When you find yourself in a crowded place, are you relaxed or alert?
Do you know where the exits are? Do you see any potential threats?
It's easy to get distracted and forget what's going on around you. You might be checking your phone or chatting with friends. If something dangerous were to happen, would you know about it?
Situational awareness is a skill not many people master - but it could end up saving your life. And even when you're not in a threatening scenario, it can mean the difference between spotting a life-changing opportunity, or letting it fly by unnoticed.
So here's what you need to know - we'll look at a situational awareness definition, where you need it, and how you can improve your awareness skills.
Situational awareness is your ability to be aware of what's around you so you can be safe, relaxed and focused.
It's a skill that involves looking, listening, and analyzing your physical and social surroundings. It primarily concerns your safety from harm, but it's also about making sure your environment allows you to thrive.
It involves predicting problems before they arise, and being ready for all the possible happenings within the space you're in. As well as this,
Situational awareness can means the difference between life and death; opportunities taken or missed; having a fun time, or having a bad time.
If you've ever been affected by a fire, you'll probably look for a fire escape when entering a crowded venue. If you've ever had your belongings stolen, you won't want to let them out of your sight when you're in a public place. These are examples of a heightened sense of situational awareness.
But it's not just the physical environment around you that you need to be aware of. It's the social dynamics, too, and if you're in business, the economic opportunities as well. Keeping your eyes open, both literally and figuratively, means you're better equipped not just to stay safe, but to be successful too.
There are three main areas in which you need situational awareness. Firstly, to make sure you're safe and protected.
This is the first thing most people think of when they're considering situational awareness - how do I keep myself and my group safe?
The first step is to know where you are, what dangers might be present, and what your options for safety are - whether that's through conflict, defense, or escape.
Think of Jason Bourne, protagonist of the Bourne film series. He's a man on the run, perpetually hunted by people who want to kill him. Entering a diner with his accomplice, Bourne spots exits, potential enemies, license plate numbers of all 6 cars outside, the fact their server is left-handed, the weight of the guy at the counter, the nearest gun, and guesses how far he can run at the current altitude.
Thankfully, you probably won't be under duress as much as Mr Bourne, but you can still learn from the way he approaches the scene - there's much more you can deduce than you might first think.
Imagine walking into a party. It usually takes a few minutes to settle into the 'vibe' of the place; the energy and social dynamics that people are feeling with one another. All kinds of factors play into this - the demographics of attendees, how late in the day it is, what drinks are being consumed, how everyone knows each other, and so on.
If you fail to read the scene, you're in danger of making a faux pas, or being unwelcome and ostracized from the differing cliques of the group. A little emotional intelligence and social awareness can go a long way in charming your way into people's affections - and having a great time.
The life of an entrepreneur or salesperson involves identifying opportunities to make connections, innovate products, close deals, and persuade listeners. Those things don't happen without a good sense of open-minded situational awareness.
Being a self-starter involves taking opportunities as you see them - but to see them, you first need to be aware of what's out there, and who you can help.
What you choose to pay attention to has a huge influence on what you're automatically aware of.
Many people make an effort to stay aware of their surroundings in public spaces, but they might not be as observant in other areas of life that require attention, like at work or home. There are so many distractions in daily life that we can often go through our day without giving it much thought, and end up at home barely remembering what happened at work.
Your sense of awareness is heavily weighted towards what you've thought about recently. If you've been watching a lot of documentaries about street crime recently, you'll probably walk the streets of your neighborhood with a heightened sense of awareness of the dangers. You might be more inclined to avoid certain areas, or cross the street if you're approaching a shady-looking person. You could also take your headphones off or walk a little faster.
The situation may not be different to a regular day walking through that neighborhood, but because you've primed your mind to keep these dangers up-top, at the forefront of your attention, you're more likely to let them influence your thoughts and actions.
This is known as frequency bias, and sometimes the 'Baader-Meinhof phenomenon': when you're more aware of something, it seems to appear more. So if you're considering buying a certain model of car, you'll start to see it on the streets more - it doesn't mean there are more of them around, it just seems that way.
This applies in other areas of life, too. If you're looking for creative business ideas, it might be challenging to think up brand new innovations on the fly, if you're approaching it afresh. But if you spend a few minutes each day listening to audiobooks or podcasts about business ideas, you'll get into the mindset of business creativity.
Sure, you might not hear anything directly relevant to your industry, but being exposed to other people solving similar challenges means your subconscious mind will join the dots to your own concerns. Using disparate influences to think up something new is the essence of creativity - and it begins with awareness.
Wondering how to improve your situational awareness?
Firstly, you have to consider what to be aware of - and then be methodical about it.
A major aspect of having good situational awareness is being able to know the differences between safety and danger. It's a balancing act - you have to be mindful enough that you can keep an eye out for hazards, but not so anxious or worried about everything that your guard drops. The key is being proactive, rather than reactive; knowing when it's time to take precautions and stepping in before a situation becomes dangerous. This ability comes with repeated practice over time.
