To those with no Military or Law Enforcement background, this concept can seem more than a bit daunting. Should we really spend every waking moment looking for danger and planning what to do if it occurs? Would that not just suck the joy out of every minute of our existence?
Surprisingly, Situational Awareness has exactly the opposite effect. The more you pay attention to the details of your surroundings, the more present you are in every moment. Another word for this is called “Mindfulness.” And it’s one of the keys to greater happiness in life.
So bottom line: Pay Attention! Not only will it make you safer, it will make you happier as well.