Situational Awareness and Mental Preparedness

Table Of Contents

    In today's fast-paced and unpredictable world, having situational awareness and being mentally prepared is more essential than ever.

    Situational awareness allows you to perceive and understand your surroundings, comprehend the implications of events, and make informed decisions based on that understanding. Whether it's ensuring personal safety, making critical decisions, or seizing opportunities. Mental preparedness helps you stay calm and level headed in emergency situations, so your chances of getting out unharmed increase.

    First, let’s take a look at situational awareness.

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    The Essence of Situational Awareness

    Have you ever wondered why people often fail to notice unexpected events or remain unaware of their surroundings?

    It turns out that our brains are wired to filter out information that doesn't align with our expectations. This phenomenon, known as the Normalcy Bias, keeps us focused on what we perceive as ordinary and familiar, allowing us to navigate our daily lives without sensory overload.

    However, in emergency situations or unpredictable events, Normalcy Bias can work against us. The element of surprise catches us off guard, leading to precious reaction time being lost as we struggle to comprehend the situation and determine the best course of action.

    The key to countering this is cultivating situational awareness.

    By training ourselves to be alert, even in relaxed moments, we can develop an innate sense of what is normal and routine in any given situation. This heightened awareness allows us to swiftly identify potential threats, assess our surroundings, and make informed decisions.

    It's important to understand that not every situation can be prevented. In these cases, situational awareness may not help us avoid dangerous situations completely, but it can significantly improve our reaction time and the outcome of our decisions.

    Building Blocks of Situational Awareness

    Mindfulness and Focus

    Take a moment to pause and be present. By eliminating distractions and sharpening your focus, you can dive into the present moment and notice things that others might miss. It's like putting on a pair of glasses that reveal the hidden gems in your surroundings.

    Observation and Perception

    Become a curious observer of the world around you. Train yourself to pay attention to the little things – people's body language, environmental changes, or anything out of the ordinary. These subtle cues hold valuable clues that can guide your actions and decisions. Click here to practice your selective attention and situational awareness.

    Critical Thinking and Decision-Making

    Situational awareness is not just about being aware; it's about using that knowledge wisely. Sharpen your critical thinking skills and learn to process information swiftly. This will empower you to make sound decisions, especially when time is of the essence.

    Adaptability and Open-Mindedness

    Flexibility is the name of the game. Embrace the unexpected and challenge your assumptions. By keeping an open mind, you can adapt your understanding and response to fit the ever-changing circumstances. It's like having a mental gymnastics routine that keeps you agile and ready for anything.

    How can I improve my situational awareness?

    Now that you understand the essentials, let's explore how to put situational awareness into action:

    Stay Present and Avoid Distractions

    Avoid being lost in thought or absorbed by distractions like excessive smartphone use or listening to loud music.

    While cooking on the stove, am I fully focused on the task at hand to prevent accidents like fires or burns due to lack of focus? While using public transportation, am I alert to my surroundings, including any suspicious behavior or unattended bags? Where is the emergency support, if I would need to call for help?

    Observe and Scan

    Actively observe your surroundings, paying attention to people, objects, and changes. Continuously scan the environment for potential risks, exits, and unusual elements.

    As I enter a new building, do I locate the nearest fire exits and emergency evacuation routes? When driving, am I checking my blind spots and using my mirrors to ensure safe lane changes?

    Expand your field of view

    Instead of focusing solely on what's in front of you, try to expand your field of view. Peripheral vision can provide valuable information about what's happening in your surroundings.

    How can I expand my field of view to navigate through the crowds, and keep an eye on my personal belongings? How can I expand my field of view while walking a dog near a heavy traffic street to ensure the safety of my pet, anticipate approaching vehicles, and be aware of any potential distractions that may affect my dog's behavior?

    Use all your senses

    Rely not only on your vision but also on your hearing, sense of touch, and other senses. Be attentive to sounds, smells, vibrations, and any other sensory cues that can provide information about your environment.

    I am walking alone to the parking garage, am I feeling changes in the lighting or shadows that could suggest potential hiding spots or areas of concern? I am using public transportation during late hours, am I listening for any verbal altercations or heated conversations that may escalate into a safety concern?

