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Hick’s Law and the Art of Situational Awareness

 We do not yet have the solutions to these questions, but the awareness that we live in an endangered world is present in more and more life situations.” Ulrich Beck

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” Bruce Lee

“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.” Albert Einstein

“The power of observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.” — George Bernard Shaw

(Day 128 of the federal guidelines for social distancing)

I have talked a lot over the past few years about Situational Awareness. It has been my most popular ACTION step in many editions of “More than Meets the Eye.” I thought that this week I would go into depth a bit more about exactly what Situational Awareness is, and how we can confidently implement these skills into our lives so smoothly that we will forget they are even there. That is the key. It is imperative that we get so used to being situationally aware that we do not even know that we are doing it. It needs to become a major muscle movement. I will also discuss briefly what happens when situational awareness gets out of control and it can cause you to not only be vigilantly aware of what is going on, but it can also be detrimental to your health.

In any serious discussion on situational awareness, what is sometimes called the law of diminishing options, is also often referred to as Hicks Law. This law tells us, as we move closer to the reality of an attack, there are far fewer things we can actually do. My thesis for this edition is that by practicing simple situational awareness, you can increase the number of options you have at your disposal to stop bad things from happening to you and to the people around you. Hicks law tells us that the earlier we can interrupt a potential threat cycle, the greater our options are. Of course, the opposite is true as well. The later we spot a threat the fewer our options are for responding.

I will provide you with several suggestions and techniques for implementation so you and your family will not only be safer, but your community will also be a safer place to live and work.

As our world becomes an increasingly complex ecosystem, it is imperative that all of us contribute to our own security and that we stop shirking it off to police and politicians. Basic awareness skills, community protocols to deal with potential threats, and a fundamental sense of responsibility for the welfare of our community or organization will take us a long way toward becoming the people we need to become.


  1. What is Situational Awareness? 

Situational Awareness is being aware of your surroundings so you can identify potential threats and dangerous situations. It is not just for super spies and highly trained operatives. Situational Awareness is as much a mindset as it is a hard skill. It can be exercised by anyone with the will and the discipline to do so.

There are 2 Key elements to situational awareness:

  1. The primary element in establishing this mindset is first to recognize that threats exist. Believing they don’t is a recipe for victimhood.
  2. The second important element of this proper mindset is understanding the need to take responsibility for our own personal security. There are too few law enforcement officers and military personnel to protect us from every threat. If we don’t take responsibility for our own security, we stand vulnerable, just waiting for someone to take advantage of us.

2. Why do I need it?  Criminals and terrorists are cowards… they are always looking for the weakest looking target…for their success.

Knowing what is happening around you keeps you from becoming the weakest link in the room or area. If you are staring down at your phone or have your headphones on in public places… you are inviting a potential attack. There is simply no other way to say it. Remember… the appearance of strength is almost as good as being strong…. about 75% of the time. 

Threat perception is a funny business.

We tend to over-react to sudden changes but under-react to changes that occur slowly and over time; similarly, we over-react to immediate threats and under-react to long-term threats.

For example… How likely is death by shark attack?  In his book, The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker points out that “we tend to give our full attention to risks that are beyond our control (air crashes, nuclear-plant disasters) while ignoring those we feel in charge of (dying from smoking, poor diet, car accidents), even though the latter are far more likely to harm us.”  Like I said, threat perception is a funny business.

III. Can I get too much of it?– A lack of safety makes people anxious and tense, and the long term effects are debilitating. The same effects occur when we believe we’re living in an unsafe situation even when we’re not. The psychological term for this is hypervigilance.

Scanning constantly for threats leads to unending, low-level anxiety which fuels a state of apprehension says Kevin LaBar a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

This anxiety, in turn, triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine which fuels anxiety in an unending cycle, and, in the long term, induces hyper-vigilance (LaBar, 2014). Too much ‘awareness’ can actually have adverse consequences on our physical and mental capacities to detect and react properly to threats. Attention is a finite resource. You can neither be aware all the time nor can you be aware of everything. This is particularly important in regards to the daily data overload we are already subject to, which spreads our attention ever thinner. 

