I got my dad a Bear Grylls book, How to Stay Alive: The Ultimate Survival Guide for Any Situation, last Christmas. He keeps it in the toilet — in case of emergencies, presumably.
Flicking through the bright orange volume at the weekend, a section on being lost caught my eye. Having spent a proportion of the last four weeks struggling to understand a performance testing experiment, I am currently very familiar with that sense of bearings going AWOL.
Grylls is largely concerned with physical endurance in extreme environments. Clearly, the stakes are somewhat different for me, at my desk, wrestling with several databases, a few servers, a set of VMs and their hypervisors, numerous configuration options, and the code I've written to co-ordinate, log, and analyse the various actions and interactions.
Yet, still, Grylls' advice says something relevant to me:
Millions of people get lost every year ... Their critical faculties grow impaired and they become less able to make smart choices ... When that happens, it's almost always because they've made one simple mistake: they didn't stop as soon as they realized they were lost.
It's natural human instinct to keep going. We don't like going backwards ... We talk ourselves into thinking that we're going the right way ... Instead we need to be rigorous about not fooling ourselves. We need to swallow our pride.
We've all sometimes dug deep pits for ourselves and then kept digging, mislaid our sense of perspective, amped up our sense of pride, broken out of time boxes, continued on with one more desperate, unfounded, experiment in the vain hope it'll miraculously clear things up.
- Stop: don't make a bad situation worse by pushing blindly on and getting more lost.
- Think: your brain is your best survival tool, so control it and use it to think logically.
- Observe: if you have a map, look for big, obvious features that you can't mistake for anything else in order to orientate yourself.
- Plan: have a definite strategy which will force you to think things through clearly and, crucially, keep your morale up.
Likewise, we all know that we should take a step back, zoom out, defocus. I like the bluntness here though: we should simply STOP. (If I'm honest, I also like the recursivity of the S in STOP being stop.)
So I'm already nodding in recognition, and smiling, when he closes with this beauty: "Nothing is more dispiriting than not knowing what you're doing or where you are going." Quite.