I Was Fooling Myself About Situational Awareness

I like to think I’m a fairly observant person. Most of the time I am intentional about trying to stay aware of my surroundings. I study the topic of situational awareness, teach about it, and have even written some articles about it. Even when I’m using my smartphone in a public area, I am intentional about using my peripheral vision to try to stay aware. But a few months ago, I realized I was fooling myself.

Sitting at the Bank

One morning I had to go to the bank to get something notarized. Unfortunately for me, it was a pretty busy day, so I was going to have a substantial wait. I reached for my phone to start passing the time and realized I had left it at home. No, I don’t suffer from nomophobia (yes, that’s a real thing), but I do suffer from being impatient sometimes and my phone helps me pass the time.

Instead, I started looking around at the people coming in and out of the bank. Those waiting and those involved in transactions. While I was watching them, I started to feel like I hadn’t really done this in a while, and I started to enjoy trying to figure out things about people based on what I could see and hear.

As I felt that familiar feeling of awareness come back, I also felt a wave of conviction come over me. I realized that I had been missing so much around me by just relying on my peripheral vision and using the phone to keep my ADD at bay. I teach people to watch for small things so they can catch the danger early and I was being a big hypocrite.

Yes, my peripheral vision will catch that someone walked in, but it won’t tell me which way his eyes went as soon as he walked in, if he was tugging at clothing to keep something hidden or any of a hundred other things, we notice without even realizing we’re noticing them. Noticing that a person walked in is one thing, but if you couldn’t tell me if that person is dressed like a Disney Princess or not did we really observe anything useful? Worse, I realized I was sitting in a bank with the plan to make myself less aware. (Nothing bad ever happens in one of those, right?) My situational awareness was being impaired by my own actions.


To be honest, I was overestimating my own abilities and then patting myself on the back for “being more aware” than most people. I was fooling myself into thinking that my abilities could make up for my own bad habits. Then and there I decided to change my habits on how I use my phone in public and resolved to spend more time working on my observation skills.

4 Ways to Build Your Situational Awareness

1) Pick out a person and watch them for a few minutes. See what you can figure out about them. Are they left or right-handed? Type of occupation? Hobbies? Education? Affiliations?

2) See who else looks aware. What makes you think they look aware? What behavior are they exhibiting? While you are watching people, see who may be watching you.

3) If you use your phone, make it a point to look up and scan every minute or so. Also look up when someone enters your peripheral vision, not just register that there was movement.

4) If you have family, teach them these things and make a game out of it. Who can figure out the most things? Or the most interesting thing? Quiz each other about the store you were just in. Ask them what the name of the cashier was or something like that. Kids will often start getting into the challenge. The beauty of it is that they’re making those situational awareness skills more automatic.

Sooner is Better

The sooner we can spot potential trouble, the better off we are. When you spot things early, you have more options. As time diminishes, so do your options. It also gives you time to formulate better plans.

How do you work on situational awareness? Are you intentional about it or are you perhaps fooling yourself a little bit too? Let us know in the comments.


  1. Martin D. Castellanos, UMTC on September 28, 2023 at 5:07 pm

    EXCELLENT blog!

    • Alan Hughes on October 3, 2023 at 9:28 am

      Thanks Marty! That means a lot coming from you.

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