The Survival Sixth Sense

parking-lot1 It’s late at night. You’re on your way home after a hard day at work. As you walk to your car in the parking lot, something suddenly seems wrong. You can’t exactly put your finger on it, but you can tell, somehow, that something is wrong.

We’ve all been in that situation before. Something makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Alarm bells start going off in your head telling you, “STOP! BE CAREFUL! SOMETHING IS WRONG HERE!”

Sometimes we laugh it off and tell ourselves we’re being silly. Other times we listen to this innate voice of protection and avoid trouble. Maybe we discard that “survival sixth sense” of intuition and get lucky. But we’ve all heard stories of people who avoided danger and serious physical harm because they listened to that still, small voice. lists one of the definitions of intuition as “a keen and quick insight.” In my opinion, that’s a pretty darn good definition. I believe that our intuition is a strong survival tool. We look for the newest technologies to arm ourselves. The biggest calibers and the baddest weapon systems always capture our attention, but we cannot afford to leave out the natural tool deeply imbedded in our DNA.

Gavin de Becker describes intuition in his book The Gift of Fear:

“What many others want to dismiss as coincidence or a gut feeling is in fact a cognitive process, faster than we recognize and far different from the step-by-step thinking we rely on so willingly. We think conscious thought is somehow better, when in fact, intuition is soaring flight compared to the plodding of logic. Nature’s greatest accomplishment, the human brain, is never more efficient or invested than when its host is at risk. Then, intuition is catapulted to a different level. It is knowing without knowing why.”


This made me think of the times in my law enforcement career when I could “sense” something was wrong. It happened to me on many occasions. Often I could look back on the situation and realize my brain was processing the information in my environment faster than I could consciously comprehend. The “clue” might be the guy in the corner of the carryout wearing a heavy coat in warm weather. My brain picked up on the way the clerk looked at me as I walked in, a look partly of fear that I might not realize what was going on and partly of fear that if I figured it out, there would be a gunfight on the spot.

All these things happened so fast that my “intuition” told me the guy in the corner had a gun, but in fact all the information was being fed to my brain at super-fast speed. My brain wanted to keep me alive, so I reacted.


I asked my Facebook friends if they had any situations where their “spidey-sense” or intuition saved them. I was not surprised to learn that all law enforcement officers have these types of experiences. I use law enforcement officers as an example because all good street cops learn early on in their careers that this is a tool to help keep them alive. As a legally armed citizen, you should include this in your tool box as well. Do not dismiss your intuition.

Gavin de Becker says it best:

“Trust that what causes alarm probably should, because when it comes to danger, intuition is always right in at least two important ways:

  • 1) It is always in response to something.
  • 2) It always has your best interest at heart.”

Dan Winkle, a retired police officer and friend, has a great description of intuition:

“I think it boils down to being able to spot or sense something being off the norm, just any little thing that makes the light go on where your brain goes, danger…. Kind of like the hair standing up on the back of an animal that’s about to go on the attack. Got to be able to sense it and if not, better hope your angel is on your shoulder that night/day.”

Daron and I worked together when we were both Sergeants. I left out his last name since he is an active Federal Agent. He relays this story:

“Davidson and I pulled over a car on N. Main one midnight shift for some minor reason. I cannot explain how, but before we even approached, I knew there was a gun in the car. We got the guy out, secured him in the cruiser, and I went straight to his glove compartment and pulled out a small pistol. Cannot explain it.”


Police Sergeant Rhonda Williams (no relation) also responded to my Facebook question.

“Any time I get that ‘knowledge,’ I go with it … I always call for backup immediately and go on high alert. So far it’s been 100% accurate. I truly believe it is God watching out for us when this happens. I’ve talked to a lot of other officers who can cite chapter and verse of their own similar experiences.”

“Yes!!! I am not kidding; many times I’ve just suddenly known there was a gun in a vehicle or on someone’s person, and THERE WAS! Once I even knew exactly where to check, which was for an ankle holster (the officer patting him down hadn’t checked his ankles). This ‘feeling’ usually happens as I’m initiating a stop. I have always seen this as God stepping in.

