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  • Writer's pictureAndy Murphy

3 Ways to Improve Your Situational Awareness

Ways to Improve Your Situational Awareness

How you can boost your situational awareness and keep yourself safe in public

I want to share with you three things that I do regularly when I’m out in public to try to spot trouble before it starts. And many times trouble isn’t present, but it’s still good to make wise decisions so that you don’t find yourself in a bad spot.

Watch 3 Ways To Improve Your Situational Awareness

We Can’t Be “On” All The Time

Of course, we can’t always be 100 percent aware all of the time. We need to enjoy our life, right? Also, our brains can’t sustain that type of usage for long, no matter how experienced you are.

While the title of this post is straightforward, we need to understand that situational awareness is very complex. You can’t get everything you need to know from a TikTok video or an X thread. This was discussed recently on the Left of Greg Podcast with Greg Williams and Brian Marren.

They really helped bring into focus that situational awareness is only a part of a larger process of taking your safety seriously. That’s episode 226 of the Left of Greg Podcast that was released earlier this month. Listen if you have time.

We can’t be switched on all the time. Not even I can do that and I have studied this stuff a lot over the last seven years. The fact is that we are going to get tired, we’ll be distracted by the dog in the parking lot, or we’re going to have our faces in our phones.

Secure Habits for Your Safety

Knowing that we can’t always be situationally aware, I realized that I needed to develop secure habits. These habits I’ve developed from what I have learned about being safe in public. While my brain may not always be switched on if I commit to some hardcore habits, I still have some security radar working for me.

So here are three ways to improve your situational awareness with secure habits.

Secure Habit #1: Checking Your Car Before You Get Out

The first secure habit comes from the parking lot. When you are getting out of your car, make sure to check the area around your vehicle. I have the circular blind spot mirrors on my cars and I look at them before getting out to make sure no one is standing beside me ready to rush me if I open the door.

Then I also scan a larger area around me to see what’s happening in the lot and who may not fit in. I’ve done this for a long time, but I heard Patrick McNamara say it as 5 and 25.

He says that you first look 5 yards out from your car and then 25 yards out to see what’s going on before you get out. And it was cool to hear him say it that way because I’d be doing something similar for years, but I think his way is much more memorable. So look 5 yards around your car and 25 out to see what’s going on.

Secure Habit #2: Up and Out

Secure habit number two is to look up and out. This means we limit the opportunity to be distracted in public. The best way we can do this is by not being on our phones while we are out. When our faces are in our phones, we are down and in. That is the exact opposite of what we need.

I need all of the opportunities I can get to see that a situation is developing. So to better my odds of being aware, I have to set myself up for success by making my eyes, ears, and brain available to take in what’s happening.

Also, when your face is in your phone, you may not notice that you’ve wandered too close to a fountain until you’re all wet. So keeping yourself alert to your environment is key, and you need to devote your brain to that.

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Secure Habit #3: Who’s Not Acting Like Everyone Else?

The last secure habit that I will leave you with for today is to notice who is acting counter to what’s going on around you. John Hill of Shield Protection Products told us a story about helping his young daughter spot danger in the parking lot. He asked her to point out the person who wasn’t acting like everyone else.

Of course, this is a simplified exercise for a child, but the point for us is that humans tend to go with the flow and those who don’t can earn a bit more of our attention. I have a story on that. Not one where I spotted someone acting counter to the environment, but because I was the anomaly in the baseline.

Disney Detainment

I’ve told this story before but it’s worth going over again. On the last day of my last Disney trip, I was not in a great mood going to one of the parks. I was tired, I didn’t want the trip to end, my family had gotten stressed over a disagreement and I just wanted to get inside.

When we reached the outer entrance to the park, the one before the ticket gate I realized that I didn’t have a sunny disposition. The baseline for people going to a Disney park is happy, excited, and energetic. I was none of those things.

Before I even hit the metal detector, the closest agent squared up to me. His shoulders, feet, and hips were all directed at me. Because I was not like everyone else, they wanted to stop and check me out before I went on.

So as I am talking with this agent, the others are watching me too. He asks to look in my bag. I know there is nothing in there he’s going to flag. After a brief search, he pulls out my KeyBar and examines it.

He gets excited and taps my the Key Bar and says, “Sir, you can’t have this knife right here. Get it out for me.” He even had a little bit of happy feet going as he bounced up on the balls of his feet and looked away so I’d not catch the smirk on his face.

I told him that I didn’t have a knife and splayed all of the keys out for him to see. I said the key in question was actually the key to my church. As quickly as he was excited, he deflated a bit. After that, he sent me on my way and I smiled for the first time that morning.

In that situation was he wrong to stop me? Absolutely not. I was the anomaly in the baseline, but I was not a threat. But he was right to investigate further and that’s what we have to do is check out who’s not acting like everyone else and see if this is going to be an issue for us. If it is going to be an issue, then get out of there.

Improving Your Situational Awareness

I hope that you’ve found these 3 secure habits helpful for improving your situational awareness. Yes, there are more and I’ll share them as we go. Just keep in mind that situational awareness is a big topic of multiple domains that are all situational based on the environment and circumstances. You can’t get it all at once, but if you commit to it it’s a fascinating journey.


Andy Murphy

Andy Murphy founded The Secure Dad in 2016 with the aspiration to help families live safer, happier lives. What started as a personal blog about family safety has turned into an award-winning podcast, an Amazon best-selling book, and online courses. He focuses his efforts in the areas of home security, situational awareness, and online safety.


Andy is a husband and father. His interests include coaching youth basketball, hiking, and trying to figure out his 3D printer.

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