Most times, being focused is a good thing. But when you’re hyper-focused to the point that it means losing awareness and telegraphing it by action, clothing or another communicator – you could be setting yourself up as an easy target.
Don't be so hyper-focused on a task, a device or within your own thoughts that you lose your sense of awareness and protection. (And it helps to have a travel buddy to cover you when your focus is diminshed.)
Inset photo: This can make you look like tourist very quickly. In general, it may signal your unfamiliarity of the area. If a person (local or traveler) is focused on a task for too long, it communicates the unawareness and inattentiveness of their surroundings.
If you must, however, there are ways to be temporarily focused on a task without much danger. First, when possible, position off the street and sidewalk to a safer area with less interactions to worry about. When finished, shift attention back to your surroundings. Simple enough. However, in the background of this photo, there are at least a half-dozen people looking down with their focus locked on a device for prolonged periods of time and some even trying to navigate intersections at the same time.
Of course, there’s no problem with enjoying the city or getting some work done at a nearby urban park. You’ll just need to make it a practice to focus on the right things, in the right place, at the right time.
Quick Practice Tip: Work on conditioning a cycle of Aware–Assess–Act.
Know where you are. Know where you're going. Assess on the move. Look for things that don't fit. Take the appropriate action.
On a quasi-side note – get out and do some people watching. (Blend in and play it cool.) There's quite a bit you can learn. And if you're a photography enthusiast, photography is a good method to help develop observation skills. That is, as long as it doesn't distract you from your surroundings.
Make it an ongoing practice
Train Your Mind
This can’t be stressed enough: train your mind. Developing a powerful mindset and mental skills are at the forefront of any effective training program for personal protection and combat. Part of training your brain requires being informed by understanding the who, what, where, when, how, and why of a scenario and learning through relevant methodologies and experiences. Effectively training your mind will also help to develop or enhance your intuition. When your gut is telling you something isn’t quite right, listen to it.
Inform Your Awareness
Awareness conicides with everything from start to finish in this article (and more) while training your brain. Educate yourself as much as possible. Practice being mindful as well as deliberate in using all of your senses to observe your overall environment – in, on, and around you.
What's your mind and body telling you? Where are you positioned or going? What’s the current weather condition and forecast? How’s the traffic? In public spaces, observe body language (not just in others, be aware of your own as well). Observe human interaction. Observe what's normal and not normal around you (and further ahead of you). Trust your gut.
From the time you wake in the morning and sleep at night, make it a practice to be aware of what's going on around you and ahead of you not only in space but in time (i.e what event is happening tomorrow?) as well as how you react to stimuli. Use all of your senses to create a snapshot of your environment.
Context plays a big part. What's normal in one place may not be in another place. Assess your environment and identify all things or sitautions (including moods and atmospherics) that are normal and not normal, intentional or unintentional.
Visualization methods can be useful both at the start of your training and long after you’ve developed practical skills. The core idea is to imagine a dangerous scenario, as well as to prevent it through preparedness. This is an effective component of training to increase your ability to identify threats and reduce surprises. This is not to be confused with “impossible scenarios” – meaning, you’ve imagined a situation where you’re in such a position of disadvantage that it’s impossible to counter or survive. (Although, doing so could become the impetus to train so much that you reduce the probability of being in that level of danger.)
Aa few examples:
Walking a unusually quiet city street at 11pm at night, you notice two shadowy figures ahead at a lowly lit corner of the intersection. Something doesn’t seem quite right and if you continue to walk into close proximity, it would reduce your reactionary gap should something bad happen. Make eye contact from a distance but walk across the street before getting too close and assess whether they follow you. As you change direction, take notice of their position and if they follow your course as well. Without looking paranoid, continue to asses their body language, rate of speed and direction.
Maybe the opposite occurred. When you crossed the street, did they simply turned out to be two people conversing on a smoke break or waiting for a cab?
Stand or sit from a vantage point in an urban or rural setting. Relax, clear your mind. Look, listen, smell, feel and assess your sensorial observations. Use your all of your senses to get an idea of what you see, what you hear, etc. Perceive the surrounding environment and atmosphere. Determine what are normal everyday occurances and what are out of character for your surounding environment. Consciously filter out what's not relevant as to not become overwhelmed (but not so much that you disreguard it completely).
Through sensory adaptation, your mind can filter out or reduce the awareness of constant exposure to stimuli to make room for other stimuli in your environment. It’s your brain’s intrinsic way to free up its resources from what’s no longer necessary and shift to what it needs to sense. For example, the ticking of clock will "dissapear" into the background after being in a room for a length of time, or the initial scent of a dinner at a restaurant may disapear after being exposed to it for few minutes. Sometimes, you may need to reset your sensory perception, so to speak, in order to perceive new stimulus or perceive interactions more effectively. This might require getting fresh air, a change in scenery or another experience to shock your senses.
