One day I decided to be more tactically aware. I looked for threats while walking, studied alternative exits from buildings, looked around before going to my car in parking lot.

Within a short time of this decision, I left my email open (and a coworker got into it), rear ended a car on the highway, and jabbed my finger at work with a needle from a patient with AIDS (I’m a doctor).

There is a point to this story—other than my stupidity.

Awareness should not be limited to obvious physical threats. That aspect is important, but it must be more global than that. In our day and age physical attacks are only one threat among many. You need to maintain a broad constant level of awareness throughout your day.

So, how do you broaden your awareness? I can only give you the basics here, but I do recommend a few.

The first step is obviously to learn about the different threats. Take a safe driving course. Learn about on the job safety. Learn about basic internet security. Look into what you need to do to make it through a storm and a power outage in your area. You will never learn all the threats, but the more you study, the more prepared you become. Not only will you pick out the commonalities (there are many) among different threats, but your brain will train itself to both quickly spot signs of trouble, and arrive quickly to solutions.

Second, cut out the crap. This applies to a large amount of advertising, social media and entertainment and unfortunately work communication. If streams of communication produce nothing useful, dam them up. If they produce useful info, but infrequently, learn to filter—or better yet find a tool that filters for you!

Third, avoid multitasking. In fact, there is no such thing. Your brain is not doing two things at once, it bounces attention from one to the other. If you have seen YouTube videos of people walking into posts while texting, you have seen attempts at multitasking. If you are going to walk, walk. If you are going to drive, drive. Wait until you are at your destination to look at your screen. If you absolutely can not wait to get to your phone, stop, place your back to the wall, look around, take care of your business, then resume walking.

Fourth, make your attention both as enjoyable and as relaxing as possible. I mean it! Learn to relax—it’s a skill. Train yourself to slow your breathing, and then consider the attention of every muscle in your body. Consciously learn to relax it. Feel that. This will teach you how much tension you are carrying around with you, and hopefully reduce it. Attempt to bring this with throughout your day. Second as you look around, feel free to enjoy the scenery. Don’t lock into it like a laser, but stop, smell the roses and enjoy it. By increasing your relaxation and enjoyment, you will find you can pay attention better and longer than if you are tense and miserable.

Fifth, take care of yourself. Don’t get fancy, but there is no substitute for good food, adequate sleep and exercise. And I say this as someone who considers coffee a food group. It is not a substitute for sleep. Both this point, and the previous to it demonstrate that “attention” or awareness is like a muscle. If you want your muscle to have endurance, you need it healthy, you need it trained, you need it fed, and you need the use of it paced. You are going for the marathon use of attention, not the sprint.

Igor

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