3 Ways to Stay Safer in the City
As a self-protection instructor, I’m often asked how self-protection differs from self-defense. Well, the idea is that if you engage in a good level of self-protection--developing heightened awareness of your surroundings and becoming your own personal bodyguard--you won’t need to use physical self-defense techniques.
Here are three key ways in which you can stay safer as you go about your daily business.
1. Ditch the earphones.
Yes, I know we all find that daily commute dull and want a soundtrack to take the edge off it, but using earphones affects your perception of personal space as well as your reaction times.
One recent study found that people who wear earphones allow strangers further into their personal space than non-wearers, because the music they are playing instils feelings of relaxation and happiness that makes them more inclined to let people get close.
This would be great if only we could trust everyone we encounter on a typical day! By being plugged in to your favorite tunes, you're allowing closer contact with people with whom you may not want to be so close and personal.
Nine times out of ten, when someone brushes up against me on my walk to the office, or squeezes between two already sardined commuters, they are wearing earphones.
Yank them out, guys and gals! Listen to what’s going on around you. You’ll be able to hear a raised voice and react to it early, rather than stumbling into someone else’s argument, which is never a good idea. You won’t be distracted and focused elsewhere.
2. Ditch your phone.
Walking and talking on your smart phone accomplishes two unhelpful tasks: (1) you’re advertising that you have something worth stealing; and (2) it signals to potential thieves that you’re probably distracted enough to be worth tackling.
Here in the UK, a diplomat was recently attacked while walking through a London park while checking his smartphone for a map. Not only was he unaware of what was going on around him and advertising his BlackBerry, he was obviously lost and therefore an easy target.
We seem to have become surgically attached to our phones, so any suggestions to not take calls on the move will probably fall on deaf ears (no pun intended). However, if you have to take that call, please stop moving. Don’t walk and talk. Find a place to stop where you can stand with your back to a wall or shop front so that you can maintain awareness and avoid someone taking you by surprise.
And please, don’t loudly announce your address or bank account number while you’re talking. I'm amazed by the number of people I hear doing this on public transportation. Now I know where you live and that you’re not home. (Be glad that I don’t intend to do anything with that information!)
3. Be more mindful and reconnect.
The upshot of all this is that we need to become more aware of our surroundings and reconnect with them, rather than finding ways to shut everything out and make our commutes feel like they’re over more quickly.
Think about how good it feels when you are on your yoga mat or in meditation. Consider how rooted and connected you feel with the world and in your body. We need to take that awareness and rootedness off the mat and out onto the street.
In self-protection training, we use color codes to develop our awareness. For example, the white is completely switched off and relaxed, which should only happen in the secure environment of our own home.
Yellow is relaxed alertness, our desired state. This means being aware enough of our surroundings to be able to react to a potential situation and take preventative action.
Orange is the state that tells us there is danger on our radar and we need to react. Red is fight or flight: imminent attack.
Many victims of violence go from white to red with no steps in between, which is why they experience an adrenaline surge and freeze. They’ve had no time to think and choose a course of action. They were distracted, often by wearing earphones or being in the middle of a conversation. One of my clients felt safer walking home late talking to her husband, but it distracted her from an assailant who came up behind her on a bicycle.
So, be aware, be mindful, and learn to appreciate your surroundings. No matter how many times you take that same route to work, there is always something new to notice or appreciate if you take the opportunity to reconnect rather than tune out.
Stay alert and you’ll never need to use any fancy fighting moves – potential attackers will rule you out as being too much like hard work and move onto the distracted person further down the street.