"How do you aware?"
In the firearms training community the term "Situational Awareness" gets tossed around quite a bit. Normally we are simply told we need to have more of it, whatever it is, with very few giving guidance as to how, or what exactly that means practically.
Am I supposed to be some kind of ninja? Constantly hyper vigilant and ultra focused on all the little minutia at all times? Frankly I don't see how that's possible without a mental disorder. Will doing a "scan and assess" range kata after a string of fire improve my ability in real life to come out of tunnel vision under stress? I'd like to first understand what awareness is and what about the situation I need to apply it to.
"Awareness is not a passive state, but an active process. On the lower levels of awareness, a complex neurological process is required is to enable man to experience a sensation and to integrate sensations into percepts; that process is automatic and non-volitional: man is aware of its results, but not of the process itself. On the higher, conceptual level, the process is psychological , conscious and volitional. In either case, awareness is achieved and maintained by continuous action."
-Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology
So, what we need is conscious action. This may be a bit on the not so ninja side but out here in reality I like to do some really simple things to keep my head out of my ass and improve that first line of self defense. I like to ask myself some questions and look for the answers as I enter an area.
Where are the exits?
Who is here, and does anything look amiss?
Simple, really. If I'm driving I want to know if I can be easily blocked in where I'm parking. Is the spot well lit and easily visible? At night when I'm approaching my car I give the area a quick flash with my pocket light to see around the car.
If I'm coming home I take a split second in the drive to see my front door, and look at the windows. Is anything out of place?
In Craig Douglas's excellent Managing Unknown Contacts coursework he teaches a number of pre assault cues the student is to look out for. When being approached by a stranger are we paying attention to their mannerisms and what exactly are we looking for?
One of my training partners wrote at length about an encounter he had that I posted here. Take note of how much of the situation he was aware of. The mannerisms, the environment, how his clothing choices (leather soled shoes for a meeting) where interacting with the icy ground. This wasn't spur of the moment, we didn't download the super observation skills to his brain. It was training. He was able to observe and digest a great amount of information and use that to make decisions under stress in real time.
We don't need to be super heroes, but I would suggest it is reasonable to take a look in the gas station window before you run in and see if the place is being robbed before you walk into it. Simple easy observations we make with a conscious decision to collect information will keep us actively participating in the world around us and less likely to be caught by surprise in our day to day lives.