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Situational Awareness for the Head

situational awarness

Does this sound familiar:

“I have this thing I want/need to be doing. It will make me very happy, calm even, to be working on it. It is of the utmost importance.”


In the blink of an eye, these thoughts run through your head…

“The lawn needs to be mowed before the neighbors report me to the dreaded Association. The faucet in the sink is leaking. More like “spewing.” We need groceries for dinner. Guests are coming and the house is a disaster. When will I be able to get the car fixed? The school nurse called and Child 1 is sick. You’re kidding, right now? I have work to do. Child 2 has soccer practice after school. I really need to pay some bills today. How can I get it all done? It’s too much to even think about. Will this ever stop? I’m such a loser. Can’t even begin to get my life in order. I’ll never be able to get to my ‘Thing.'”

You’ve been there, right? So have I. Too many times to count.

Situational Awareness

A few days ago, I was reading an article from one of my favorite blogs about situational awareness and how most people have none. The term “situational awareness” simply means being aware of your surroundings and appropriately tuned-in.

Somebody's going to miss this guy.

Somebody’s going to miss this guy. Wow.

People walk down the street, head buried in or talking on their phone, headphones on, with no clue as to what is happening around them. They don’t notice the elevator is already full when they try to step on. They don’t see the belligerent customer in line at the supermarket or the person lurking near their car in the parking lot. They seem to think they’re the only person in the world and all is right.

Due to my line of work, I’ve known about and practiced situational awareness for many years. It’s even more important these days than ever. But, as I read the blog post about the subject, I realized situational awareness is not limited to the physical world. It’s just as applicable to our head, or whats going on inside it.

The Morning. It’s So Nice.

We wake up every morning with a general idea, at the least, of how our day should unfold if it’s to be called a good one. In the fog of waking, the morning feels great. For me, my first thought deals with how I need just a little more sleep. Ah, that’d be great, wouldn’t it?

BAM! That ain’t happnin’. First salvo across the bow.

I get into the shower, which feels great, and the fog begins to lift. The fog is replaced with the items on the plate for the day. No room for anything else. That’s when the items I didn’t intentionally put on my plate first begin to insert themselves thereupon. Within a few hours, all those thoughts mentioned above increase and arrive at a critical mass that places me in simple survival mode. I’ve given up on doing anything besides the necessary.

Controlling the Head

At that point, I’m completely engrossed in the critically necessary. Could I have avoided this frame of mind? In most cases, I think so.

In the blog post I mentioned, Survival Mom uses the example of her child as a new driver. At every stop, he has to consciously check oncoming traffic. He doesn’t know to keep an eye out for other cars, how to watch the speedometer, keep his car in his lane, how to prepare for the next turn, all at the same time. As experienced drivers, all those things become second nature.

The same can be applied to the head. What we think, how we react, is just about all we can control each day. We can’t prevent problems from happening, but we can know they will happen. If we know they will happen, we can shape our thoughts and actions to anticipate and handle them. We can have a survival plan in place in the event the day begins to get out of hand. We can plan time into our day to help ensure we get to our “Thing.” You know, that thing that will provide nourishment and rejuvenation to our mind.

Without situational awareness for the mind, we’re daily headed for the same set of thoughts that occur at the point of desperation.

There’s a great deal of power to be had in taking control of yourself and your thoughts. In my experience, being able look an unplanned stumbling block in the eye and say, “Bring it, chief!” is a wonderful thing. I haven’t always practiced it, but it’s an effective weapon to have in the arsenal. The more I practice with it, I’m sure the better I will become at wielding it.

What are your thoughts? Can we help ourselves with internal situational awareness? Leave a comment below.

Image courtesy TaylorHerring.

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