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Going Nowhere Will Get You Somewhere

May 13th, 2022 by dk

I have a dear friend who is wrestling with her career options. She carries the double burden of competence and likability. She will succeed at any of her current or contemplated choices. Creating options is easier than choosing between them. My advice to her and to others experiencing analysis paralysis: Get lost.

Literally, get lost. Once a week, carve out a few hours to explore a place that’s unfamiliar. All that matters is that you lose your bearings and have to rely on your wits to get you home. Strolling through an unfamiliar neighborhood is better than driving back roads. Hiking backwoods is better than sauntering subdivisions. But any can work.

Wander in any direction with only one intent: to return safely to your starting point. Bring your phone, but try to not use its GPS function. If you have a dog, that’s good — for safety and companionship. Otherwise, try to be alone. That’s often the  hardest part.

Keep landmarks in your head. That might be difficult at first. Taking photos of key junctions can help. Drawing in the mud with a walking stick at confusing corners can help you retrace steps. Budgeting extra time is essential. If you do this regularly, planning your future will become easier.

Here’s why. The part of our brain that navigates physical space also guides us through decision-making. Science has shown that the brain doesn’t track if wayfinding is literal or metaphorical. It’s all the same to the hippocampus, and practice helps.

London taxi drivers, who must memorize the city’s complex road grid to keep their job, have enlarged their hippocampus. The same is true for jazz musicians. Whether you’re improvising turns or riffing tunes, you’re exercising the same muscle.

Satellite expert Roger McKinlay reflected on his work for Nature magazine: Thirty years after he helped to develop GPS, “the technology we use is the same — just smaller. But our dependence on knowing exactly where we are has changed. … Our natural navigation abilities will deteriorate as we rely ever more on smart devices.”

We have other innate systems that benefit from changing things up. Sight is a wondrous mechanism that uses two different photoreceptors inside our retinas. We call them cones and rods. Rods are more sensitive to light, cones to color and shape. Eye fatigue occurs when we limit how our rods and cones work together. 

Staring at a printed page or a computer screen relies more on  your rods. Get outside to exercise your cones. Viewing clouds and horizons, following a path up a ridge, staring into the understory to locate a rustling sound — all this helps to keep those rods and cones working together to give you clear vision.

An hour of aimless wandering attends to details we otherwise ignore. Some details won’t aid our spatial reasoning, but they reward us in other ways, as beauty always does. Patterns emerge that aren’t helpful, but pleasurable. Success satisfies. The afterglow of that satisfaction won’t contain itself to the accomplished task.

Taken together, this constellation of benefits has a different name. We call it courage. And grows inside us if we nurture it. Courage differs from fearlessness. Indomitability won’t help. Hardships lessen to become obstacles. We’re confident we can overcome. That’s the sweet spot for navigating a future filled with uncertainties. (Is there any other kind of future?)

Not everything will go according to plan. That’s the plan. Put yourself in that sort of bind regularly to remind yourself that it’s not really a bind at all. It’s life, and it’s inviting us to live it.

Rested eyes, stretched legs, gained confidence, discovered beauty, and grounded self-satisfaction — all from a short walk going nowhere.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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