    Challenge Assumptions

    Dare to question your assumptions and biases. Be open to alternative viewpoints and information that may contradict your initial perceptions.

    I am using a new piece of equipment, do I read the instructions and verify my understanding, avoiding accidents or misuse? When traveling to a new destination, do I actively seek local advice and take steps to verify the safety of specific areas, instead of solely relying on stereotypes or assumptions?

    Trust Your Instincts

    Our instincts often provide valuable insights, alerting us to potential dangers or opportunities.

    I am walking alone at night, am I listening to any feelings of unease and taking precautions, such as using well-lit routes or requesting a trusted friend to accompany me? I am meeting someone for the first time, do I trust my instincts about their behavior and integrity, and take necessary measures to ensure my personal safety?

    Practice in Different Settings

    Embrace situations outside your comfort zone to enhance adaptability and situational awareness.

    In a crowded music festival, am I aware of the location of medical aid stations and emergency exits in case of any emergencies? While traveling abroad, am I researching and familiarizing myself with local customs and laws to avoid inadvertently engaging in unsafe or disrespectful behavior?

    Situational awareness is not about fostering constant paranoia and fear

    It is important to note that situational awareness does not mean and should not turn into constant paranoia, fear, or obsessive need for control of everything that is happening around us.

    Why is this so?

    People are simply not designed to function under such high levels of stress and adrenaline for extended periods of time.

    Working in a constant state of high alertness is not sustainable, as all people, even highly qualified operators, need time for rest and recovery.

    However, the fight or flight response can be very useful if it can be controlled. So when practicing situational awareness, one should focus on practical analysis rather than irrational fears.

    Ready for anything: Mental Preparedness

    Another important aspect to steel yourself and deal with life’s difficulties is mental preparedness. This refers to a type of mental toughness, in which you train yourself, so you do not get easily overwhelmed in stressful or dangerous situations.

    It covers learning how to deal with specific dangerous situations before they even occur and gaining practical knowledge but also using certain relaxation techniques to handle stress more effectively. In the following, we will take a look at a few different ways in which you can increase your mental preparedness.

    Maintain your physical fitness

    Physical workouts automatically help strengthen the mind. Not only are you getting all that important dopamine from exercising, but workouts train your ability to endure discomfort and pain on a mental level.

    Exercising also increases your confidence in your physical and mental strength. Keep pushing yourself further to increase your strength and stamina, both physically and mentally.

    One great way of working out and getting in some mental preparedness is learning some basic self-defense moves. Once you have learned them, practice them until they become muscle memory. This again will boost your confidence and feeling of being prepared if worse comes to worst.

    Challenge yourself

    Similarly to the above segment on situational awareness, which mentions embracing situations outside your comfort zone, challenging yourself regularly to do something you have never done before can help you increase your mental toughness and mental preparedness. This could be anything from sky-diving to taking an ice cold shower or fasting for a day. By challenging yourself to do things that are not necessarily very pleasant or that may scare you, you can become tougher and more resilient in the face of stress.

    Positive thinking

    Have you ever heard people say that attitude is everything? Well, it really is. This is not just a cliché. If you train yourself to think positive and choose a proactive mindset in challenging situations, you can shift your thoughts away from fear to action and believe in your ability to make a difference, even in life-threatening scenarios.

    A U.S. military program conducted mental toughness training with the main goal of making soldiers more resilient by helping them to think like optimists. Indeed, positive thinking increases a person’s ability to endure and even thrive in difficult, stressful situations.

    A technique that can help with shifting that mindset is known as cognitive restructuring. This technique helps people change the way they think. In the context of stress management, the tactic is to replace stress-producing thoughts with more balanced thoughts that do not cause the person any stress.

    To do this you have to identify a situation that leads to stress and examine the thoughts and feelings that crop up when you are placed in this particular situation. After analyzing these thoughts, you can determine which ones are true and which ones aren’t. Essentially, you can thereby figure out whether you are catastrophizing. The next step is to develop an alternative and more balanced thought to change your thinking, your feelings and your stress levels in that situation.

