Here’s the deal, multitasking doesn’t exist, human beings cannot do it. Not even women. And criminals can exploit this.
Only one focus at a time
Human beings can only consciously focus on one thing at a time. Don’t believe me? Try juggle some fruit while doing random multiplications (like 127 x 12).
The only time you can do multiple tasks is if one of them is automatic (unconsciously competent). Like driving while holding a conversation.
Who else uses this fact?
Not to be corny, but magicians use this “single focus at a time” thing during magic acts. The call it misdirection. They talk about their left hand. They wave it around. So you look at their left hand. But their right hand is behind their back doing all that sneaky stuff.
Magicians use misdirection because it works.
And criminals know this too.
Picture being in a parking lot. Imagine a stranger walking up to you. But he gets uncomfortably close. Do you feel yourself trying to pull away from them. Maybe lean backwards to create space?
We have a well-developed sense of what is “right” and what feels “wrong”. Someone we don’t know getting too close just feels wrong. We want to back away.
But criminals need to get close enough to mug you. So what’s a Bad Guy to do? How’s he supposed to close the distance?
The BG knows you won’t let him close, so he will distract you.
Talking with strangers
A professional mugger knows that one of the easiest ways to distract someone is to ask them a question.
“Hey, do you know where blah blah street is?”
“Got a light?”
“My battery died, can I send just one text from your phone?”
If you answer the question, heck, if you look like you’re thinking of an answer, then you’re a target.
By answering the question you put your conscious focus on the question and how best to answer it. Which means you’re not paying attention to the big 4 pre-attack indicators. You’re not checking where the guy’s hands are. You’re not paying attention to how close he’s coming.
You’ve become easy prey.
Owning your focus
If someone asks you a question, and you actually think about an answer, then they control your focus. You’ve given them that control over where your attention goes.
In normal social life this is fine. But context is everything.
The guy across from you at work asking you if you have some extra staples, is probably not making you look in your desk draw so he can steal the lunch out your bag. Context.
The guy in the alley asking you for the time is trying to initiate a social script. He wants you to think about your watch, or whether you should even answer the question. He doesn’t care, just so long as you stop walking and shine your focus on something other than him coming closer. Context.
The guy behind you at the ATM asking you for the time? Is it a setup? An Interview? Well, what’s the context? Is it a sunny day with lots of people around? Or is it a stupid time and stupid place (i.e. a Fringe Area)?
It’s all about Fringe Areas
This is why I like to start people off with knowledge about Fringe Areas. When you can tell if you’re in a Fringe Area, then it’s much easier to choose the right course of actions.
An example: People tell you “don’t talk to strangers”. But you need to talk to them all the time. The girl behind the cash register at the shop is a stranger. It’s pretty safe to talk to her. What gives?
The key is that she’s not in a Fringe Area. She’s in a crowded shop, full of people and CCTV cameras and witnesses and and and.
It’s when you’re in a Fringe Area that you need to be careful.
A demonstration of attention control