Eyes In The Back Of Your Head Situational Awareness

One of the first lessons that you hear when you start learning about situational awareness is to position yourself where you can have your back protected and best see approaching threats.

It’s not a new concept. 150 years or so ago, it was called the “Gunfighter’s Seat.”

It’s the seat in a restaurant, bar, office, church, etc. that’s far away from the main entrance, faces the main entrance and is, ideally, in a corner with an emergency exit nearby.

You see, if you’re in the middle of a room, you have 360 degrees to be aware of.

If you’re against a wall, you have 180 degrees to be aware of.

If you’re in a corner, you only have 90 degrees to concern yourself with.

And for the person who has trained in the tactical arts, that produces a warm, happy feeling that sheep will never fully appreciate.

But what about when you don’t have the gunfighter’s seat?

Sometimes, you might end up facing a wall or corner or find yourself smack dab in the middle of a room because it’s the only spot left.

The same applies to standing conversations. Sometimes you end up with a commanding view of the room and other times you don’t.

When there’s an easy way to improve your position, that’s an easy fix…just move.

But reality is seldom cut and dry and it’s common to find yourself in non-ideal situations and today, I’m going to give you 4 tricks today to have eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head awareness for those times.

I DO want to start with a disclaimer. I do not know about a current specific threat to my life and you’re probably in the same boat. As a result, I’m not concerned about random people sneaking up behind me and stabbing me in the back or doing other crazy stuff. Nobody that I know of has any reason to specifically target me for attack today. So, what I primarily look for are general threats to my safety.

If you’re a parent, you’ll identify with these concepts immediately.  They’re the same skills that we use with our kids to give them the impression that we’re omnipresent, can see through walls, and know what they’re doing even if they’re behind our backs.

First> It’s fairly obvious to use mirrors to see behind you, but I want to encourage you to take this to an extreme…look for ALL kinds of reflections, like polished surfaces, the face of your smartphone, the face of your watch, the glasses of the person you’re talking with, and—in some cases—even the pupils of the person you’re talking to.

You may or may not see details when using these alternative reflections, but what you can see is whether someone is purposely approaching you.  When you’re meeting someone, it’s very powerful if you are facing away from them with no obvious way to know that they’re approaching you and turn around with a big smile (and no surprise) on your face to greet them.

Second> When you’re facing other people and you have other people behind you, watch the eyes of the people you’re facing. They’re going to see things behind you and, oftentimes, their eye lids and/or pupils will observe and unconsciously react to things before they consciously realize what’s going on.

It’s not unusual for people who use this trick to pick up on eyes widening or pupils dilating, turn around, and respond to the stimulus before the person who’s eyes widened is able to.

As near as I can tell, the reason why you can react faster than the person who’s actually seeing things happen has to do with visual complexity.  They are trying to rationalize what they’re seeing, but all you have to do is key off of the subconscious response of their eyes.

When you start doing this, you’ll quickly start seeing the subtle differences in micro-reactions when someone sees something they like behind you (an attractive member of the opposite sex who’s favorably dressed) and something they don’t like (a threat, or more commonly, something/someone who they fear or who otherwise is threatening or repulsive to them).

When you’re sitting across a table from 4 people, and you purposely tune into their pupil reactions, it’s like having 8 eyes in the back of your head. I’ve found that this works, regardless of whether or not the person is trained and switched on or not, but it definitely works better with someone who’s more switched on.

Third> “Feeling” and listening to the crowd. Also known as establishing an audio baseline. I was at a shooting event a couple of weeks ago and several dozen of us were in the bar after the awards ceremony. Because of the nature of an event like that, sometimes I was facing into the room and other times I was in circles of people where their backs were against the wall and I was facing them with my back to the room.

What I did throughout the night was occasionally stop for a second or two and consciously listen to the sound of the room. People tend to stop idle conversation and either go quiet or yell when they spot something dangerous or “exciting”. Any time the “din” of the crowd changed noticeably, I looked around and, sure enough, SOMETHING had changed…whether it was a group of guys all pulling out their knives to show them off, a couple of guys deciding to start wrestling, or other harmless antics.

