Take a look at the plethora of police-involved-shooting videos on the internet to see how quickly things can go bad (often with deadly results). You seldom have time to carefully consider your options; you have to act — immediately and decisively. Situational awareness can help.

A Matter of Habit

Defensive firearms instructors focus so strongly on situational awareness for a reason. If you are paying attention, you can notice warning signs long before things go sideways. Even if your alertness only gains you a few extra seconds in which to react, those seconds could mean the difference in surviving an attack.

Whether you are in your car, walking through a mall or traversing a parking garage, you know that you should be paying attention to who else is in your space. But do you? Consistently? If you can honestly answer yes, you are in better shape than most.

Unfortunately, our increasingly busy lifestyles conspire to prevent us from living in the now and paying attention to our surroundings. Some obvious reasons for this include:

The Technology Trap

Watch people as they go about their daily routines, and you will see that too many of them are utterly oblivious. More often than not, they are absorbed in their cellphones. Make no mistake: Men and women are equally guilty.

We’ve all seen those videos of people who are so preoccupied with their phones that they walk into light poles or fall into water fountains. Sure, we laugh — until we see someone walk in front of a bus or cause a fatal crash because they were texting while driving.

Distraction in Many Forms

If you take situational awareness seriously, you are likely well-disciplined with your electronic devices. But other distractions exist. Being in a hurry and/or being preoccupied are the two most common distractions.

Rushing around can lead to all sorts of problems, from forgetting your wallet or purse as you bolt out the door to running a red light and getting a ticket … or worse. You can also lose focus and miss serious warning signs.

Likewise, worrying about something going on at home or at work can prevent us from noticing a clear threat. The term “inattentional blindness” is used to describe this phenomenon. When we focus so intently on internal matters, we literally do not see potential threats, such as a truck pulling out from a side road or the suspicious-looking group standing outside the convenience store.

Let’s face it; things happen. People get sick or lose their jobs. Unexpected bills pop up. We can’t prevent everything. The only real solution is to constantly monitor our emotional states of mind. If we find ourselves in a hurry or preoccupied, for whatever reason, we can stop for a moment to take a breath and remind ourselves how important it is to slow down and focus on the world around us.

Control your smartphone. Pay attention to your emotional state. Situational awareness is a habit that requires constant practice until it eventually becomes your default state of mind.

Stay alert. Stay safe.