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The Nuts And Bolts Of Awareness - Part 2

Randy LaHaie

Continued from Part #1

==== Paying Attention ====

Attention is the process of consciously attending to a thought, activity or event. It is one thing to know what to pay attention to. It is another thing all together, to pay attention on a consistent basis.

What we are conscious of is a function of our short-term memory. The capacity of short-term memory is limited, at any given time, to about seven "chunks" or pieces of information. Our senses bombard us with far more information than we could ever hope to acknowledge or be aware of. The vast majority of what is happening around us is "filtered out," and only a small portion of it reaches the conscious mind (short term memory).

The mind is selective about what it pays attention to. To a great extent, the schemas we have stored in our long-term memory determine what we notice and what we don't. Schemas influence, usually unconsciously, the filtering out of stimuli deemed to be irrelevant or unimportant. This further emphasizes the need to develop accurate self-defense schemas. Unless we do, the signals and cues we need to stay safe will be filtered out and ignored.

==== Distraction and Preoccupation ====

Being distracted or preoccupied can occupy the limited capacity of the conscious mind and disconnect us from what's going on around us. Distraction is when our mental focus is occupied with external stimuli such as loading groceries in your car, fumbling with your keys or being drawn to something unusual. Preoccupation happens when our mental focus dwells on internal stimuli such as thoughts, worries and daydreaming.

Distraction and preoccupation are inevitable. Even if you wanted to, you wouldn't be able to eliminate them for extended periods. However, if you are preoccupied or distracted when you should be attending to your surroundings, you won't detect a predator positioning himself for an assault and you won't be able to defend yourself. It is important to identify situations in your life when a higher level of vigilance is necessary and minimize distraction and preoccupation during those times.

==== Attention is like a Spotlight ====

Imagine that your attention is a beam of light. Whatever you point it at is what you notice. Inevitably when you point the beam in one direction you neglect another. Attention works something like this.

Since our consciousness is limited, we must develop the ability to aim the beam of our attention at details relevant to our safety. We need to pay attention to the "right things" (people watching or following us, potential ambush places, escape routes etc.) at the "right time."

==== Interest & Importance ====

Schema, distraction and preoccupation are only parts of the attention puzzle. What we notice is also a result of our interests and priorities. I'll quote Dr. Goleman again to make my point. "What gets through to awareness is what messages have pertinence to whatever mental activity is current. If you are looking for restaurants, you will notice signs for them and not for gas stations; if you are skimming through the newspaper, you will notice those items you care about. What gets through enters awareness, and only what is useful occupies that mental space."

Goleman is not writing about self-defense but his point could not be more relevant. We notice what we consider (often at an unconscious level) important or interesting at the time we notice it.

==== Responsibility Increases Awareness ====

Have you ever heard of the, "I-never-thought-it-would-happen-to-me phenomenon?" I'll bet you have and it was probably in relation to someone who had something happen to them. At the core of the awareness issue is the need to take full responsibility for your own safety. Until you acknowledge, "it could happen to you," pre-incident cues may not register as important or relevant enough to notice. They will go undetected. Unless you acknowledge a need to be aware, you simply won't be.

==== Awareness is a deterrent to assault ====

As you will learn in subsequent articles on victim selection, a predator's primary targets are people who are unaware of their surroundings and lax about personal safety. One of the best, most proactive, things you can do to reduce the probability of being victimized is improve your awareness skills. Once the predator realizes that you have noticed him he'll move on to a less observant prey. The fact that you are reading this and exploring the issue of self-defense, in my opinion, decreases the likelihood that you will fall into the category of a desirable prey.

==== Points To Remember ====

=> Your ability to recognize a dangerous person or situation makes you safer.

=> Awareness involves knowing what to look for and disciplining yourself to pay attention.

=> The ultimate success in self-defense is when nothing happens!

=> The earlier you detect and recognize a potential problem, the more options you have to resolve it.

=> Detecting and recognizing danger is based on accurate mental maps.

=> Attention involves adjusting your conscious focus toward what is relevant to a particular situation.

==== So What!!! How can I use this information? ====

How can you use this information in your own personal safety strategy? Here are some examples of activities and exercises that will improve your awareness:

=> Accept Full Responsibility for your Safety

Unless you take full responsibility for your safety and make it a priority, you are less likely to detect and recognize danger cues. You are more likely to be selected as a target.

=> Identify situations in your own life requiring a higher level of vigilance

You can't be totally aware all of the time, nor do you have to be. Identify times and situations in your own life where a higher degree of vigilance is merited. When out jogging alone? When commuting to and from work? When staying in a strange city? When out socializing at the bar?

==> Build and refine your self-defense maps by continuous learning.

If personal safety is important to you, read books and articles about it, take self-defense courses, etc. You may not want to join a self-defense club or spend all of your waking hours studying self-defense. You don't have to. However, don't read a single book or take a single course and consider yourself "finished." Make an effort to periodically review what you know and continuously build on what you've learned.

=> Analyze the News

Analyze news events to familiarize yourself with criminal patterns and factors, which contribute to violent crimes. Apply the questions who, what, when, where, why and how to these incidents and use your acquired knowledge to stay out of the news yourself!

=> Practice Observations Skills

Pre-determine specific things to look for as you go about your day-to-day activities. For example, when going shopping make a "game" of spotting as many tall, dark haired men with a moustache as you can. Next time look for something else. Consider the fact that "playing" awareness games makes you appear more observant to a predator who may be evaluating you as a potential target.

=> Establish self-defense habits

If you knew you were going to be attacked the next time you went to work you just wouldn't go. The truth of the matter is that you never know when you may be targeted as a potential victim. Assaults happen at all times of the day and in all types of setting and situations. The only effective self-defense strategies are those that you build into your day-to-day behavior. They become unconscious habits by repetition and consistency.

==== Conclusion ====

I have discussed the nuts and bolts of awareness and attention: what they are, how they work and why they are important. I'm sure you still have a lot of questions remaining to be answered. There are still areas of your "map" that needs to be fleshed out and completed. The Protective Strategies Self-defense Resource Center is intended to assist you in that process. As you learn more about the components of a comprehensive self-defense strategy, you will develop a clearer, more specific map to reduce the probability of a confrontation.

Good luck, train smart and Stay Safe.

Randy LaHaie Protective Strategies

Randy LaHaie is the president of Protective Strategies and has been teaching reality-based self-defense for over 30 years. He is the author of several "Toughen Up Combative Training Guides" ( Subscribe to his FREE SELF-DEFENSE NEWSLETTER at

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