But picking up on changes in crowd noise that happen in response to harmless antics just gets you tuned in and sensitive for a time when people are responding to something more serious.

When the flooring/ground cooperates, start paying attention to the sound of people walking and establish a baseline for the particular event/conditions. You’ll not only start matching the sound of particular footsteps with the right person, but you’ll be able to place where they’re at in the room…even if they’re behind you.

When you combine these together, and get a little practice under your belt, it really is amazing how aware you can be of what’s going on behind you.

I play a little game in restaurants when a table gets sat behind me. Based on what I hear (footsteps, chairs, voices, etc.), others’ reactions, and reflections I see, I try to guess as many details about the group as possible, including how many, sex, age, build, and threat potential. Then, I turn around, grade myself, and try to figure out what clues I missed that would have made my guess more accurate.

This all happens in a matter of seconds. Better yet, after you get into the habit of doing it, you’ll start doing it unconsciously and don’t really have to think about it very often.

There’s a 4th little trick that I use that kind of falls into the realm of “eyes in the back of your head” but it’s more of a trick for observing a room without people realizing that you’re as switched on as you are.

It’s incredibly simple, and kind of obvious.

Whenever possible, flick your eyes instead of turning your head. Three big benefits are:

First> It’s nice to blend in. Normal people are oblivious. **THIS IS HUGE** When you’re an obvious watcher, it marks you as an outlier. Other outliers will identify you as an outlier, but may not know whether you’re a good guy or a bad guy. Bad guys might give you unwanted attention if they identify you as a good outlier. Good guys may waste their attention on you instead of seeing real threats. When you blend in, you don’t make yourself a target for bad guys or a distraction for good guys.

Second> It’s faster to scan by flicking your eyes than to turn your head. For me, I have about 90 degrees of binocular vision before my nose gets in the way, but roughly 220 degrees if I look as far as I can to the right with my right eye (knowing my left eye is looking straight into my nose) and the same to the left side.

That also means that I can turn my head 60-70 degrees to the right and see straight behind me. (It’s easier if I look down slightly) If you observe a threat, run or square your head up to it and take care of it.

Third> MOST people have issues meshing visual and vestibular (balance) signals in the brain to one degree or another, and if it goes unchecked, it gets more pronounced with age. (This is what The Automatic Aiming Course focuses on). Turning your head rapidly can cause many people to get disoriented JUST enough that they lose the ability to focus for tenths of a second, up to a second or more.

If you’re one of those people who gets a slight delay when you turn your head quickly, try keeping your head still and shifting your focus instead.

Are you passionate about situational awareness? Wish the rest of your family was? Then you REALLY need to get the Avoid Deter Defend Situational Awareness and Defensive Flashlight course this Valentine’s Day weekend. It’s the best way to impart the peace of mind that you get with situational awareness to your loved ones and the best way to keep them safe when you’re not around. Learn more now by going >HERE<

Questions? Comments? Personal life experiences with these or similar strategies? Please share them by commenting below.

(images from wikimedia commons, used under creative commons or public domain)



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  • Gene Klosinski

    Reply Reply February 14, 2022

    IT’S TOO BAD that WILD BILL Hickock did not know about this situational aweness. The one time he was unable to sit where he wanted to,with his back against the wall, a drifter shot him in the back of his head and killed one of the greatest gunfighters of the ‘Ole WEST! Thanks.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply February 14, 2022

      He knew…but just like today, it’s impossible to have 24/7 360 awareness on your own…and it’s impossible to TRY to and enjoy life. It’s a balance where you try to dial your level of awareness to the current threat level, knowing that you may or may not be right.

  • FrankS

    Reply Reply August 22, 2020

    Great info. When I first started carrying concealed I always took the gunfighters seat and tried to get a good look at everyone that came through the door. It only took a couple times of locking eyes with good/bad guys that I realized that I was way to obvious. I might as well have had a sign over my head that said “Hey! I’m carrying! What are you going to do about it?”

