Situational Awareness, A Strategy of Resilience

Knowing what's going on around you. Understanding the threats and opportunities facing you. Seeing things in perspective with no stress or fear. All of these abilities involve a certain kind of competence that has an impact on your ability to cope and be resilient.
Situational Awareness, A Strategy of Resilience
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Situational awareness is defined as an exceptional capacity for survival, improvement, and resilience. It consists of drawing a mind map to understand where you are, what’s surrounding you, and what challenges lie ahead. Above all, this strategy allows you to know exactly what’s going on around you so you can come up with a coping strategy.

This kind of capability might remind you of some kind of superhero or Boy Scout. However, although you might think it’s remarkable, you can also develop this striking set of cognitive abilities. Psychology recognizes that human beings are capable of amazing processes. Furthermore, you can train these abilities in order to make smarter decisions and cope better in times of crisis.

In addition, “awakening” situational awareness is a very valuable strategy in current times. Indeed, in these complex times, with many changes and challenges on the horizon, the brain needs to know how to act when faced with uncertainties and dilemmas.

A woman standing on the edge of a cliff.

Situational awareness, what is it and how can you develop it?

When you’re dealing with stressful situations, something remarkable happens. Dealing with stress tends to reduce your perception and you focus on fear. Even worse, you hyperfocus all your energy on these particular concerns. Thus, almost without even realizing it, you’re suspended on a small island in the middle of an ocean of anxiety. And you’re unable to see the end of this particular complex situation.

Situational awareness lets you take a step back where you can look up and see everything around you. You can raise your head, let the breeze cool you down, see what’s in front of you, and sort through the opportunities available to you. This resilient attitude, which is a necessary part of situational awareness, gives you the ability to acquire new survival skills through adversity.

At present, much of the concept of situational awareness is applied in the military field, and also, more specifically, in aviation. One of the most noteworthy figures in this field is Spanish teacher María Gabriela López García. She’s a pioneer in using neurofeedback to teach this cognitive technique. However, this resource has also provoked interest in the psychological field. 

Practicing situational awareness

Open all your senses, look around, and take notice of everything around you

The first step towards activating situational awareness is to know where you are. However, in psychology, this doesn’t mean a location you could pinpoint on a map. Instead, it means the point marked by the present moment, the here and now.

To carry it out, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do you feel right now?
  • What triggered this mood?
  • What do you think about how you feel? Would you like to feel differently?
  • What kind of environment are you in? Is it a favorable one or are there any threats? Are there any promising or encouraging aspects?
  • What types of people are around you? Do they make you happy?

Mental representation and recognition of patterns

The next element for you to train is your mental representation. This consists of drawing a kind of mind map which allows you to look at things from a better perspective. How? By comparing your present life experience with your past, thanks to the knowledge you’ve obtained over your life so far.

The brain frequently works in patterns. And your past knowledge and experiences help you respond to today’s challenges. We all have a personal journey, a past that charts what we are today. And the following aspects can help you define that mental representation:

  • What are your values? Are you living your life according to them right now?
  • If you’re going through a bad situation, what’s causing it?

One of the patterns that define you is personality, as well as your attitude and coping skills. Do they fit your current situation? Have they worked for you in the past? Should you change anything to suit your current circumstances?

A woman looking out to sea.

Situational awareness: the forecast

Situational awareness starts from a key element: the assumption that the present is full of challenges and that you must stay up to date. Preparation today will allow you to better face the future. Furthermore, your mind must manage your past experiences. And, in addition, you need to pay attention to the here and now, whilst looking towards future challenges at the same time.

You have to combine inner calm with intuition. Furthermore, you need to calm your fears and manage your worries so that you can look at life from a wider perspective and map out tomorrow’s goals. However, developing this type of attentive yet relaxed outlook takes time, because sometimes your uncertainty and current problems can dampen both your spirits and hopes.

However, nothing is as important as positioning yourself where you can achieve what you want in accordance with your values, as well as improving yourself every day. The future is an unknown which becomes defined as you safely move forward with a well-calibrated inner compass.

Knowing where you are and where you want to go is always the best starting point.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Endsley, M. R. (2000). «Theoretical underpinnings of situation awareness: A critical review.» En M. R. Endsley & D. J. Garland (coords.), Situation Awareness Analysis And Measurement. Mahwah, NJ: LEA
  • López García, Mª G. (2011). «Entrenamiento de la Conciencia Situacional mediante neurofeedback.» Colegio Oficial de Pilotos de la Aviación Comercial. Aviador, número 61 julio-agosto-septiembre 2011.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.