Make it a daily practice to observe and reobserve your environment, specific interactions and other perceptions.
The Focus & Peripheral
One of the most under-tought, under-trained, under-developed and under-used skill is what and where to focus, for how long, and why. Here's an easy example: don't bury your face in a phone while crossing the street. If you need to use it, find a safe and well-protected area that allows you to perform your task safely as well as a position that gives you the range needed for suitable reaction time to identify and address threats of any kind.
Constrain and Minimize Interactions
The more you have to interact with something or someone – including mental physical interactions, using devices, human interaction, navigating environments, terrain, etc., the harder it’ll be to focus on what needs attention. The level of difficultly increases even more when stimuli, environment, and human interaction changes at a rapid pace. Using a tested methodology to progressively approach and adapt to each factor is crucial. Learn and test which to prioritize and which to minimize.
Tactics take priority over tools, but sometimes the process, like developing a powerful mindset, will be enhanced by a circular or recipricating process in your training program. For example, when training PTK-SMF, the overall training methodology starts with footwork and weapons/equalizers. It centers your mindset more concretely and amplifies your awareness by training to acknowledge greater threats (literally and viscerally). PTK-SMF’s training method is unique that way.
Additionally, integrating skills to detect, deter and descalate (using physchology and verbal judo), especially when weapons are factored in (your own or a threat).
Let’s not forget about other tools available to us that don’t fall under the category of weapons. For example, a smartphone, tablet, or computer and an internet connection. Using an internet search, online maps with a streetview, you can get eyes on your travel destination and surrounding environment ahead of time. (Bear in mind that some images may not be up-to-date.) Do you have a meeting in town or meeting a real estate client for the first time? Do some quick research on the people you meet, the places you’re going, the local environment and travel routes. Trust but verify.
What to Wear (or not to wear)
In everyday environments, it’s wise not to look like you just came from a photoshoot for a tactical magazine (or look like a tourist). Dress for the environment, or as best as you can in order to be consistent with your surroundings. (It can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, or county to county, state to state, country to country.)
Here's an easy example: If you're an outdoorsman and you like hiking boots, blue jeans and a buffalo plaid shirt, that’s great. But you'll stick out like a sore thumb in Miami Beach. If you want to get trendy, you're bound to stand out unless everyone else is trendy. If you're the only one, just know it and plan accordingly. An important point is that if you're in the mindset of self-protecton, dress for it. Clothing and accessories should blend with the environment, allow you full range of movement, mobility (footwork/maneuvering), and shouldn’t restrict your senses (eg. a thick ski hat or headphones covering your ears). Your attire should also enable you to carry your personal defense tools in a way that they're readily accessible. (That might mean tailoring some of your everyday clothes for your everyday carry tools.)
Orient your thinking by asking yourself: "If I were a bad guy, what would I look for in a target? Where would I place myself. What would I wear? How would I approach someone?" In the opposite view, "How do I want people to see me – as a local, a tourist, someone with a particular set of skills and mindset? Or completely blend in?"
Take initiative, get ahead of anything that could pose a threat to your safety, and familiarize yourself with a specific environment. Research the areas you plan to travel as well as the route and mode of transportation to those destinations. Get familiar with travel routes, overall environment, architecture, exits, and weather. If it’s local, do a trial run or get eyes on what the location is like and become more familiar. Create a mental picture of all the research. Before you leave your house start focusing your awareness and already have a plan. (Better yet, when you open your eyes in the morning.)
Travel in Numbers
When you can, have an extra pair of eyes and ears with you – a travel buddy or three. It's a good and easy tactic to deter criminals that are looking for easy prey. More eyes and ears help with safety. Having a few extra capable bodies will lessen the disparity. However, don't take it for granted. Traveling in numbers can still have its limitations and doesn’t outweigh the benefits of awareness and skill.
Make sure those you travel with don't distract you from having effective awareness and affect your safety (or get you into trouble). Be upfront and get on the same page (and maybe share this article). You don't have to plan so much that it takes the fun out of traveling and hanging out (unless the process is enjoyable like it is for me), but have a simple plan of looking out for each other. Move with your travel buddy in a way that you can fluidly and naturally observe, position for safety, communicate, and extend the radius of awareness for each other. Have a plan if SHTF and you get separated and when, where and how to reconnect.
Sum it Up
Make sure to keep the process simple until it becomes intuitive. The more it becomes intuitive (by informing your awareness and with repetition), the faster your perception will become conditioned and your skill set more effective.
Time to sum it up and turn it on.
Observe what’s in, on and around you. What’s normal and what’s a threat? Act accordingly.