A New A.D.D. (Awareness Deficit Disorder)
You can see it every day. On the roads when you’re driving. On the streets when you are out walking. You see it at the shopping mall, in schools, businesses, and in the workplace. It’s everywhere you go. The man waiting who is so busy talking on his cell phone who steps off the curb at a crosswalk while failing to see the inattentive driver who does not see him as they drive through the red light. The woman sitting on a park bench reading a book and listening to her iPod who is unaware of the group of young men hanging out nearby and eyeing her suspiciously. The person who without warning suddenly swerves across several lanes of traffic on the freeway because they suddenly realize they are about to miss the exit they want. What is it? The answer is “A.D.D.” No, I’m not talking about “Attention Deficit Disorder.” I’m talking about what I call “Awareness Deficit Disorder.” As I look around it seems to me that many people are suffering from an increasing lack of awareness these days. The other day I saw a teenage girl who was so busy looking at her phone and texting as she was riding her bicycle that she rode directly into the back of a parked car and fell off of the bike into the street. If a car had been coming by at the same time it would have run her over. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. She climbed back on her bike, pedaled off, and guess what? That’s right, she went right back to texting.
There are different types of awareness, including: (a) Situational/environmental awareness -- awareness of our environment and what is going on around us. (b) Awareness of others -- awareness of the emotions, feelings, beliefs, etc. of other people when we are interacting with them. (c) Self-awareness -- awareness of ourselves, of our own body and mind.
In this blog I’m focusing on the first one. Some people, for whatever reason, seem completely oblivious to their environment and clueless with regard to what is going on or happening in the world immediately around them. Their situational awareness is poor or in some cases non-existent. And fortunately, some of them end up paying a heavy price because of it.
Why is Awareness Deficit Disorder so prevalent today? Why is it that people are so unaware these days? What could be the source of ADD? I don’t think there is one single factor that we can pinpoint as the underlying cause. Nowadays awareness isn’t something a lot of people tend to pay much attention to on a day-to-day basis. Unlike our ancestors whose very survival could depend upon their awareness skills on a daily basis, in today’s world many, if not most of us do not have to rely on them as much (unless they are in a profession or engaging in an activity that calls for a high degree of it). To a large extent modern society has removed the necessity for us staying on our toes in order to stay alive, so to speak. The result is that, if we are not paying attention or careful, our awareness capacities can become dulled due to lack of use. In addition, the world is moving at an increasingly rapid pace. People are rushing around trying to get where they are going or do what they want to do as quickly as possible. Plus we’re constantly bombarded daily with a never-ending stream of stimuli from a multitude of sources, all competing for or demanding our awareness and our attention. As a result, we often tune out our awareness – sometimes consciously, but often unconsciously. We are too busy doing something else and end up letting it slip. A person can even become so locked up in their thoughts that they’re not aware of what is going on around them. I’m sure everyone has heard someone say something like, “Sorry, my mind was elsewhere” or “I was a million miles away.”
Why is maintaining our situational/environmental awareness important? It’s important because it keeps you ‘in tune’ – with yourself, with others, and with your surroundings -- not only what is going on at the moment, but also any things that may happen in the immediate future. The advantage a person gains through increased awareness may prevent them from getting hurt or even save their life in some instances. It may save you from getting hit by another car while you are riding your bike on the street. It may prevent you from walking into a potentially dangerous situation. I’ve taught numerous self-defense and personal protection workshops and one of the cornerstone principles is BE AWARE OF YOUR ENVIRONMENT AND SURROUNDINGS AT ALL TIMES.
So how can we cultivate our awareness skills? Remember the aphorism, “use it or lose it”? In the same way that a muscle can atrophy if not used, our awareness skills can become dull or dormant if we do not exercise them. However,we can train our awareness by exercising it the same way we exercise a muscle, by using it on a regular basis.
From the moment I began training in Jeet Kune Do, we used to do visual, auditory and tactile awareness drills in almost every class. The objective of these drills was to sharpen our senses of perception (seeing, hearing and feeling) in order to reduce the time it would take us to recognize, identify and react to an opponent’s movements or actions, so that we could respond instantaneously and without any form of hesitation.
You can do a similar thing by creating exercises or participating in activities that allow you to use the senses you have been given and develop your awareness skills. For example, you could pretend you are Sherlock Holmes and cultivate and sharpen your skills and powers of observation by taking a walk through a park and focusing on observing your surroundings, or sitting on the outside patio of a coffee house where lots of people walk by, observing everything going and listening as well. Whatever it is you choose to do, the goal is to engage you observational skills, to be fully present and to really see and pay attention to everything is taking place.
In a world that is complex and moving at such a rapid pace, I believe a high level of awareness is one of the most important qualities we can possess. I also know that maintaining a good level of awareness can be difficult at times. I’m just as guilty as anyone else of letting my awareness slide. But I try my best to stay alert and aware to what is going on around me.
Finally, there’s a difference between awareness and hyper-vigilance that can segue into paranoia, where we’re so busy watching for something to happen that we miss it when it does. Awareness offers you freedom, freedom to act or to react. How about you? How is your situational/environmental awareness?