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We’re Directionally Challenged, Now What & Where?

April 27, 2018 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

We’re almost always lost. And please don’t tell us it’s so easy to get from here to there, and then proceed to instruct us with a long list of verbal directions: “Turn right, turn left, go five miles, go up the hill, turn right again, then left, and where you want to go will be on your left past the gas station.” 

STOP. Our brains stopped processing your list of helpful twists and turns after it heard the first few. We need to write this down or plug it into notes on our phone. And then don’t ask perfunctorily: “Don’t you have GPS?”  Yes, we do, but it sometimes leads us astray.

Since childhood, each of us remembers the challenge of finding our way by bicycle or on foot to a friend’s home. We finally arrived but wondered when we would, and so did our friends, since that was at a time when there weren’t yet cell phones. And after we each started driving, we were more flummoxed at having sometimes to go longer distances, often on our own, contend with traffic and honking horns as we slowed down, looking for our destination. As we got older, driving in the dark sent us into a tear; going to sketchy areas was even worse. We panicked, and often upset our loved ones who we would call, sometimes hysterically screaming, “I have no idea where I am. Can you help?” Of course, we sometimes didn’t even know how to explain where we were.

Sadly, our internal directional navigation systems have not improved, and they may have even worsened. We’ve each tried to master getting somewhere with the slew of help now available. First, to provide visual guidance, we tested Google map directions online or printed out directions on MapQuest, tried to memorize, and placed on the car seat next to us, occasionally peering down which wasn’t the safest driving step.

Then, for auditory help, there was Siri, Google Maps, or we tested fancy GPS systems that we could mount on our car dashboards and listen to if we could get the sound to activate. We’d hope to be able to hear the voice as we’ve begun to experience hearing loss. But that didn’t work much better, particularly when there were detours or construction and the GPS system wasn’t up to date.

Our latest effort has been to try the software Waze, which we’ve downloaded onto our phones. It helped a smidge, included detours, even places along the way where cars had broken down or police were hiding in their cars behind bushes and holding court with their radar guns. Of course, the input of the right address would have been beneficial. Case in point: Recently, somehow Barbara forgot to enter her daughter’s city and put in just the street address. By default, the GPS system picked another city starting with a “B” and then sent her on a wild goose chase.

And Margaret worried about driving to an evening meeting because she feared she wouldn’t find the place and then would have to deal with where to park. She had experienced that problem multiple times and developed a system, like a directional cheat sheet. And here’s why. One time Siri sent her off track when she had an interview scheduled, she got lost and had forgotten to bring the person’s phone number. She shrieked at Siri for misdirecting her—to no avail—using an explicative to which Siri responded: There is no need to use that language.

After that, she learned to always bring phone numbers or email and asked the person she’d be interviewing or organizing the meeting for directions or at least to give her some landmarks, would print out directions as a backup just in case GPS, Google Maps or Siri steered her in the wrong direction, and asked where the closest parking lot was located. She was also told about a parking app she could download that would guide her. To curtail her worrying, she knew to give herself extra time, just in case. She worried anyway despite her directional ritual.

Because we felt there must be additional tips to help the minions of directionally challenged folks out there—perhaps, it’s a focusing problem or there’s a need to force ourselves to be more observant when driving--we consulted Dr. Tana Clarke, a psychologist and founder at Waypoint Wellness Center in Baltimore. She gave us several worthwhile suggestions that we’re passing along now to you. “Driving is a high-stress emotional challenge. We underestimate how important the process can be, and we come into contact with patients who have great anxiety about doing so,” she says. “Getting to places and meeting new people is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. So, if there’s anything that can impact it, it’s important to manage your worries,” she says.

  • Verbalize any concerns and get help on your own or from a professional.
  • Do lots of preparation in advance. That may mean using technology before you get in the car, so you know how it operates and you can use the voice activation part. But remember that all apps and systems aren’t foolproof.
  • Load a helpful app on your phone, such as one that will let any callers know you’re busy and will get back to them when you get to your destination. That way you are not distracted.
  • Also, avoid talking on the phone or playing music that might distract you.
  • Have a coping plan all ready to roll out in advance if you get lost. Know that you can pull over to the side of a road at a safe place. Know how to take deep breaths to calm you. Visualize your route.
  • Always try to drive in daylight and not in heavy traffic. Be sure your tank is filled with gasoline.


1 comment

  • Lynn Marks

    Apr 30, 2018

    from reading your posts, i’m beginning to wonder if i am the one writing these!!
    that is, the part about the problem.
    YOU"re the ones who are helpful with the solutions.
    thank you.


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