On a more practical level, there's one particular technique that's often taught in situational awareness training. It's easy to memorize, and goes a long way in improving your situational awareness: the SLAM technique.
This technique for situational awareness is common in industries that require physical labor or lots of people moving around in close proximity - like construction, engineering, or food service. It involves four simple steps to make yourself more aware:
Stop - Cease what you're doing to bring your full attention to your surroundings.
Look - Observe your environment in more depth than just a casual glance; take in everything that's visible.
Assess - Think about what hazards might pose a threat to you, how you'd react if something bad happens, and whether you have access to resources that'd help.
Manage - Take action to solve problems before they occur; tell someone about the issue, fix it yourself, or locate yourself somewhere else.
Even if you don't feel particularly vulnerable, a quick 'SLAM' assessment can be the difference between safety and injury, loss, or disappointment. It's a simple but powerful tool to have in your arsenal.
If you're doing the same thing every day, you're probably going to zone out at some point (think of the times you've been on a long boring drive, seemingly on 'autopilot' - you lose yourself for a while and can't remember how you got to your current location).
The remedy for this is to change things up, and interrupt your routine with new and stimulating activities. It could be as small as eating lunch in a different location, or you could try working somewhere new. Music, fresh air, a scented candle, or tea instead of coffee - each will brighten up your senses and boost your overall awareness.
Being aware of your surroundings involves a combination of all the above.
But there's one part that links it all together. The key to optimal awareness? Relax.
When you're nervous and your heart rate is elevated, your attention narrows to concentrate on the specific threat at hand. But this can be a real disadvantage in a dynamic situation, where there's multiple points of interest to consider.
The solution is to take some deep breaths, bring yourself into the present moment, and calmly go through your options. Avoiding stress and overreaction is crucial for staying aware of what's going on.
You need psychological safety to focus well. As part of that, you have to sign over some trust into your surroundings. You trust the people around you to not harm you, or tell you if there's a problem. You also trust the building you're inside, and the fact that it's secure from intruders and not about to collapse or go up in flames. Having taken in the right information, you'll be able to trust your gut and act accordingly.
There's a difference between stress and awareness: stress is when you're on edge all the time, whereas awareness allows you to enjoy the world while still keeping a watchful eye open.
Our programs were designed by world-renown coaches, and sessions only take 5-15 minutes. Get started for free with personalized program now by chatting in the box below:
Our expert coaches have designed hyper-effective programs that will help
you improve your situational awareness quickly, in just 15-minutes a week.
Coach Marlee (your amazing AI-powered personal coach) will analyse your unique traits and goals to let you know which program to start with (and if there are any you should skip)!
Your recommended programs include:
Big picture thinking is at the heart of great communication. Increase your comfort and use of abstract and strategic thinking to articulate a vision, your ‘big why’, priorities and a bigger perspective. Big picture thinking is key in inspiring others and powerful communication.
Inspire yourself and others to see and achieve grand visions and goals. A focus on goals is especially helpful for inspiring others, impactful communication, maintaining communication over time, and for aligning clarity and expectations.
Strengthen your emotional intelligence (EQ) and strengthen your communication and relationship. Awareness of your and others’ emotions is a key to ‘reading people’, leading others, high impact communication and building authentic connections at work and in life.
Improve your communication through the experience and feedback from others. During this eight week program Coach Marlee will help you to develop a genuine appreciation for experimentation and data and a willingness to explore the opinions, feedback and insights from within your team and others in your life.
Develop ‘step back’ mastery, gain multiple perspectives and become a strategic communicator. Reflection and patience are core to consolidating learning, strategic thinking, continuous improvement and high impact communication.
Comfort to initiate conversations is key to high impact communication. Close the gap between your great ideas and taking action on them. Strengthen your comfort and motivation to start conversations that inspire and also achieve satisfaction and success in your work and in life.
Explore, strengthen and build confidence in your point of view. Trust in your ‘gut feel’ and point of view is especially helpful for increasing self-awareness, impactful communication, aligning expectations, meeting your personal needs and for living an authentic and meaningful life.
In this high impact nine week program Coach Marlee will help you build the foundations for general wellbeing while also helping you to break through self sabotage to develop life long skills for managing personal boundaries and emotional resilience, all crucial skills for sustaining healthy communication and happy relationships. Enjoy weekly cutting edge science backed wellbeing resources from both Marlee and our wellbeing partner Blisspot.
“I love how practical this coaching is!”
“I think Marlee is impressive!”
“Always thought-provoking and well worth my time”
“Mind blowing! The Team Building program helped us resolve long-standing friction and misunderstandings in the team. Great experience for everyone involved!“
“I learned how to set, move to take action and progress towards happiness”
“Marlee helped me build deeper levels of self-esteem and how I valued myself vis-a-vis the greater world. It also taught me courage to believe in my beliefs, and that it is not about success or failure, but that we give it a go, a try”
“I think Marlee is impressive!”
“I learned to be organised and to have clarity of my target”