How To Develop Your Situational Awareness – Lessons From The Intelligence Service

A “friend of ours” asked recently on Survivopedia’s official Facebook page: how do you guard yourself against the deterioration of morale during an extremely challenging ordeal?

My answer is pretty simple: until morale improves, the beatings will continue.

Joke aside, today’s article is a little bit more philosophical. Bear with me, I’m having a good day and I’ll try to share a few interesting thoughts with my regular readers, if I have one. Firstly, what is prepping after all? It’s just a punch line, a marketing logo or is more than that? If you ask me, prepping is much more than stashing gear and stockpiling food and what not.

3 Second SEAL Test Will Tell You If You’ll Survive A SHTF Situation

Preparedness as a state of mind means that you must change your perception about the world. You know, nobody can be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself. Take the blue pill, i.e. keep reading.

The problem with our modern brave-new-world society is that people tend to be lured into having a (fake) sense of prosperity and/or security, which truth be told, is provided by multiple factors, including our highly advanced (technologically speaking) society, the uber-protective nanny-state and the “snowflake-like” society. You know, safe spaces, sensitivity training, all that crap. There’s an old saying which reads something along the lines of:

Hard times create hard men. Hard men create prosperous times. Prosperous times create weak men. Weak men create hard times.

The cycle rinses/repeats ad nauseam, as we never seem to learn from past mistakes. It’s just basic human nature I guess.

Getting back to our topic, a prepper’s state of mind is not pessimistic, not by a long shot. Au contraire, preppers seek (and hopefully achieve) peace of mind and situational awareness through “superior fire power”, if you know what I mean.

And I’m not referring to “guns, lots of guns”, but to that sense of personal freedom, security and self reliance a man can achieve in this life by learning all sorts of “survival” skills. In my book, skills are more important than gear. “Omnia mea mecum porto” means that knowledge trumps everything else, as in “it’s the ultimate power in this universe”. As you can imagine, I am not a follower of that saying: “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

What makes a “prepper” different from the average Joe is the lifestyle and the mindset. A prepper can be regarded as an independent thinker, a free man on the land, making his own decisions and not expecting a helping hand from the government.

While prepping is serious business (I’m not downplaying stockpiling, far from it) I am aware of the fact that I’m not Rambo (neither do you) and skills are way more important than gear.

Having a plan (your own plan, to suite your personal needs) is the corner stone of prepping; also, knowing the difference between reading a “survival” book and actually doing something meaningful in real life (like learning how to hunt/fish/dress game/make a fire in the wild/ etc) will get you closer to that prepper’s state of mind I am talking about.

Characteristics of a Genuine Prepper

Saving can be defined as prepping in its purest form, provided we’re talking about a belief system or a mental tool. The point is, one must carefully analyze every decision that he/she makes, in order to fully comprehend all the ramifications of one’s actions, especially regarding a potential survival scenario, i.e. learn to concentrate only on the essential items for survival in a SHTF situation.

If you have a saver’s mindset, that means you’re a prepper in everyday life. And obviously, a saving-type of personality is crucial when it comes to any survival scenario. If you can live on your own stash and/or by using survival skills for as long as possible, and if you can live on the least without complaining much, then you’ll be capable not only to survive, but to thrive, and you can call yourself a prepper my son.

Be aware of what’s going on in the world, about the global economy/financial system, prioritize, remember the rule of three’s : you can survive for three weeks without food, for three days without water and for three minutes without air to breathe.

One of the most important things a prepper should achieve is situational awareness. This means that you must be aware at all times about what’s going on around you. In order to “learn this power”, you must train both your eyes and your mind, so you’ll be able to instantly indentify all the small yet crucial details in a given situation, while anticipating people’s reactions and assessing potential threats in various scenarios. I know, it sounds complicated, and maybe it is. But that’s the discipline.

My motto is: the best way to win a violent confrontation is to avoid it. Hence, start practicing reading body language.

Speaking of reading body language, the best way to start learning this skill is by reading your co-workers/colleagues reactions. More precisely, try to analyze how their pitch of voice, posture and their facial expressions tend to change when they’re hungry, tired, excited and so on and so forth.

You must study these aspects on people that you know well, because they are generally true when trying to read people you don’t know. Observe how people in love are reacting, but also watch people arguing, learn what the body language says about their state of mind, in good and bad situations. You must concentrate particularly over the eye’s movements and the movement of the skin around the eyes, because that old saying “the eyes are the windows to the soul” is correct; well, most of the times.

A Prepper’s “Proper” Mindset

Prepping is like eating an elephant: one bite at a time. Learn new things, don’t be afraid of what you don’t know (yet). Be open to new ideas, make new friends, expand your horizon. You can always learn new skills and acquire them with practice

The golden rule is to be tough as nails, or as close to that as humanly possible. Don’t get me wrong though. By being tough, I don’t necessarily mean having a high tolerance to pain or being strong as a bull, physically speaking. I am talking about toughness in the “old school” way, i.e. a true prepper should be able to withstand harsh environments without whining and without losing his/hers survival abilities.

