Situational awareness, understanding what is happening to take action

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Louise Hay

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When we are forced to face particularly stressful situations, we are victims of a very evident phenomenon: our perception narrows and we focus on the danger. We develop a tunnel vision where everything else is blurry. Thus we end up focusing our efforts and energies on what worries or scares us.

Without realizing it, we are assailed by anguish, we slowly consume ourselves in worries. We fail to see the whole picture, but we sink deeper and deeper into a spiral of real and imaginary dangers. We are losing touch with reality, which causes us to respond in a maladaptive way.

So, when we go through complex times marked by change and uncertainty, we need a special psychological tool: situational awareness.

What is situational awareness?

Situational awareness is knowing what is happening around us. It means drawing a sort of mental map that helps us understand where we are and what are the challenges that await us. This ability allows us to clearly see what is happening to develop an effective coping strategy. Https://

In practice, situational awareness is like looking up from the ground to perceive everything around us. It allows us to take the necessary psychological distance from the situation to see it with a broader perspective, a perspective that allows us to analyze our opportunities and make an informed decision.

The three levels of situational awareness

1. Perception of the situation. Situational awareness starts from the knowledge of the situation in which we are immersed, which is obtained through the processes of perception and attention. If we're not careful enough, we won't be able to capture the big picture. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Massachusetts revealed that when we walk and text messages at the same time, we lose 48,3% of the visual cues that are in our path.

2. Assessment of the situation. Situational awareness does not just involve taking note of what is happening around us. The second level requires the processing of information to understand its meaning. We need to evaluate and interpret the information we have gathered to make sense of it. In many cases we do this evaluation instantly and with little effort thanks to the recognition of key patterns, but in other cases, especially when the environment changes, to build meaning we must make a continuous effort to understand the connections between people, places and / or events.

3. Decision making process. Situational awareness is not a merely contemplative process, but is focused on the future. Although the creation of meaning focuses on the past, the resulting information looks to the future. In other words, we take note of our environment to anticipate its trajectory and act accordingly. We imagine the most likely scenarios for making more effective decisions.

This means that situational awareness determines our response to different life events. It allows us to know if in a given situation it is better to speak or be silent. If we have to dare to take a step forward or if it is better to take a step back and wait. Its importance is fundamental in many professional fields. A study conducted at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston found that a lack of one of the components of situational awareness was evident in cases of misdiagnosis by doctors.

What causes the loss of situational awareness?

The lack of situational awareness leads us to a state of “situational stupidity”, which consists in maintaining a reckless and / or ignorant position in which we do not take environmental factors into account in making our decisions. So we run the risk of disconnecting from reality and acting motivated by unrealizable desires and irrational expectations.

• Cognitive overload. Distractions, for example, are a major cause of loss of situational awareness. When we focus too much on one stimulus, we can forget the rest. Similarly, when we are faced with two problematic situations, it is common for one to prevail over the other, which leads to a partial perception of our environment and to diminish or even completely ignore different dangers.

• Emotional overload. Emotions are one of the main distractions that cause us to lose emotional awareness. Our expectations of what we want to happen can cause us to lose sight of the details that tell us that circumstances are going in another direction. For example, our desire to get out of captivity in recent months has made us lose sight of the danger that still lurks. A study developed at the University of Hong Kong during the H1N1 flu outbreak revealed that awareness Situational awareness was an essential factor in meeting individual health protection standards, especially when the level of uncertainty is high and widespread.

How to develop situational awareness?

The first step in activating situational awareness is know where we are. It is not a question of locating ourselves in a physical space, but of finding the vital point that leads us back to the present and allows us to perceive all the factors that are determining our life at this precise moment. To do this we can ask ourselves several questions:

• How do I feel now?

• What things are affecting this emotional state?

• Is there an immediate threat to the environment?

• What hope do I have?

The second step is the find meaning, draw a mental map that allows us to recognize the patterns. In many cases we will have to dig into our past experiences to find the meaning of what is happening, but in other cases we will have to break the old patterns.

• How did I get here?

• What things have changed around me?

The third step is to project ourselves into the future. In this case we have to combine the objective data we have collected with our intuition, especially when the future involves a high level of uncertainty. Intuitive intelligence can be providential in these cases. We can ask ourselves:

• What goal do I want to achieve?

• How likely is it that the worst omens will come true?

• How can I avoid or minimize the danger I see on the horizon?

• What have I done in the past in similar situations?

However, to develop a truly effective situational awareness in stressful situations, we must accompany each of these steps with a serene attitude, an attentive but relaxed gaze, discreetly distanced from the reality we are evaluating. Only in this way can we reduce stress to an acceptable level that allows us to broaden our perception, have a broader perspective and develop a concrete action plan for the future.

The present is full of challenges and the future is a blurred dimension, but it will take shape more and more as we calibrate our inner compass. Knowing where we are and where we want to go is a good starting point that will give us the confidence to face the storm.

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