Instinct & Intuition




Intuition and instincts – what role to these elements play in your personal security?  To what degree should you rely on them?  Intuition is defined as a perception of truth independent of any reasoning process.  Instinct is best defined as an inborn pattern of behavior in response to a certain stimuli.


In his book The Gift of Fear noted author Gavin DeBecker stresses the importance of listening to your intuition and paying attention to your gut feelings when they tell you something is wrong.  In her book Dangerous Instincts former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole cautions about the unreliability of listening to gut instincts and intuition.  Who is right? They may both be right to a certain extent depending on your particular situation.  As I read Dangerous Instincts O’Toole mentioned “Many books encourage people to trust their intuition; they claim fear will guide you away from danger…” and I couldn’t help but think her comments were directed at The Gift of Fear.  O’Toole presents a system called SMART that is a more reasoned and logical approach to decision-making.


O’Toole’s method looks like it would have great applications when you have time to reason through an assessment of a person.  For example if you are hiring a contractor, babysitter or nanny or some other person who might have access to your home and children or are assessing a potential business partner, etc.  This reasoned, logical approach may be less effective in a dynamic situation where you need to assess a person as a potential threat more rapidly and with less information.  DeBecker emphasizes the importance of recognizing that you may pick up on danger signs without being consciously aware of what they are or being able to explain them.  Often we may notice an abnormality of some sort – either something abnormal or the absence of something normal in our environment or in a person we encounter.  We may not be able to pinpoint what the abnormality is but we still recognize that a potential threat may be present and we should not ignore these signs.


One thing that is important to consider and one area where O’Toole is spot on is that the absence of intuitive or warning signs does not signal safety.  In many cases you may have a false feeling of safety because of an environment that feels familiar or a person who is skilled at being deceptive and hiding their true intentions.  Our article on “The Dangers of Feeling Safe” goes into this phenomenon in greater detail.


There are valuable lessons to be learned from both DeBecker and O’Toole.  You should consider the environment you are in and the situation you are facing when determining how to best assess a potential threat.

Mindsetting & Personal Security

While working on a project on kidnapping prevention techniques recently the subject of mindsetting came up.  By mindsetting we mean spending time considering potential situations that may occur and thinking through potential responses.  This will help you develop a gameplan or a framework for responding to potential threats.


The principle of mindsetting is discussed in detail by Sanford Strong in his 1996 book Strong on Defense.  I highly recommend Strong on Defense – though a little dated it provides very clear and straightforward guidance for preparing to face violent crime.  My only caveat is that the book is very US-centric and some of the guidance is a little too black-and-white so readers should take that into consideration – otherwise it’s very good.  Strong goes into detail about factors to consider with mindsetting and visualization.


Back to mindsetting:  When doing this you need to concentrate on the more likely possible situations that might occur and practical effective potential responses.  To the degree possible you should choose simple responses that can be applied across several different situations.  Giving yourself too many responses can lead to paralysis should a situation occur.  As an example if you are living or traveling in a place where criminals, insurgents or others set-up unauthorized roadblocks and stop vehicles to carry out robberies and kidnappings you should consider what actions you should take if you encounter one of these roadblocks.  If you use a driver you will want to discuss this with the driver and even consider conducting immediate action drills to practice what you will do if the threat level warrants it.  By doing this you prepare yourself and hopefully will be able to respond more effectively if an incident happens.  Even if you have to shift from your original plan – and you should leave yourself the flexibility to do that – you will at least start with a roadmap for action in place.


This is an exercise that you can do anywhere and should do regularly – especially if you are operating in a high threat environment.  This does not have to be limited to physical responses – you can do it for numerous other types of situations as well.  For example if you are working or living in a location where there is a high threat of detention and possibly interrogation by the local authorities you may want to work through verbal responses or scripts to prepare yourself for that type of situation.


This type of mental preparation can cut reaction time and allow you to have a more thought-out response even when there is no time for thinking because you have already considered the situation, or one very much like it and determined how you will respond.  You can use newspaper articles, incident reports and other sources about the type of events that occur in the environment where you are operating to devise the most realistic scenarios.