“In the incident mentioned above, I was backing up another officer on a stop. We were pulling a driver out of his car somewhere near Bowie or Fleetfoot on midnight shift (first two strikes … location and time of day). The driver was an older male and was the lone occupant of the car. He was being extremely compliant (another clue?) and the officer who was patting him down didn’t check his ankles before starting to walk him back to the cruiser. Somehow, as I walked up to this car, I KNEW, and I mean I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, this guy had a gun in an ankle holster. I implored the officer to check (always been bossy like that) and sure enough, there was a snubnose revolver in an ankle holster.

“This has happened to me many, many times. Once I even saw a car parked in an alley and ‘knew’ it had a gun in it … my partner made fun of me for wanting to check, but sure enough there was one in plain view on the front floorboard of this car that was sitting empty.


Phil Hanner is a retired police officer. He relayed a story about his father, who was also a police officer:

“My Dad has a good one from the 1950s. Late at night he and a partner made a traffic stop for a minor violation. Dad was the driver and his partner stayed in the cruiser. The car’s driver told Dad he did not have his license with him. Dad told him to come to the cruiser. Dad was walking to the cruiser when his sixth sense kicked in. He was in front of the driver. For no reason, Dad spun around and grabbed the guy in a bear hug, pinning his arms to his body. The driver had one arm behind his back and had just grasped a pistol. He was going to shoot Dad in the back of the head and then he and the passenger in the car would finish off the partner in the cruiser. They were both escaped murderers (lifers) from Arkansas, were both armed and had nothing to lose. He told Dad, ‘You’re one lucky son of a bitch.’ ”


Hopefully by now you are convinced to listen to your intuition. Here are some of the clues or indicators you should pay attention to in a potentially dangerous situation. Gavin de Becker calls them the Messengers of Intuition.

messengers-of-intuition-300x192 These are the warning signs that something may be wrong. It may start out as a nagging feeling and work its way up to fear. You may find that you have stumbled into a bad situation and all the alarm bells start going off at once. Remember that if this happens, pay attention to these indicators. It is not silly, or being a sissy. Many strong and brave warriors have avoided terrible situations because they listened to their intuition.

Intuition may be the mind processing all the incoming information at incredible speed. It may be some skill left over from the Stone Age. Maybe intuition is even a message from God to keep us safe. Whatever it is, I, along with millions of other peacekeepers, have used it successfully for years. Understand the value of intuition and use it to your benefit as another tool to keep yourself and the people you love safe.

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11 Responses to “The Survival Sixth Sense”

  1. Dr. Jan Canty

    <strong>thank you for this. SO important and accurate. I'm well aware of Gavin De becker s work. It has saved lives. In my career as a psychologist, I've had the hairs on the back of my neck stand up only 4 times in 35 years of working with people inside and outside of mental hospitals but I heeded the message.

  2. Mary

    Any time the hair on the back of my neck stands up I know I am in some kind of danger it has saved me every time

  3. Grey rider

    Good article to read. Not often I get these messengers of intuition like above (usually kinda slow to process things) yet I have walked into a house and gotten weird vibes and hard for people to sneak up on me usually.

  4. Bryan

    Sixth sense

  5. Amy Watson

    This is an excellent topic. ^_^

  6. Richard

    I get all those messengers everytime I board a plane, or in crowded places. Sometimes you have to trudge on and find out whats going on.

  7. Cecilio

    That sixth (survival) sense is always diminished by hormones in young people. It is there, but the Superman complex doesn't let it out. It is age (or getting older) that lets it out - sometimes too late for some people. I wish there was a way to modify that scenario. That way harm will not come to so many good youngsters. Great article. By the way I am reading The gift of Fear. As I age (I'm 64) I need more help to protect my assets...

  8. Dave

    Interesting that you used the gift of fear. In that book, he laments the amount of guns in our society and advocates for gun control. great article!

  9. Rob Pincus

    Yes, Cecilio..... When David submitted, I was glad to add it to the collection because it touches on this very important and often overlooked area. Our brain and body work to keep us safe without our conscious perception countless times a day. At the root of the "6th Sense" are some very identifiable processes and RECOGNITION, even apperceived recognition, is one of the most important ones. We "know" a lot more than we "notice" sometimes. -RJP

  10. Cecilio

    Great article. Right up there with the 4th level of learning - unconscious ability. Millions of years of evolution grabbing us by our shoulders and trying to steer us from harm. Must read for all, specially instructors and trainers.