It seems like some people are born with a good sense of direction while others are always getting lost. If you’re one of the “lost” ones, have no fear. Here are ten tips to help you improve your sense of direction.
10. Use a Landmark
For centuries humans relied on clues in nature to find their way around. We all know about these clues: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, moss usually grows on the north side of trees, birds fly south for the winter, the North Star always points north, and so on and so forth. In fact, the slaves followed the “drinking gourd,” the group of stars known as the “Big Dipper,” to find freedom in the North.
“People who have a good sense of direction encode salient landmarks,” Mary Hegarty, of the Hegarty Spatial Thinking Lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said in an article in New York Magazine’s The Cut. “In Santa Barbara, we have a mountain range above the city that’s basically north. That’s sort of a visual cue that you can use to gauge your orientation,” she added.
“Exercise increases blood flow to active areas of the body, including the brain,” Temple University neurologist S. Ausim Azizi said in an interview with WebMD.
One study found that exercise can improve spatial memory. Several other studies have found that increasing aerobic exercise increases volume in the hippocampi of older adults. The hippocampus plays an important role in navigation and spatial memory–the process of storing and retrieving information within the brain that’s needed to find your way around an environment and to remember where things are in that environment.
8. Eat Right
According to a study published in the journal Physiology and Behavior, Tufts University psychologists report that eating oatmeal for breakfast improves spatial memory in children aged 9 to 11. Additionally, six- to -eight-year-old children who ate oatmeal scored higher on spatial memory tests than those who ate Cap’n Crunch.
So, what is it exactly that accounts for the differences in test performance? “Oatmeal may provide a slower and more sustained energy source and consequently result in cognitive enhancement compared to low-fiber, high-glycemic, ready-to-eat cereal,” the researchers noted.
“Since the brain uses glucose, and the source of glucose is diet, having a sustained-release food for breakfast is going to have beneficial effects on memory and attention,” noted study co-author Holly Taylor.
7. Practice Yoga
Yoga subscription box Yogi Surprise recommends trying yoga to develop your sense of direction. The yoga sequence they recommend is supposed to help develop your inner compass and possibly help jog your memory. It includes the following poses/positions:
-Standing Forward Bend
The website doesn’t go into detail about just how yoga develops your inner compass. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that practicing yoga will give you a clear mind, which, as you’ll see later on in this article, is essential for getting back on track if you happen to get lost.
FYI, complete instructions for the yoga sequence can be found here.
Anxiety plays a role in our sense of direction, too. Worrying when you’re lost will most likely cause you to become confused and disoriented. “When our automatic responses take over, we usually wind up lost emotionally and sometimes physically,” Richard S. Citrin, an organizational psychologist from Pittsburgh, told the New York Times in an email.
According to Vice Media LLC, Carol Lawton, a professor of psychology and researcher at Purdue University Fort Wayne, found that women are more likely than men to experience spatial anxiety. “Spatial anxiety is higher in individuals who feel more concern for their personal safety,” Lawton told Vice. “Spatial anxiety may limit some women’s willingness to venture into unfamiliar environments on their own, which in turn may limit occupational and recreational opportunities. To the extent that women are made to feel less safe in the outdoor environment, I do see the restrictions that result from spatial anxiety as a social justice issue,” Lawton added.
5. Train Your Brain
According to Dr. Azizi, the best way to improve your sense of direction is to practice using our two modes of mental navigation (memorizing directions via landmarks and calculating distances) at the same time.
“Some people are really good at navigating by objects in the environment, the function of object memory,” Azizi told WebMD. Others tend to rely on distances, such as remembering to go 40 yards to the north and then 40 yards to the west. To practice using them both simultaneously, Azizi recommends looking at a landmark and then locating it on a map.
4. Pay Attention
Catherine Loveday shared these tips for improving your sense of direction with the BBC:
-Concentrate: Talking on the phone, texting or letting your mind wander affects your sense of direction. She recommends focusing on your surroundings and giving your undivided attention to the task at hand.
-Look Behind You: According to Loveday, people who take notice of what’s behind them are better navigators.
3. Electrical Stimulation
Applying an electric current to the brain can improve your sense of direction, according to the U.S. Army and researchers from Tufts University.
During transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), the study participants navigated virtual environments to find specific landmarks. After the stimulation was over, the researchers had them complete spatial memory tasks. Those with a lower sense of direction showed an increase in navigation efficiency, the study found. Ironically, the participants who already had a good sense of direction showed a decrease in navigational skills after receiving tDCS.
2. Use a Smartphone
Numerous studies show that using technology like a GPS or the Google Maps app dulls our sense of direction. But, Hegarty supports–to a certain extent–the use of technology to improve a person’s natural navigation skills.
“You can really get dependent on these devices and don’t form the map you would have otherwise. But I think there are ways of using the information in GPS so that you actually can form a better cognitive map,” Hegarty said in an article in The Cut. One way is to “pay attention to where things are and relate what you see in the world to what you see in the [GPS] map,” Hegarty added. She also recommends sometimes switching up the route you take to get to a specific destination in order to give you a better sense of how things connect.
1. Get Some Testosterone
Studies have shown that men have a better sense of direction than women, so researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) decided to find out just how much of that was linked to sex hormones.
Here’s what they found: women are able to orient themselves better in cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) when given a drop of testosterone under the tongue.
Male and female study participants were asked to perform 45 navigation tasks in a large virtual 3D maze. The men solved 50 percent more of the tasks than the women. But when administered testosterone, the women “had improved knowledge of the layout of the maze. And they used the hippocampus to a greater extent, which tends to be used more by men for navigating,” Dr. Carl Pintzka, of NTNU’s Department of Neuroscience, said.
According to Pintzka, “the hippocampus is necessary to make use of cardinal directions.”
Now that you know how to improve your sense of direction, get out there and go exploring! Bon voyage!