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Self Defense Law

3 Great Situational Awareness Decision Making Concepts

Being aware doesn’t only mean that you see things. Being aware means that you have seen, heard, felt or somehow else perceived what happens around you, analyzed that perception, consciously or unconsciously assessed the information and are able to come up with a responsive action through understanding of that information.

In other words – you know what is happening and are able to react. And this is why situational awareness is so important for effective self protection and self preservation.

It teaches you to make decisions and take action based upon your effective perception.

Concepts of decision making

Three I's

The most important for me and also the very first concept for decision making I have ever learned about comes from my coach Tony Blauer. It is based upon unconscious situational assessment and literally trusting your gut feeling. This concept, method or tool (whatever suits you best) is called the Three I’s, and it stands for:

  1. Intuition
    - your honest, but baseless belief about something, mostly related to your acquired knowledge or your believes

  2. Instinct
    – your body reaction to a stimulus – like the well-known “butterflies in stomach”

  3. Intelligence
    – your rational understanding of the situation

In other words, while you live your life, your brain processes 100 millions of information per second and stores the gathered info in its internal memory. Analyzing it and making your body to react according to the results.

When it recognizes something that according to your knowledge and/or experience is being understood as a possibility to get harmed, it tells you trough your gut feeling.

All of the sudden, you know something is not right and can’t shake it off (Intuition). Your body starts gives a shot of adrenaline and starts to give you all the different feelings – basically getting ready for a stress situation, like fighting can be (Instinct). Now you have to take all the stimuli you received from your body, understand it and connect it with what happens around you (Intelligence).

When you ask someone who was mugged, ambushed or attacked in any other way and survived, he or she will tell you that they knew before, that something was wrong. Why? Because their brain has already resolved the situational assessment formula and did all it could to inform its master through what we call the gut feelings.

This method is mostly based on Gavin de Becker’s research described in his book The Gift of Fear.

At just the moment, when our intuition is most basic, people tend to consider it amazing or supernatural. - Gavin de Becker | The Gift of Fear

I have found a video of Mr. de Becker speaking about this particular topic on the youtube with many examples, so I paste it here for your better understanding of research’s concept.


Another really cool concept we use to work with situational awareness and decision making came up from the US Air Force, and is called the OODA loop.

It is an acronym of four steps:

  1. Observe
    Look around you and see where you are, who or what is there, what is happening. Is the environment reacting somehow to your action (i.e. entering the pub)?

  2. Orient
    Recognize the actions significant to your concern. How are people reacting? How is the environment changing? Does something represent a threat for you? Do you recognize any kind of behavior that may result in violence?

  3. Decide
    Decide on an action you’d do perform.

  4. Act
    Do it.

A very simple example: You see a drunken guy approaching you in a pub (Observe). You realize he is pivoting back and throws a wild swing at you (Orient). You choose not to cover but to duck under the attacking hand (Decide). And so you duck (Act).

The main benefit this concept brings is an understanding at which point in the loop is currently your opponent and achieving the position of advantage by getting through the loop faster than him – for example by recognizing patterns in his reactions to your decided actions.

That may then allow you to recognize the intents of your opponent faster than he’s able to execute them or even that you don’t give him a chance to react to your actions by anticipating his - all based on your fast and effective orientation.

Coopers Color Codes

The last concept I would like to mention here is called the Coopers Color Codes.

It describes four conditions people are at, during the process of situational awareness, using colors.

The color of the condition then relates to the level of jeopardy you are being exposed to and how you personally feel it affecting you.

  1. White

    If you happen to be in this condition, it means you are absolutely unaware and oblivious to your surroundings, not paying attention to what is happening around you.

    This is exactly the stage that criminals are looking for with people so they can choose the victim, that would not see them approaching and put themselves in the alarm mode.

    This condition is also usually a byproduct of having your senses shut down for example by sickness, bad mood, focusing on the screen when texting, listening to the music through headphones, etc.)

    When you happen to be in this particular condition (as majority of people on this planet usually are), your Three I’s may kick in (if senses are not blocked) and get you to the condition yellow. OR, if attacked, you will go straight to the condition red, what you may realize in the actual fight, because you survived the first blow that awoken you, or later in the hospital because the attacker didn’t give you a chance to react, or you may not recognize you were ever in that fight at all, because you are dead.

  2. Yellow

    This is basically the condition you want to be at all the time. When you are here, you are observant and responsible to your environment.

    It is here that you develop your self protection habits and observation experience, like (seeing who is at the bar before you even fully enter, sitting at the table with your back to the wall so you can have a good view at the restaurant space, noticing weirdoes in the busy crowd etc.).

    And because here, in this condition, you tend to see things, observe things; you trigger the OODA loop.

    Some say that condition yellow equals to being paranoid and I strongly disagree. It is far from paranoid. It is more like prepared. I usually compare it to the state when you drive a car. You look at the road, monitor all other participants there and predict their next actions. You are not driving your car with the expectations of crushing and killing yourself. You like driving it. You like to have it under control – that is the condition yellow – having your safety under control.

  3. Orange

    If you have accessed this condition, it means something triggered your awareness to the more serious and deeper level. You know something is not as it should be and you are alerted.

    In terms of decision making, this is the stage, when you look for the nearest escape route or a place to hide; try to find an improvised weapon or put your hand on your holstered handgun, which you may use, if the situation turns into a fight – condition red; etc.

    If the situation proves not to be perilous, you get back to condition yellow.

  4. Red

    The fight is on. The danger is imminent and you have to react NOW!

    Here you start to defend against the threat, making in-fight decisions (fight or flight, should you draw a weapon, should you kill, etc.).

Understanding and implementing these methods to your personal training will help you turn your situational awareness skills to a whole new perspective.

You will learn to listen to your body and be able to recognize when sends you a signal that something is not ok and you need to pay close attention to what is happening.

When in a fight, you’d able to think more clearly because through the situational awareness mental training you would know at which level of danger you currently are and you would train to allow yourself to take required actions – even when to kill.

If you would appreciate some tips for improving your observational skills, go check out the 5 Easy exercises that will help you to improve your situational awareness skills and start training today.

TAGS: situational awareness street smart


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MORE ON situational awareness:

Gavin de Becker: The Gift of FearThe Gift of FEAR
Gavin de Becker's masterpiece