Basically, you should be able to remain functional and to perform well when you’re in a tight spot and you don’t benefit from all the comforts and luxuries of our (still functioning) modern society.  I mean, bootcamp toughness.  Like, fasting on Fridays, going hiking/running when it’s snow/cold/rainy/miserable outside, getting up early in the weekends and working outside (chopping wood for example) even if you have a cold. Seek discipline and find your freedom, i.e. try to not talk (at work for example) unless someone asks you a direct question. Get tough using incremental steps, as in start with being uncomfortable when it comes to little things in life (don’t use the AC in the car during summer or heating in the winter) and go from there; choose the “hard way” when doing physical activity, stop being lazy, don’t get distracted, don’t get spoiled.

You know that “don’t be negative” saying, which has become almost a stupid cliché due to overuse by “flower-power” types; however, it holds true for survival, and also goes to a prepper’s mindset ; when it comes to survival via situational awareness, one should be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. Hence, don’t try to criticize everything, nor be negative all the time.

When working out, choose dumbbells over machines, walk instead of drive to work, run outside in the park instead of mimicking a hamster on a treadmill indoors; basically always choose the harder/the more natural path, adversity over comfort and so forth and so on

All these things will help you a lot in achieving the prepper mind set I am talking about, and by extension, situational awareness in every aspect of one’s life, 24/7/365.

If you think I am exaggerating with this “be tough” mantra, just think about how your life would be AFTER the worst case scenario SHTF moment. Yes, it will be way beyond difficult, trust me on that.

In closing, let me give you my usual “words of wisdom” routine: prepping is not about the destination, it’s about the journey. And the proper state of mind of a prepper is that whatever may come my way some day, I’ll be able not only to barely survive it, but to thrive.

I hope the article helped. If you have other ideas or comments, feel free to use the dedicated section below.


Written by

Chris Black is a born and bred survivalist. He used to work as a contractor for an intelligence service but now he is retired and living off the grid, as humanly possible. An internet addict and a gun enthusiast, a libertarian with a soft spot for the bill of rights and the Constitution, a free market idealist, he doesn't seem very well adjusted for the modern world. You can send Chris a message at editor [at]

Latest comments
  • An unfortunate ( and totally preventable ) tragedy occurred recently. Because of this county’s non existent border security a beautiful young college student was murdered by an illegal alien from Mexico. I am referencing Mollie Tibbetts.. A case in point about “situational awareness” . and carrying a lethal weapon at all times.

  • Thanks for this piece of basic wisdom. Not many people getting down the the fundamental mindset. It also helped confirm my own position and mindset on prepping. Good job.

  • Anyone that is addicted to their “smart” phone is virtually condemned to never achieving situational awareness. It is astounding how many people I see in airport terminals, restaurants, or on the street that have their faces glued to the screen. Turn it off, or put it in your pocket.

  • I am former military and a woman. I was a Specialistt in the Far East during VietNam. Talk about situational awareness and it brings to mind walking thru Bangkok, Thailand at night alone. Everyone needs to be aware of their surroundings everywhere, everyday, no matter where you are. The most secure setting can end up deadly in a moment. Yes, you can assume I am a Prepper, and you would be correct. This article only touches the surface and I hope Chris writes more in-depth articles here. Thanks so much for informing those who need the education. You will always have me as a fan. Thanks Survivopedia!

  • This topic has been covered ad nauseum in articles dealing with Martial Arts, Security, Self Defense and other realms of Disaster Preparedness. I remember it being covered in early issues of Soldier of Fortune back in the 70’s. Point being that much as the information is good, it will only be absorbed by the willing and not learned completely from an academic viewpoint. Topic was maybe first and best covered by Jeff Cooper but still…like the Bible or a 12 Step Guide…it won’t make sense until you have that “come to Jesus” moment and it’s all too real. Nice article to be sure. Thanks.

  • Good article. I have always followed the “Be Prepared” motto since the Boy Scouts. I was about 30 years old before I realized how ignorant I was. Learning to “work smarter, not harder” came easier, however, I still work hard, it’s just easier. I have always listened to my elders (my dad had a barber shop back in the day), and paid attention to advice given to me. Reading this prepper stuff assures me I’m a good one to have on your team should SHTF.

  • myself, i live in minnesota and don’t keep a car. i’m not into camping or bushcraft per se, yet it’s amazing what a huge difference living car-free has made in my life.

    in terms of what you speak about, riding to and from work or friends’ houses when it’s a hundred degrees out -or minus fifteen, yes, it does toughen one up. yet the best part is what it has done for my general lifestyle and internal though processes. keeping enough groceries to last thru the harshest parts of winter and summer. ability to get more out of watching clouds in sky than show on tv. look of shock on faces of staffers at doctors office “are you really this healthy?” (i’m fifty)

    am autistic, so have always needed to work more on reading body language. thanks for the reminder on that, and thanks for a cool article.