Fear and Situational Awareness are not the same thing. Paranoia and Situational Awareness are not the same thing. Situational Awareness leaves you relaxed, aware and prepared for the worst. Paranoia leaves you exhausted and pumped full of adrenaline, which eventually causes you to crash and respond inadequately. 

  1. How can I be more situationally aware?

    This will be a super simple hands-on primer on gaining Situational Awareness.

Let me introduce you to something called the Cooper Scale

Perhaps the most effective way to illustrate the differences between the levels is to compare them to the different degrees of attention we practice while driving.

The first level, tuned out,(White) is similar to when you are driving in a very familiar environment or are engrossed in thought, a daydream, or a song on the radio.

The second level of awareness, relaxed awareness, is like defensive driving. This is a state in which you are relaxed but are also watching the other cars on the road and are looking at the road ahead for potential hazards.

The third level of awareness, focused awareness, is like driving in hazardous road conditions. You need to practice this level of awareness when you are driving on icy or slushy roads — or pothole-infested streets.

The fourth level of awareness is high alert. This is the level that induces an adrenaline rush, a prayer and a gasp for air all at the same time…. or when my daughters are driving! This is what happens when that car you are watching at the intersection ahead doesn’t stop at the stop sign and pulls out right in front of you.

The fifth level of awareness, comatose, is what happens when you literally freeze at the wheel and cannot respond to stimuli, either because you have fallen asleep or, at the other end of the spectrum, because you are petrified.

It is like trying to shift from 1st to 4th gear… the car just stalls and shuts down. The key is to move up and down the different levels of alertness with ease.


We live in a very distracted generation. We also live in a day where technology and marginalization have created an environment with many potential threats looming on the horizons of our day. Learning to be situationally aware is not just for our personal safety. Taking this seriously can save the lives of our loved ones as well. Whether you are at home, the store or on an international journey, these skills and this mind-set could save your life. They are valid anywhere. They render you ready, giving you the capacity to respond with confidence to any threats that may come your way.


One simple tool for learning to be more situationally aware is the OODA Loop. The OODA loop, observe–orient–decide–act, was developed by military strategists and United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd. Boyd applied the concept to the combat operations process, often at the operational level during military campaigns. Its application also helps leaders understand commercial operations and learning processes. The approach explains how agility can overcome raw power in dealing with human opponents. The OODA Loop is simply this: Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. It is a decision-making tool and whoever goes through the OODA loop cycle first …wins!

Here it is.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the OODA Loop – it has the power and potential to change your life. As you start looking at your life through the lens of the Loop, you’ll gain insights about how to achieve the success you otherwise would be oblivious to.

Observe– being in a place where you can see what is going on is imperative. Keeping your eyes open and your senses unhindered by artificial distractions is also a very important factor. Staring at your phone and/or having headphones/earbuds in your ears is an extremely high indicator to potential bad guys that you are not paying attention…you are vulnerable.  

Orient– this can simply mean facing the potential threat and preparing yourself for the threat, letting him/her know that you are aware and are ready to face head-on whatever nefarious things that they may have planned to happen. That could be just running away, a viable option much of the time. It could be finding a Police officer, a group of people or even putting yourself in the view of an obvious surveillance camera. Orienting yourself to the potential threat is perhaps one of the most important steps that needs to be considered.

Decide– this step brings you to the place where you make a quick plan and tap into any resources you have already made for such a threat. For instance, maybe you have pepper spray or mace. It is always good to present your readiness to act quickly as it disrupts the assailant’s OODA loop cycle because he/she is going through a decision-making cycle as well.  When you present the unexpected, your aggressor has to go back to square one and observe, orient, decide and act all over again. Trust me when I say, whoever goes through the OODA cycle first…wins!

Act– All the observing, orienting, and deciding in the world will do you little good without the will to act. Whether your actions are running away as fast you can or screaming or fighting, you must be ready to do it with the utmost enthusiasm! Your life may be on the line, as well as the lives of others around you. Never respond half-heartedly. Respond with all the energy and fierceness you can muster.

Learn the OODA Loop. Teach it to your family and your colleagues. It has the potential to save your life and the lives of those around you.

The follow-up.

Egypt’s parliament approves troop deployment to Libya…

Inside the Attack that shocked Mexico City…

The feed-back.

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