Take a Step Back: What Getting Lost Taught Me About Solving Problems

Getting Lost

Google Maps said I had enough time. Then I missed a turn. No big deal, I’ll adjust. Everything goes smoothly until I get to an intersection where I’m supposed to turn right onto 12300 South. I get in the rightmost lane and find that I cannot turn right onto 12300 South from that lane. My only option was to get on I-15 North (the wrong direction).

I take the next exit, turn around, and come back to the same intersection. I turn into the rightmost lane that does not say I-15, and…you cannot turn right from that lane. I didn’t make the same mistake twice, but I came back to the same intersection and made a different error. In retrospect, I think I needed to be in the I-15 South lane to turn right onto 12300 South.

The Second Mistake

I’m lost. Do I stop and figure out where I need to go? Of course not!

I try to follow the Google Maps instructions and look at the map at stoplights.

I’m flustered because I’m lost, I’m late, and the instructions don’t make sense.

I finally pull over and figure out step by step, turn by turn, exactly what I need to do to get to the doctor’s office.

Did I miss the last turn? Yes, but I knew where I was going and how to get there. I knew enough to self-correct.

Normally, I plot a course and follow it. Maybe I need to adjust for a wrong turn, but it’s rarely a problem. Tuesday this week, I was a half-hour late. The doctor was even later.

Taking a Step Back

The lesson was worth the ordeal. Getting lost taught me to take a step back and reflect when I encounter an unexpected problem. It’s easy to press on and try hard to figure out solutions without taking a step back to consider your options. If I had pulled over to study the map before going through the intersection again, I would have been about 10 minutes late; not 30.

As James Clear says, “The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.”

Making another error the second time through the intersection created a familiar feeling.

I pull video clips out of livestreams for work. I updated my process to prevent the mistakes I’d made, only to make different ones next time.

I took a step back, talked to my client, and refined my process.

A Time for Action, A Time for Stillness

There is a time for split-second action, and there is a time to ponder a problem. Our most urgent problems feel like they should be dealt with immediately, but a moment of thoughtful consideration is often needed.

Trauma surgeons have embraced (albeit slowly at first) two-minute checklists to make sure they have what they need and verify the type of operation before they begin. This has led to a tremendous reduction in surgical errors.

My initial setup cost for creating processes is usually a couple hours per new type of task (grabbing clips, editing videos, etc). I practice, take notes, get feedback, and use that information to create a bullet point list of what I need to do. I continue to revise that process as more practice and feedback teach me what I need to focus on and what I need to leave out.

A Lesson to Take Home

Next time you encounter an unexpected problem, take a step back. Consider your options before you try to tackle it.

  1. What do you understand, step-by-step?
  2. What don’t you understand, step-by-step?
  3. What question could I ask to find out more about what I don’t understand? Google it.
  4. If you still can’t figure it out, ask for help.

If this post helped you, please let me know in the comments below 🙂


Book Recommendations

If you want to learn more about how to apply these lessons, I’d recommend:

  1. The Bible for learning to be still and meditate on God with God in prayer.
  2. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande for checklists. It was a riveting page-turner, completely unexpected.
  3. The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman for learning skills quickly. The book is the first three chapters, don’t bother reading the rest. I bought the book for the skill acquisition recommendations in chapters two and three. It was worth every penny.

Photo by Obec A on Unsplash.

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