    Since then I still try to get the seat with a view towards the front door but with my good friends who are also carrying may opt to monitor the back exit/entrance while they watch the front. Much more casually. Another point to consider is a position closer to the kitchen serving door behind or near the bar. There’s always an exit from the kitchen out to the trash area. Stay safe and keep the info flowing.

  • Chipmunk

    Reply Reply September 6, 2017

    I have used many of these for years and I too at one time could listen to several conversations at one time, they all sound like noise now. I use the shadow technique for a lot of things like when driving behind a big truck, I can ease to the edge of the lane and look for shadows of cars ahead of him. Sometimes I have to walk a long distance, I use shadows, noise, and the slight turning of my head with my eyes looking slightly down to see behind me, first to my left then my right to avoid supprises behind me. Some would call me crazy but it is being aware of my invironment. Great article, thanks for the tips and reminder to stay alert.

  • Jackie

    Reply Reply September 4, 2017

    Related but different. Family, friends, some co-workers have all agreed to this process. We each pick small, hard items on the table or adjacent table when we first enter a restaurant. Especially if seated in the center and especially if it’s crowded. Some even pick them up to get their feel. It’s what we throw at the trouble as we maneuver for cover should it occur. Sometimes it beats throwing leads. Just a thought.

  • Robert C. Whittaker

    Reply Reply September 8, 2016

    One might say your advise is just common since but most of your advise I have not given much thought to before nor followed those that I was familiar with. In todays environment it is something we should all follow when we can. Thanks

  • MattM

    Reply Reply October 8, 2015

    Good advice! One thing not covered (maybe because it’s so obvious and common) – minimize the ” Face-In-Phone” , or FIP syndrome! A few of the (younger) guys on (or formerly on) our team can’t seem to get their heads out of their electronic devices when training, out in public, restaurants, etc., and are totally oblivious to their surroundings. These are usually the ones that are lacking in most aspects of our tactics training. These clowns are the target of the senior’s chastising and usually get ‘nudged’ out if they persist.


    Reply Reply October 8, 2015

    Good points all, people that get passionate about open carry always seem astounded when I ask, “Why do you want to wear a sign saying, Shoot me first? But unless you are in a large group who are all obviously armed, that is exactly what open carry is.

  • Steve

    Reply Reply October 8, 2015

    Good advice, I use these techniques every time I take my family out – you just never know.

  • Judith Heard

    Reply Reply October 7, 2015

    As a correctional officer with PTSD I used all of those techniques. I have Astigmatism as a result I don’t see up and down so great but my peripheral is fantastic. With a slight turn of my head I can see movement behind me. Worked great for me on the job.I am still hypervigilent but it is loosening up after two years of retirement. I have been startled a few times since as I have actually been so relaxed that people have walked up on me and I was unaware. But all these things you mention are very good and very doable.Thanks.

  • Bill

    Reply Reply October 7, 2015

    As a hearing impaired person, I have a high degree of situational awareness. I am aware of all the things the writer is talking about. It is just natural for me. But there is another thing that helps. That is to read peoples faces. It is pretty easy to pick out that one face that doesn’t fit in the crowd. It is rare to see them, but when I do I keep an eye on them without directly looking at them. There was one time a couple of guys coming into a restaurant that gave me the chills. Fortunately they didn’t do anything.

  • Elliot

    Reply Reply October 2, 2015

    Quick question: having done a little active shooter training, I came away thinking that a good seat would be near the door so that the shooter would pass into the room and allow me time to jump them from the blind side. Sitting opposite the door kinda exposes you to the immediate assault. What’s your view on this?

    • Ox

      Reply Reply October 2, 2015

      There’s no one-size fits all answer. The gunfighter seat was traditionally where someone sat if they were a “gunfighter” and thought that someone might want to specifically target them.

      An active shooter is a completely different dynamic and, depending on the layout, an ambush position by the door might be great.

      • Puddintain

        Reply Reply October 7, 2015

        I believe the concept is referred to as “closing the gap.”

    • Sonny

      Reply Reply October 7, 2015

      Not saying a position by the door is wrong but think about this.A seat away from the door near an exit would be best IMO. If you are in the front you might be the first one shot. An exit door will allow an escape and if you are so inclined a re-entry from the shooters rear if your looking to risk your life to end the situation.

