The Myth of Perfect Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is the active examination of understanding what is going on around you. This type of awareness can give you the information you need to make decisions about your safety. Couple this with knowing where exits are and you have a fundamental knowledge of how to respond if you see something that you feel my threaten you and your family.
As we are humans, there is no way we can be perfectly aware all the time. There is no such thing as having perfect situational awareness, it is a myth. Especially for us as parents. While we want to keep our family safe in public, the fact is that we can’t devote all of our mental resources to watching everyone else interacting in our environment. We have to watch our own little humans.
I learned many valuable lessons from reading Left of Bang but one in particular can help us understand ourselves better in this situation.
Multitasking isn’t real. It is a myth.
I’d long suspected that but the authors make the point of saying our brains can’t commit 100% to multiple activities.
What multitasking really means is the ability to start and stop activities quickly. Knowing that we can’t commit to simultaneous activities and expect to perform them flawlessly means we need to develop secure habits to maintain good situational awareness.
For example, when we eat out with our families we are responsible for making sure everyone is staying seated, being quite, figuring out what they want to eat, picking up crayons off the floor and trying to decide what YOU want to eat. Plus keeping an eye on the front door, mapping the quickest way to the best exit, trying to spot a fire extinguisher and seeing of anyone else around us isn’t acting like they fit in.
There’s a lot going on. We can’t 100% commit to one thing perfectly in this situation let alone the 9 things I outlined above. So then we have to develop secure habits to maintain situational awareness.
When I was learning to drive, I was taught to check my mirrors frequently so that I could maintain my awareness on the road, not solely look out the windshield. The same applies for parental situational awareness, make a habit of looking around to see where you are in relationship to everyone else and how that effects you, just like you’d check your mirrors when driving.
To do this, understand that you need to be an active participant in your family dinner while maintaining a good awareness for what and who is around you. When there is a break in the conversation, checkout the back door. When someone new walks in, look at them to see if they fit the baseline behavior for where you are. When you kids start telling the never-ending story about a game he invented on the playground, take that time to check out the body language of the people around you.
I can’t tell you how many times my wife has thought I was spaced out and not talking to her at dinner. When in actuality I’ve keyed in on someone who needs further investigation. Like a guy wearing shorts, flip flops and a puffy jacket with his hands shoved into the pockets. That’s unusual.
If you commit to secure habits long enough it will become second nature. I’ve been several places with my attention divided when my subconscious has spotted odd behavior all on its own. Someone's body language and positioning has caught my eye and I key in on them to see what I need to do next, if anything.
Don’t hold yourself to a high standard that we can always be 100% aware of what’s going on around us. It doesn't really work that way. What we can do is create and practice secure habits that will help us maintain a good level of situational awareness while enjoying being with our families.
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