Broadly speaking, there are two ways the brain navigates. First is dead reckoning This is a process where your brain keeps track of the physical feeling of movement in a series of directions, and so knows where you have ended up. You can think of this as a “blind-folded” form of navigation – you have a sense of where you have ended up just by moving there.
The second kind of navigation uses visual landmarks. You can think of this as noticing and then remembering that you went left at the gas station, then right at the waffle house. When you see those visual landmarks again, you’ll know how to retrace your path.
We all have our regular routes whether we are walking, driving or going by public transport. Why not change things up by adding a few extra minutes to your commute or regular journey to grow your hippocampus?
For example, instead of driving the same way to the supermarket, find a different way to to get there and try to follow the same route back, but without using your sat nav.
Try to notice and remember features of the environment on your journeys. Try to commit distinctive buildings, trees, monuments and landscapes to your memory to help you form a more detailed mental picture of the route.
Obvious caution is needed when you are driving but you should challenge yourself further with this activity if you are a passenger or on foot.
Navigation skills are used more often than you think. When you are planning a social event or travelling to a new city there is always one person in the group who takes responsibility for Google Maps on their phone.
Volunteer yourself for this role to develop your navigation skills. Familiarise yourself with the areas you are visiting beforehand and make a note of where key destinations are in relation to one another.
The important thing to remember is that you are doing this to develop your brainpower but this shouldn’t be at the expense of having fun and relaxing with friends and loved ones.
Smartphone and sat nav technology means that we no longer have to rely on our own navigational skills to the same extent that we used to. However, these new technologies do provide us with opportunities to develop our spatial orientation skills in other ways.
For example, Google Maps allows you to use pins to save key locations that can be categorised however you like. This could be to highlight places that you would like to go, and places that you have been and would like to return to. Spending a few moments to use this feature on your phone will improve your navigation skills.
An easy way to expand the number of places you have been is to explore. Don’t always plan to be in certain locations at certain times. Plan to wander and see what you might find.
This includes walking, driving and taking public transportation to nowhere in particular, getting off the bus or train when something captures your interest.