If you think you can strap a gun on your hip and consider yourself protected, you might be in for a rude awakening. Self-defense is not about your gun, your holster, your tactical knife, your LED flashlight or any other piece of gear you can hang on your belt or carry in your pocket. It’s about situational awareness and conflict avoidance.

While the 5 or 10 seconds that actually make up the use of force during a self-defense incident can indeed mean the difference between life and death, it is not your gear that is most important at this time. It is your thoughts and actions leading up to that little window of activity that truly make all the difference.

Situational awareness and conflict avoidance are the keys to effective self-defense. Those two elements will get you out of more trouble than you can imagine, but only if you implement and act on both of those elements.

From the standpoint of situational awareness, the best thing you can do is make note of things that seem out of place. Don’t just look at those things; actually see those things. Is there one guy standing around scanning the area while everyone else is moving? Why is that guy wearing a long trench coat on a really hot day? Do you keep seeing the same person as you walk through the mall? Is that person buying anything, or just watching you? Who are those people standing around in the parking lot?

After you actually notice something out of the ordinary, you need to take action on the information you have. This is not to say you need to pull your gun every time you notice something out of the ordinary. Your action plan needs to begin with conflict avoidance. Get out of the way. Leave the area. If you see something that is not dangerous but you feel it could become dangerous, just walk away. Skedaddle. Vamoose. Exit, stage left. Go look for help. Ask someone to accompany you.

Doing so does not make you a coward; it makes you smart. The best fight is the one you are not involved in. To fight is to risk death. If you can eliminate that risk, you should do so.

But what if you can’t eliminate that risk? When the fight comes to you and you can’t avoid it, you must win it. You may need some tools to help you win this fight, but those tools are of secondary importance to your will to win and your ability to know when and how to effectively use those tools. I don’t care if you are using a Kel-Tec or a Kimber. Your goal is to get that gun into play quickly and get the rounds on target while you are moving to the good cover you noticed during the situational awareness phase of this event.

If your fight follows the norms, it will last less than 30 seconds. In that time, you will be required to do everything correctly, because the aftermath of that fight will last for years as the criminal and civil proceedings move forward. And during that time, you won’t be worried about the style of your holster or the caliber of your defensive pistol. You will be concerned with the prowess of your legal team and your ability to pay the attorneys who are working to keep you out of jail.

Guns and gear are important, but the information you carry with you is more important. Get training. Practice that training. Be prepared to protect yourself emotionally and financially after you physically defend your life.

Related: Situational Awareness: “Pick Your Seat”