Getting lost is, for many of us, a terrifying experience, even when you know that you are not actually in danger, if you lose your bearings in the middle of a city you can still find your heart pounding and your thoughts racing! When our bodies experience anxiety we want to move and so it is tempting to plough on even when we are not sure where we are going. It is so difficult for people to go against this instinct that many adventurers trekking in wilderness have lost their lives because they could not stand and wait for “Search and Rescue”. So rule number one, when lost, stop and collect your thoughts.
Before trying to assess the situation it is worth taking a few moments if you can to de-stress. The Mental processes you will use such as Reasoning and Working memory take part in the frontal cortex of the brain and stress can seriously affect performance of the pre frontal cortex.
I find that an effective way of dealing with stress is to view what is going on around me as a movie, think of myself as the director sitting behind my eyes, dispassionately watching and making decisions about responses to this drama in front of me. Some people steady their nerves by imagining roots growing from their feet into the ground, or focusing on their breathing, whatever you use, do it as soon as you realise you are lost.
The SOLVE technique
Now that you have composed yourself as much as possible, you are ready to review the situation. The Solve technique can be used to analyse any problem in a logical order and is a useful tool in this situation.
S is for Specify.
To specify the problem, carefully look at the landmarks and features that surround you. If you have a map, look out for significant features around you and try to match the pattern of features on the ground with patterns of features on the map. Ask yourself where exactly were you when you were last absolutely sure of your position? Was there anything to indicate where you think you went after that? If you have forgotten your route, try the “blank mind technique”, cover your eyes with your hands and let your mind go completely blank as if you were looking at a white screen, then run through the images of the route frame by frame, back and forward, some people find this helps their memory retrieval. Think of all the possible areas that you could be in now, out of those areas are there any that you can eliminate?, For instance, if you were there, are there items that you would definitely see that you cannot see now? It is very easy to see what you want to see and believe what you want to believe when you are under pressure therefore do not be too hasty to make assumptions.
Examine your journey so far and ask yourself these questions,
• Could you have overshot your destination?
• Have you misjudged the time and distance you have been on the move?
• Could you have passed a junction without noticing it?
• Could you have turned left instead of right at a junction?
• Could you have set off in the wrong direction?
• If you have been following a map then if your surrounding features don’t match the map it is sure sign that you have gone astray.
• Could your map be outdated or your compass affected by magnetism?
• If you looked at a map before travelling have you been seeing what you expected to see?
Try and exclude irrelevant facts as they can cloud your judgement, the fact that someone is impatient is not a contributing factor to getting found, don’t let your emotions cloud your judgement, avoid jumping to conclusions based on incomplete information, base your decisions on where you are, not where you would like to be.
• How long has it been since you knew where you were? How far could you have travelled in that time?
• Are you in a hurry to get to your destination? For instance if you are trying to find the coach station because your coach leaves in 20 minutes, you may find it more cost effective to jump in a taxi to take you there rather than buy a new coach ticket.
• Bear in mind that after you see a sun setting you only have 25 minutes before the end of twilight.
O is for options
- You could ask for help? Because there is an expectation that men are better at spatial skills than women it is understandable that some men are more embarrassed about getting lost than women and this can lead to them denying that they are lost and finding it difficult to ask for help. This is unfortunate as clear directions from a reliable person such as a policeman or garage owner may be all you need as a solution. When asking for help show the address of where you are staying or where you are heading, even if you are in a foreign country and do not speak the same language your guide will realise you are lost. Always carry a notebook so they can draw you a map. A sketched map is better than verbal directions, firstly because you do not have to memorize it, secondly because it saves confusion over what you think was said and thirdly because it encourages your guide to be accurate in his description.
- You could return to where you last knew where you were and try again. It is possible that you could have gone past a junction without noticing it? Or turned left instead of right?
- You could find a high vantage point It would be an advantage if you could find a place high up enough so that you could look down at the layout of the vicinity, is there a hill or building that you could use, such as the top floor of a multi-storey car park?
- You could divide your goal into sub goals, For instance, if your main goal is to find the cinema you may need to get yourself on to a major road first; by listening for traffic.This will help you to know roughly where you are.
- Take an educated guess. Such as “If we are here then if we walk up this road we should see a field on our right”. Consider retracing your steps if this turns out to be false.
- You could remember past knowledge. Ask yourself if the layout of this place reminds you of anywhere you have seen before? Think of town shapes. Is it worth exploring to investigate if it is the same? Revisit previous wayfinding experiences in your mind. Are there any similarities that can help you now?
- You could find yourself inside a triangle. If you can see three landmarks around you about 90 to 120 degrees apart, they will form a triangle in the middle of which you are positioned. This may give you the information you need, however, if you need to pinpoint the area on the map, and you have a map, a compass and a pencil with you (all essential pieces of equipment if you have a dodgy sense of direction, in my opinion) you can use a method called Triangulation, (sounds technical but it is not as hard as it sounds, honestly). Put the word into a search engine and you will find some good explanations with diagrams of how it is done.
- If you are with someone else discuss the problem and listen carefully and respectfully to each other , if you are distressed it can be frustrating if you disagree but don’t be tempted to argue or place blame, it won’t help. Listen to each person individually identify the problem before you brainstorm solutions, a quieter member of a group may have the very clue you need and you won’t hear it if you are all talking at once. It is usually best if everyone stays together even if they disagree what to do. If you think someone is likely to be looking for you then listen out for any calls or honking of car horns used to draw your attention.
L is for listen
If you are with someone else discuss the problem and listen carefully and respectfully to each other, if you are distressed it can be frustrating if you disagree but don’t be tempted to argue or place blame, it won’t help. Listen to each person individually identify the problem before you brainstorm solutions, a quieter member of a group may have the very clue you need and you won’t hear it if you are all talking at once. It is usually best if everyone stays together even if they disagree what to do. If you think someone is likely to be looking for you then listen out for any calls or honking of car horns used to draw your attention.
V is for vary
Look at the problem from various points of view and try to form a theory of where you might be. Test this theory looking out carefully for features that may prove it right or wrong. To quote Edward de Bono “if we can’t move from possibility to certainty then we must move from possibility to probability,” probability will be when the clues are more or less right, for instance you think that the sun is in the right direction to fit your theory, there are landmarks that could be what you are looking for, your estimates of time and distance fit your theory.
Psychologists recognise that visual aids such as diagrams and maps as very useful tools in problem solving. So use your notebook and pen.
It is easy to concentrate on the more obvious information and not to consider less noticeable possibilities, give yourself a moment to think creatively, before you set off are there any more options? For example could you give up navigation and opt for local transport instead? Even if you decide not to get on the bus, the diagram of its route at the bus stop may be useful. Try working on the problem backwards. If you were at your destination, what would you need to do to get to where you are now?
E is for evaluate
Before charging off, check that you and your companions have finished evaluating the problem and have a clear plan of action, make sure that you set off in the right proposed direction, instead of dwelling on your lost moments focus on the “Here and Now” of navigating. Once you are safely home reflect on what you have learnt from this experience, did you think ahead? How effective was your method for dealing with stress? Did you define the problem correctly? What would have happened if you had done something else? Remember all this for next time.
I hope that this article helps you to stay found more often than you get lost, Bon voyage.