How is it that some people know instinctively where to go while others wanders aimlessly? Researchers believe the answer lies deep within the brain, embodied by an actual “sense” of direction that can be trained.
In 1981, R. Robin Baker, Ph.D., a biologist from the University of Manchester, England, reported that blindfolded subjects, when transported to a distant site, could indicate the direction home. Based on his studies, he theorized that humans possess a magnetic navigation system that works similarly to the way some birds and fish use Earth’s magnetic fields to find their way during migration, a feat known as magnetoreception.
“We are likely born with this innate sense, and then either develop it as we age or lose it from lack of use,” said Dr. Baker. Or could it be that Polynesians navigators manage to hone their ability to detect fine distinctions in the environment, while the rest of us are distracted due to daily overdose of visual, tactile, and auditory “noise”?
In this article by Leo Babauta on How to Develop an Awesome Sense of Direction, he discovered that he has an innate ability to find his way around comfortably wherever he travels, after figuring out the landscape of the land.
However, not everyone has the same ability and tend to get lost, which is especially difficult when they are travelling to new places. After being prompted by a friend, Babauta decided to breakdown his instinctive skills into a series of steps. In this article, he shares some of his tips on how to find your way in a new city or a place you’re not familiar with:
- Study the map – Open Google Maps and look for major landmarks and features in the city. Is there a river, lake, or sea shore? Is there a big park? Where is the downtown area? What are the major neighborhoods? Major roads? Famous buildings.
- Orient to landmarks – Look for major buildings, mountain, hill, bridge, which you can keep in view as you walk around. This will help you to have a point of reference, so you know where you are, in relation to that point. Sometimes look for two or more landmarks. Every neighborhood has its major streets, with shopping and restaurants. Mark the streets prominently in your mental map. You should get to a point where you can point the direction of these streets, and even know generally how many blocks to get to them.
- Walk around a lot – Don’t rely completely on the map. After studying it for awhile, put it away, and walk without it. The best way to get to know a city, is to wander around and start developing a sense of how the city looks and where things are and. When you look at a map for a few minutes, then walk around, you are forming a mental map of the city. At first, it may seem vague, but as you walk, you are able to see how the streets line-up in reality.
- Lookout for names of streets — Study street names as you walk around. Then look for the street names on a map. Eventually, you will get to know which streets head east and west, and which go north and south, and what order they’re in. Refer to the map again to fill in the blanks, to improve your learning process. It is also important to keep your orientation, by remembering where the landmark is, in relation to your position, by noting which direction you’re facing, so you don’t wander aimlessly.
- Continually update your mental map — and test it by looking at the map again, to see how well you know the city. It’s a constant process. Don’t just rely on transportation, figure out how to get places yourself. Yes, you’ll make mistakes, but you’ll eventually get it. Get lost, then figure out how to get where you want to go. It’s the only way.
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