Brain Training Part 6 – Navigating Life (or at Least the Streets!): How to Improve Your Sense of Direction
Some people have an innate sense of direction. They know where north is on a cloudy night. They can reverse directions from a new destination in a new city. Then there are the ones for whom “east” and “west” are considered four-letter words! The good news is, your brain is pliable and capable of adapting and learning new skills. Learning to navigate, hold a map in your mind, and manipulate that data to reverse directions is universally beneficial.
Let’s explore “Navigation,” the final subject of the Brain Training Series. (Previous posts focused on how to improve and increase Attention, Speed, Memory, People Skills, and Intelligence.) Are you ready?
#1 Mental Map
In both our daily commutes and when venturing into the unknown, we naturally use landmarks to navigate our surroundings. We use landmarks in giving directions. Landmarks give us a sense of location. But now the big cathedral is on your left instead of your right as you walk back to your hotel from the theater. Can you still get back?
Mental Map challenges users to hold relative positions of landmarks in order to navigate their surroundings. You will be presented with a grid showing two signs. One sign will disappear, the other will move positions on the grid. You are tasked with placing the removed sign back on the grid in the same position relative to the new location of the remaining sign.
As you progress, the grid will rotate and flip, the remaining sign will move more spaces, and the graphics will change from signs to letters. You will also have to recall the orientation of the sign or letter.
#2 Optic Flow
Driving during the day on a familiar route is not the same as driving at night through a new neighborhood. Rain changes not only the conditions on the road, but what you see, how far you can see, and how much peripheral vision you utilize. Training your brain to function well in a variety of lighting and weather conditions, dealing with hazards and distractions, and focusing in on what is important, while filtering out what is irrelevant, has tremendous real-world application.
Similar to exercises presented in Speed and Attention training, Optic Flow addresses your ability to quickly recognize objects, shapes, and distractions. But unlike previous trainings, Optic Flow adds the real-life caveat of changing conditions.
This exercise simulates riding in a car along a road. You will be shown a color and shape on an overhead sign. You will then need to find the matching sign and color on one of several possible options (i.e. another vehicle, a road sign, or an object). Just like riding in a vehicle, the target symbol, as well as the options, approach and are quickly passed. A rapid response is necessary – but be careful!
Difficulty of the exercise increases by adding more distractions, more complex backgrounds, and other elements such as simulated darkness and weather conditions.
#3 Right Turn
The ability to see and manipulate objects and environments spatially is not second-nature to all people. If your drawers at home look like an ad for Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up methods, you may already understand fully how to configure items to fit into a finite space (kind of like packing 10 days of clothing into a suitcase that accommodates the airline’s restrictions!).
If, however, you find yourself frustrated with packing or standing in the middle of a new place with absolutely no idea which direction to head; and if reversing the directions given to you is your personal nightmare, then this exercise is what you need!
Right Turn asks your brain to compare shapes and objects presented at differing angles, then determine if they are the same or mirror images of one another. In order to determine this, you must mentally rotate the object. As you progress, there will be more objects to compare and the objects become more alike.
Right Turn feels a bit like the game Tetris. Challenging your ability to rotate the object in your mind, however, presents a unique difficulty. Training spatial rotation in your brain can help you in daily home and work life, as well as in new endeavors.
#4 True North
A strong sense of cardinal directions is built into Canadian geese who always fly south for the winter. But what if you’re not a goose? That’s okay – you can train your brain to hear, understand, process, and act upon instructions that utilize cardinal directions as opposed to simply “left,” “right,” or a number of streets to pass.
In True North, you will be given auditory directions regarding subway trains. In the initial screen, you will have a compass rose with which to orient yourself. After selecting the train going the first direction spoken, you have to select the train which follows the second direction provided; this time, without the compass. The station will also have changed orientations (though the train is still facing the correct direction).
By using auditory directions, this training exercise engages multiple areas of your brain, requiring them to cooperate and work together to help you reach your destination. The further you progress, the more challenging it becomes; speech becomes faster and users have to select stop destinations in addition to the cardinal directions.
Navigation Can Be Improved...and We Can Help!
If these exercises sound like tools you’d like to have in order to improve your own personal sense of direction and ability to navigate the world around you, use our online chat feature or call us at (888) 549-5519 for more information. We look forward to hearing from you!