In my past corporate life, I conducted Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” seminars, teaching participants how seek excellence. In Dr. Covey’s writings, espoused as his 5th Habit, he focuses on the principle of “Seek First to Understand”. In his context, his focus was on oral communications, however in practical aspects of our lives it also has relevance our observation skills and Situational Awareness. I explaining this habit Dr. Covey explains that people generally “listen with the intent to respond”, as opposed to truly understanding the speaker’s meaning.
A basic principle of using your situational awareness is the effort to avoid criminal actions and maintain one’s personal safety. In doing so, you visualize what to expect when observing behaviors and actions in our surroundings. That’s great, however, very simply put, we humans tend to see what we expect to see.
As an example, look at the image to the left. What do you see? Research done in 1993 found that if that question was asked of a group of hunters, the most likely response was duck. However, if the same question was posed to a group of children on Easter Sunday, the response was overwhelmingly rabbit.3.
Practically speaking, our prior experiences, along with the environment we find ourselves in, are the foundation for our expectations. Another way to state this premise is that we see what we want (expect) to see. This quite frequently becomes an “expectations trap”. So, let’s look at how we lead our lives, and how we can avoid being trapped by our expectations.
Example 1: Your expectation is that your home is your castle. You live in a generally safe community, a little rural and off the beaten path, in an area not besieged by crime. Besides, nothing has ever disrupted that expectation and you have nothing in your home worth criminal intent.
You are enjoying a peaceful evening watching the newest sit-com on the tele. Suddenly you hear a noise, and you say to yourself, it’s just the branches blowing I the wind, or, an airplane passing overhead, or, someone nearby just celebrating their freedom with fireworks. But, what if, those suppositions are you responding with a [normal] false sense of security? This is the trap!
Suddenly that supposed tree branch crashes through your front door and a gun wielding perpetrator barges in demanding you turn over your spouses cherished diamond wedding ring! Your situational awareness has just failed you, and you have become the victim of criminal intent.
Example 2: It’s a bright sunny day and you had to make a quick trip to the store for to get some ice cream you’ve been craving. On the way back home you stop at a traffic light. You find yourself a comfortable distance just behind a construction vehicle. Another vehicle pulls up behind you in the traffic line. No worries, right? Been there, done it a thousand times, haven’t you? Suddenly, a pedestrian appears at your passenger door…must want some of that ice cream I guess, huh?
Possible not. You are too close to the truck and vehicle behind you, and there’s no escape! They could well have an ulterior motive for who knows what, and suddenly you’ve found yourself unprepared and in that expectations trap once again. Your situational awareness has failed you, and and a situation has developed where you could become the victim of criminal intent.
So, what’s the solution? My immediate response to that question is to suggest you take my L.E.A.P. class using the opportunity to hone your situational awareness skills. Even that however is only a start. In reality, you need to learn how to routinely overcome your expectations. With proper and continuing training, and self-education through readings on the topic, this can become second nature to you. This requires some effort on your part, but the result will be to alter your daily behavior in an and become more aware of your circumstances, and the potential risks of those situations.
Accepting that you have a “normal” level of observation skills, with the ability to discern visual and auditory events in your environment, you already are drawing conclusions and making decisions based on this environmental input. All that’s left to do is play a little game, not just with yourself, but to include any family or friends experiencing these events with you – after all, two heads are better than one.
The article I used as inspirations for my opinions calls this game the “What If” game and is simple to do.
- Step 1; Question everything, not to point of paranoia, but focused on preparation. When you observe an event, before you come to your “expected” conclusion, ask What If?
- Step 2; Consider all possibilities. This method is not intended for immediate responses, but rather to self-educate you as to what could happen, and help develop alternative courses of action, thus breaking expectations and providing an avenue to alter outcomes.
- Step 3; Condition your self to use the possibilities reformulate your response to a given set of observations, re-direct your conclusions, and develop alternate courses of action.
- Step 4; Condition yourself that change happens in our universe, and you must adapt to and change your reactions in accordance.
Disclaimer: Concealed Carry Magazine, cited in this article, is written for an audience of practitioners of armed self-defense. My opinions and this article however are relevant and applicable to everyone’s daily life. If you do, or are, consider armed self-defense, do so responsibly, seeking out proper training and abiding by any local, state, and federal laws and regulations applicable.
Stay safe, and be well,
- Concealed Carry Magazine; Feb/Mar 2022; p.74-77. © United States Concealed Carry Association.
- Definition from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situationawareness
- Many of have seen and/or used this image in the past. Interestingly, it dates to a first appearance in the German magazine Fliegende Blätter in 1892, and subsequently in the American journal Harper’s Weekly.