  • In modern Military parlance, Embrace the Suck.

  • USMC 1953-65, licensed hunting guide in ID, MT, WY. Worked in more than 40 countries as a utility pilot. Lose your situational awareness and you die. I’m 82 and still aware of what is going on around me. I’ve been shot 7 times, stabbed a couple, run down, beat up, and got all the scars to prove my claims. You have to stay alert and be aware of what is going on around you. The fact that I have so many scars simply means I am a survivor. I still lay in supplies for long term survival and rotate them on a regular basis. I anticipate someone trying to take it away and they will pay a dear price to do so. Might I add, I am also a Distinguished Pistol shot with many trophies and awards in shooting both rifle and pistol. All that means is being able to focus on the task at hand. Was the aviation editor for Soldier of Fortune magazine from its 3rd issue. Bob Brown and I still see each other from time to time. Black belt in Aikido in two styles and often say, if I can walk away from a confrontation without any blows, I am the winner. I am also called shy and bashful.

    • Wow. A Well Lived Life. I hope to avoid the scars by utilizing SA but sometimes I’m just not in the Zone and I’m sure that happens to everybody. Exceptions were when I was on a deployment. I was usually on a heightened sense of awareness but even there….over time…we can get lax. The difficult part is to be on some status of awareness wherever and know when to increase it. Your categorization process is spot on. Useful information. Thanks for posting.

  • I am Always puzzled by the lack of understanding about what “Real S/A” is. An awareness is useless – unless you categorize it correctly: 1.) Distance (or Radius) from your exact location – 50 yards distance is different from 1 mile away, different from within your state, different from USA to Worldwide events; 2.) All of these May require your attention; 3.) Time allowed to react will generally be different; 4.) Results observed may be Fast, Slow, or Not at all. You don’t write it down – You evaluate each event and it’s importance.

  • I have always admonished my daughter (step-daughter) upon our parting “Safety and Security” “Be aware of your surroundings” After 40+ years of step-fathering, my daughter can recite ver batim what she is going to hear when we prepare to part even though it’s nearly an ‘eye-rolling’ event for her.

  • I agree with those who state that people will not learn until a crisis is upon them. Our system is designed to funnel Americans into dependence on a socialist mindset. Get real!
    Most, so called “men” , could not take care of their families more than 3 days..

    • A lot of them don’t know which end of the hammer to hold because they lost the instruction manual.

  • Take the Red Pill… The best thing about this community.. Is we have few editors..

  • Rather than look at a persons eyes look at their mouth. This says far more than the eyes do I can assure you

  • i drove an eighteen wheel truck over the road for 16 years, and you see a lot of things, but my credit to a lot of my success on the truck was the fact that my mom and dad owned a Yamaha shop when I was a young girl, yep I said girl, so naturally my first car was a motorcycle. No big thing except it was in Phoenix, Arizona, where motorcycles are nothing less than target practice for bikers, this is why you see many motorcyclist, especially Harley bikers carrying accessible weapons. Point being, I learned, through these two modes of transportations how to read people in a very quick way. On the truck there are all kinds of idiots called Lawyers who would have you understanding that getting into an accident with an 18 wheel truck is going to get you millions. Thus making driving a big truck a challenge in its own just for that fact, because everyone is looking for that payday. But one of the biggest laughs I ever had in my life was listening to the radio in New York of all places one day. The morning crew was talking of an incident that came up in, Yes, New York. It spoke of how these two people were talking about where beef came from, the gentlemen was speaking on how he butchered all his meat, basically he was talking about how you couldn’t be sure what meat you get back when you take a cow in for processing, many believe that butchers will keep the best cuts for themselves and give the owner back what is left over, even if it meant giving them some of someone else’s cut, all of the sudden this animal rights person burs-ted into the conversation and stated that she could not understand why anyone would need to kill anything, that the store made all the meat that anyone could ever need. Let that one sink in for a minute. Sounds like a blonde joke, I’m hear to tell you, I myself an blonde and that statement has been obsolete for a very long time. Point being, there are people out there that really think this way, I rescued a horse that broke its leg in Florida and because America closed down all slaughter for horses this horse was on its way to Canada, I drove from Iowa to New York and picked her up. On the way back to Iowa, the amount of people that were floored by seeing this animal really concerned me, these people have never seen livestock, and something like what is about to happen to our world is coming full force, so it is no mistake people that when someone tells you to be prepared, Lord have Mercy, don’t discredit any kind of circumstance,

    • LOL well the first didn’t go so well, editing would be a nice thing to be able to do here, however “I” is what I meant for the first word to be, cap lock was on. lol