How to Pay Attention


Focus - click for photo credit

A lot of my friends are in the military. Most are extremely skilled at hand to hand combat. Many teach self-defense courses, usually populated by more women than men.

They have all told me something very similar about self defense: the mindset is way more useful (and immediately applicable) than any “Here’s how you get out of this choke” type material is.

When I asked how to be more aware, how to pay attention better, my favorite answer has been this:

Look at the people around you on the street. Most are probably staring into a smartphone, oblivious to whoever is around them.

Others are listening to music. Few are looking around, observing their environment.

I certainly have found this to be the case. So who’s the more likely target for a predator on the prowl? The person paying attention to what’s going on, or the person paying attention to Twitter?

How to practice with a narrative

Here is how I’ve been coached to practice this.

As you walk around, narrate everything you see in your head. For instance, if I go for a walk at lunch I might narrate:

Woman with stroller.

Two teens walking.

Black car, two men in it.


Man with kid on shoulders.

The idea is that when you do this, and then you see something that doesn’t mesh with what came before, with what you would expect to be seeing, it will “clang” and you’ll have one more aid to your intuition.

I’ve been doing it a lot. I notice a lot more, if nothing else. It sounds plausible to me, and it’s certainly easier to implement than studying hand to hand combat for years in preparation for an unexpected attack, although physical, specific practice and training can absolutely make you safer in conjunction with being more aware.

So…here’s to staring at everyone around you today.




3 thoughts on “How to Pay Attention

  1. I like this, and it jives with everything I have heard. If you are alert and paying attention, you are not going to be an easy target (it probably also helps to be 6’8″, 250 lbs. That would have to be one idiot attacker).

    With the onslaught of modern, hand-held technology, people are more oblivious than ever. You could probably gank everything a smartphone user had on him (except maybe the smartphone itself), and he would be none the wiser.

    And it’s hard to attack someone that is looking you in the face. Unless you are attacking each other for fun, in which case it becomes very easy.

    • That hasn’t been my experience. At least, if I go out with friends and someone wants to start trouble–usually someone drunk–I am almost always who they focus on. Something about “Oh, you think you’re tough cuz you’re big, huh?”

      No, not just cuz. I’m not a pushover, but I”m not looking for reasons to fight.

  2. This never ceases to amaze me. I’ve seen drunken dudes call out the biggest guy in the room. Liquid courage, I guess. What rationalizations go on in the drunken mind.

    Maybe they pick you because you are the one that least wants to fight.

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