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Getting Lost Is Totally Human. Try It


"Let's get lost" is great when Chet Baker is singing about falling in love, but those three words can produce anxiety in anyone, even if you just make a wrong turn in your own hometown.

And we humans are good at getting lost because we are good at being so many places at once. As your feet wander down the street, your brain could be thinking about outer space or your vacation in Vegas or your backyard at home. So it's easy to zone out about where you actually are. But you can train yourself to be more conscious of your surroundings.

Colin Ellard just wrote a book on the topic: You Are Here: Why We Can Find Our Way to the Moon, but Get Lost in the Mall.

Ellard, a psychology professor at the University of Waterloo, took NPR's David Greene on a walk toward a woodsy area of Washington, D.C., to help Greene learn to appreciate being lost — which doesn't take long.

For example, if you want to remember where you parked the car, Ellard says, you can make up a story about something that's nearby.

"Let's look around here. Just paying attention to this house across the street — there's a nice little balcony. It's almost like a Romeo and Juliet balcony. You can conjure up Juliet," Ellard suggests.

"We've talked about that for 10 seconds," he says, so now it'll be easier to remember.

Ellard takes Greene deeper into the woods, and to test their sense of direction, they purposely veer off the dirt trail and walk several hundred feet into a stand of tall trees.

"When people are walking through dense vegetation, it can be difficult to know they're walking in a straight line," Ellard says. "You can make remarkable turns while thinking you're walking in a straight line."

That may not seem to matter — except, Ellard says, "There is a tendency for people to speed up in their movements, and if you march in the wrong direction, you get farther away faster."

Ellard's advice? "Once you're lost, your best decision is to stop."

But, he says, one of the hardest tricks for humans to learn is that sometimes, and in some places, it's OK to get lost — at least for a little while.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.