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  • David R. Edwards

Landmarks & Circles OR Can you Walk Straight?

Can You Walk Straight?

It is a common theme of movies and TV shows that people tend to walk in circles when they lack reliable landmarks. In 2009 scientists at the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft decided to study the idea and see if there was any truth in it. They used both forest and desert conditions to test the theory. In the image above three participants, RF, PS, and KS were all tested on a cloudy or rainy day when no reliable cues were visible. SM started out in clouds, but the clouds cleared and after the sun shone SM was able to walk in a relatively straight course.

You can see that people did not walk in distinct circles, but rather random circular patterns. Despite the GPS evidence to the contrary, most participants believed strongly that they were making good forward progress. As noted by Dr. Souman, “"Small random errors in the various sensory signals that provide information about walking direction add up over time, making what a person perceives to be straight ahead drift away from the true straight-ahead direction".

Landmarks and Cues

Without reliable cues and landmarks, we tend to walk our daily lives in random and likely circuitous paths. As noted above, confidence alone is inadequate. As I wrote in the second chapter of my book, “New You! Who Knew?”, we all need a starting place and an ending place. Knowledge of where we are starting and our progress along the path come from our awareness which is largely fed by feedback. Thus without regular feedback and understanding of that feedback we are likely to be wandering in random circles without even knowing it.

Some goals lend themselves to such feedback, like losing weight. Studies have shown that people who weigh every day at the same time are more successful in meeting their weight goals. The daily feedback serves as a reliable landmark to show progress, or lack thereof. Other goals tend to be more difficult, like your ever critical process goals. These “becoming” goals can be much more challenging to measure, and thus get cues and landmarks by which to measure progress. Certainly, a daily measure is not realistic or reliable. So, what to do?

What to do?

Let's say you set a goal to not lose your cool as often. Perhaps you normally lose it at some point nearly every day; that idiot who cut you off, a child who forgot to flush the toilet, a co-worker who just pisses you off. You feel like your life would be better, relationships stronger, and opportunities more common if you could just get this under control.

It Feels Good!

Certainly, any time you lose your cool you are relinquishing control from the executive centers of your brain and allowing an emotional response to rule the moment. The fact that you recognize this is a great first step of awareness. I would urge you to complete a goal form (You can find them under the forms tab on my web site and read more in Chapter 5), which is going to tie the goal to your values and provide concrete examples around and ideas for recognizing cues and taking steps to create a New You. In the spirit of being intentional in the morning and accountable in the evening you might create an affirmation that you review first thing and at key moments through the day. In the evening you might set aside time for pondering and journaling; “Did I lose my cool today?”, “What was the trigger if I did?”, “When did I almost lose my cool, but did not, and what can I learn from that?”. You might keep a paper calendar handy and put a big number on each day 1, 2, 3, 0 - how many times today did I lose my cool? Right next to it, and perhaps even more important, a 1, 2, 3, 0 – how many times was I tempted to lose my cool but did not. As you use the tools at your disposal and track your progress you can start to see that you are in fact becoming a new person. You are no longer, in this regard, wandering around in circles and failing to make progress. You are in fact becoming a new and better version of yourself. You are the captain of your life, not the victim of your circumstance, and it feels good!


I hope you got the connection, but just in case, landmarks are a metaphor for awareness and feedback. Circles are random meanderings that despite your confidence in your progress don’t help you move toward your goals. In the physical world you need landmarks to not wander in circles and never arrive at your desired physical destination. In your inner world you need awareness and feedback to not wander in circles and never meet your goals (Process or Outcome). As you apply the principles in New You! Who Knew? I wish you well as you identify the landmarks of your progress and move toward your goals.


David R. Edwards is the author of the new bestseller, "New You! Who Knew?". You can find out more on his web site.

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