    • Mandi

      Reply Reply June 1, 2016

      “Active murderer”, not active shooter. Active shooters are at the shooting range. :0)

  • grant

    Reply Reply October 2, 2015

    yet another “US shipping only” product.. grrrr

    • Ox

      Reply Reply October 2, 2015

      Sorry about that…international tax issues and the WIDE variances in shipping make it prohibitively complicated to sell low priced products overseas.

  • Bob C

    Reply Reply October 2, 2015

    I live in the “People’s Republik” of NY. Thankfully I live “upstate” where Cuomo’s tentacles don’t reach as far. My colleagues and I as do most upstaters, have concealed carry permits. Many people are always touching their weapon. Try not to do this as other people, good guys or bad guys, will pick up on this. Don’t be so unsecure. The gun isn’t going anywhere. The element of surprise is a big plus in my feeling.

    • Steve R.

      Reply Reply October 2, 2015

      As a former resident of Onondaga County, now living in Alabama, I am glad to know the spirit of resistance to Capo Cuomo remains alive and well. Even though Alabama has become an open-carry state officially, I choose always to carry concealed. You are absolutely right, Bob — never give away the element of surprise if you can help it.

      • Bob C

        Reply Reply October 3, 2015

        Good choice Steve. If someone was planning mischief and could tell you were carrying, you would be the first one shot. As far as Emperor Cuomo is concerned we have made a fool out of him and his (un)Safe Act. Registration compliance is about 15%. Estimate about two million unregistered AR’s. Same civil disobedience in CT. About 15% compliance.

    • Puddintain

      Reply Reply October 7, 2015

      Bob C, to your point about constantly fiddling with the gun when carrying concealed, for me, it’s not so much a matter of wanting to make sure the gun is still there as much as it’s making sure the gun isn’t “printing” or (worse) uncovered completely by my shirt having ridden up. To attempt to overcome this, I give the appearance that I’m just a neat freak by adjusting the roll of my shirt sleeves, whisking off any lint that may be on my shirt, fussing about with the collar of my shirt, etc. While I’m not a neat freak, it gives that perception, thereby throwing off suspicion of carrying. I’ve been carrying for over a decade and the thing I’ve found is that it truly is a mindset and lifestyle choice. You have to incorporate carrying into EVERYTHING you do, in my opinion. Until you’ve secured the weapon, you constantly have the mindset and approach of being in control of that weapon in every way, no matter what you’re doing (walking, baking, going to the bathroom, doing dishes, etc.).

  • Sam W.

    Reply Reply October 2, 2015

    I use reflection from windows to see things,not as easy as a mirror has to be at an angle. We have a circle of windows in the lobby at work makes a challenge to figure out where the image originates.
    A night watch your shadow look for other shadows approaching, works best with street/parking lot lights.
    This is a changing world with ” polar bear hunting” or ” knock out” going on you never know if you’re safe walking.

  • Lars

    Reply Reply October 2, 2015

    Really hot tips, guys. I think we’ve all been doing at least some of this all along, but knowing how they can all be put together to bring us truly aware is great. Kudos, once again.

    P.S: The soundbite of the month you just armed me with is “a warm, happy feeling that sheep will never fully appreciate.” ROTFLSHIAPMP!

  • bill

    Reply Reply October 2, 2015

    I don’t know why, but I have for the better part of my life sought or requested the gun fighters seat in a restaruant. My wife thinks that I am out of line, however, I have proven myself to be much more comfortable in doing so. I used to be able to listen in on many conversations, but due to inherent hearing defects and also work related defects, I can no longer listen. I am in the process of retraining myself to watch and “feel” what is within my world. I was sucker punched by a so called bi-polar piece of crap and do NOT allow anyone within arms length of myself without becoming very defensive. Retraining is very important to me in protecting my family and self. IF something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Rely on your own vibes.

  • Owen

    Reply Reply October 2, 2015

    Thank you, very insightful, especially the blending so as not to distract the good guys or attract the bad guys.
    I am always trying to learn more about situational awareness but am not always as alert as I would like to be.


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