Being continually aware of your immediate surroundings and your present situation is something that could easily save your life. Learning to be observant and to continually assess is something that takes constant practice, but it may be one of the most important aspects to finding your way out of a bad situation, or for avoiding one altogether.
It is well known that muggers and other criminals will often seek targets that are not paying attention to their surroundings. Their success often relies on the element of surprise, and as such they will typically avoid preying on someone who seems very aware of their environment.
Another frequent situation where this skill can help you is when driving. Don’t just focus on your own vehicle’s immediate path. Make an effort to notice the vehicles that are around you as well as further up near the horizon. By doing this many potential common accidents can be avoided. Although situational awareness can take a lot of effort to become second nature or habit, I believe it is well worth the investment. I am much better at this when I am alone, and I recognize that I need to become better at remaining aware even when I am engrossed in conversations with friends. Recognizing when you are most vulnerable will help you to improve your efforts at those times.
Begin by making an effort to continually remind yourself to be aware as you go about your normal day. Take note of things that seem out of place. For example: If there is fresh snow on the ground, take note of any footprints near your home or vehicle as you approach it.
When walking around the corner of a building or vehicle, make your path swing out wider than you normally might and glance into the natural blind spot as you come around it.
When entering your home, or any building for that matter, pay attention for broken windows, splintered trim, pry marks or anything else that could be sign of recent attempts at forced entry.
When driving, make an effort to continually scan not just your mirrors, but also where the road meets the horizon. Watch the cars far ahead of you for sudden brake-lights. (I have personally avoided several speeding tickets with this tip).
When stopping at an ATM, stay observant for any pedestrians loitering in the area, and watch that they do not start to approach you. As your awareness starts to become habit and second nature, things will often stand out to you that you might have otherwise missed. You will begin to notice when things, or people, seem out of place.
Those in law enforcement positions typically get good at this by force of habit, and I have even heard that when eating lunch together they will sometimes fight over the booth seat that has a view of the entrance!
Get in the habit of noting all possible exists when entering a building. Consider which exits would provide the quickest exit should it become necessary. Just like in defensive driving, strive to keep multiple exists open should one of them become blocked or otherwise dangerous.