How to Mindfully Use Your GPS

How to Mindfully Use Your GPS

I have no natural sense of direction. As a result, I think the GPS is one of the greatest inventions in human history. I rely on the GPS on my phone to get me almost everywhere and appreciate it not only because of its obvious purpose but also because it reduces the stress of driving, walking, and traveling to new places. It gives me the confidence to go places on my own that I normally wouldn’t try to travel to without a GPS. 

At the same time, I’ve become aware of how overly reliant I’ve become on my GPS and how I tend to use it in a way that does not necessarily help me become engaged with, aware of, and attuned to my surroundings.

I’ve recently tried to start applying mindfulness to my use of the GPS, and here’s what I’ve noticed and learned so far.

Avoid Mindless Use

When I was a passenger in a car that was driving a route I had taken many times by myself with the GPS, I looked out the window and was surprised by how unfamiliar I actually was with all of the environment along the way. There were major landmarks — including tall buildings, rivers, monuments, and other details — that I had never noticed before even though they are extremely prominent.

This led me to a realization: When I had been driving using the GPS, I had let my attention be focused solely on the instructions the GPS was giving me and the road directly in front of me. I had tunnel vision regarding anything else around me.

I wanted to start driving differently so that I could become more capable of finding my way around without the GPS and also just so that I could have a more complete and satisfying experience of my surroundings while driving.

I decided to do what any backpacker hiking a trail does when they want to remember how to get back: I started to look at and listen to the instructions from the GPS while also directing my attention to my surroundings, including those outside of the narrow field of vision directly in front of me on the road.

For those of you like me who don’t have any natural sense of direction, you know this can be quite difficult. Since I am not likely to remember generic features around me, I look for distinctions, like a church, monument, lake, or some other unusual landmark at an intersection, turn, or highway exit. I try to pay attention to the instructions that I am receiving from the GPS at that place. In addition, I do my best to continuously pay attention to what is around me after passing the spot that stood out in my mind.

Slowly but surely, I am recognizing more and more of what is around me on the routes that I travel frequently — even if I still use the GPS to guide me along the way.

Muting the GPS

By turning off the GPS’ sound, I am only getting visual cues from it. Doing this helps to keep me focused on the sights and sounds around me because I think I am getting less external stimulus from the GPS itself.

You could also try doing the opposite, turning off the visuals and only listening to the audio instructions from the GPS. Try out both ways, see how they feel, and what works best in terms of  getting the instructions you need while remaining aware of what is happening around you.

Finally, I have started to wean myself off the GPS for the routes that I travel most frequently either by not using it at all on those routes — which can be quite scary  — or by turning off the sound and then putting the screen to sleep for the parts of the route that I’m very familiar with. This is making me gradually become less dependent on the GPS while still enjoying its benefits.

Ultimately, this approach is helping me learn how to get from place to place instead of turning over all of my responsibility to the GPS and allowing myself to drive around mindlessly. 

It feels like a way to get the best of both worlds: the amazing guidance of the system itself and the pleasure and satisfaction of getting where I need to go on my own and being fully present in the experience. I hope you find these suggestions helpful. As always, let us know about your experiences related to driving and using the GPS.

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