    Learn different relaxation techniques

    Aside from reframing your thoughts, there are physical exercises you can do to help with stress management.

    These basic relaxation techniques further help calm yourself down in stressful situations. These could include meditation, breathing techniques, yoga or other practices you may find helpful. Such activities can decrease fear and anxiety, boost your mood and further both your mental health and self-esteem. All of these benefits come together to make you a more well-adjusted person who is better able to cope with challenging situations. What is important is to learn and use these techniques in daily life, so when a stressful situation occurs, you can automatically make use of them.

    Gain practical knowledge for emergency situations

    Another way to build mental preparedness is to study emergency procedure knowledge for anything you deem relevant. You learn a new skill, such as fire-starting or first aid, which boosts your confidence that you can survive tricky situations on your own, which in turn makes you more mentally prepared. For example, in our app you will find various first aid related content and a deep dive on CPR.

    When you travel to an unfamiliar location, you may want to read up on natural disasters in the area and study some general knowledge on how to act should you encounter such a situation.

    There is an entire world of knowledge out there that many of us have never even touched upon, but that could make a big difference to you getting out of a threatening situation unscathed. The benefits of a wealth of practical knowledge and overall preparation should come as no big surprise. With the help of all of this useful knowledge, you are able to regain your composure more quickly when thrown into a stressful and dangerous situation, which allows you to plan your next steps more clearly rather than giving in to blind panic.

    Arousal Control Training

    Did you know that stress helps us survive? When we are stressed, our bodies go into fight or flight mode and we become incredibly focused. This particular reaction can enable people to do truly astonishing things no one would normally think possible, such as mothers lifting vehicles off their trapped child. However, too much stress causes performance to suffer.

    This is where arousal control training comes in. This is a technique commonly used by professional athletes, but which also features in mental preparedness training for Navy Seals.

    Arousal control tactics keep down your stress levels, so your performance is not impacted. They include having a plan, focusing on the things you can control and using techniques to control your breathing, e.g. breathing in sets of fours.

    Practice Emergency Conditioning

    Another tip from a Navy Seal is to do Emergency Conditioning (EC). This is a technique that prepares individuals for unfamiliar situations by mentally simulating them in advance, aiming to reduce fear and stress during real-life encounters. By envisioning detailed disaster scenarios, such as fires or attacks, you can become more effective at preparing your mind for potential emergencies.

    EC is a way of making unknown situations seem familiar. You do this, by tricking your brain into believing that it has already lived through an experience before. This way, a situation seems much less scary or stressful when you do encounter it. The key is to imagine the scenario with as much detail as possible, including the sounds, the smells and the physical sensations.

    Set small goals

    Another approach to make sure you do not get overwhelmed is to set yourself smaller, manageable goals. Your main goal may simply be to survive a dangerous situation, however, this can still be broken down into smaller goals, such as get out of the car/away from your attacker, find another person, get to a police station, etc.

    By having smaller goals, it is easier to stay focused and not give into panic. By looking specifically at the things you can control, you can make sure that your stress levels stay in that productive region we mentioned before, rather than completely soaring off the charts.

    Trust yourself

    Finally, a really important factor in how mentally prepared, tough and resilient you will be is trusting in yourself and your capabilities to get you out of this emergency situation and to safety. Generally speaking, people tend to be much more resilient and adaptable than they think they are. This includes you as well. Trust your instinct and your ability to tackle any difficult situation. Don’t give in to fear.

    As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”

    Mental preparedness ultimately can decide the success or failure of you getting out of a tight spot safely. Don’t leave it up to chance, instead focus on improving the above mentioned skills and you will see results even in more minor stressful situations you encounter in daily life.

    What are your top tips to increase situational awareness and mental preparedness? Drop us a line at


A profile picture of Ana-Marija Autischer
by Ana-Marija Autischer
The visionary Founder & CEO of Vigilios, where her extensive research into travel safety over the past two years has positioned her at the forefront of the industry. With a keen eye for innovation, she translates complex safety concepts into practical advice for travelers worldwide.

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