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Getting lost is easy. We can get lost because we either don’t know the directions or we miss crucial landmarks along the way. Perhaps life threw us some detours, distractions, and dangers that deterred us from our path. The reason we get lost is often because we’re not paying attention. Or maybe we were paying attention, but not to the right things. However it happened, being lost can be scary. So, when we’re lost, how do we get back on track?

First, we have to realize we’re lost. This sounds like the first step in a recovery program, I know, but it’s only once we understand that we’re not where we thought we were that we can do something about it. Often, it takes us seeing something that makes us think, “Is that right? Should I have seen that? I don’t remember reading about that in the directions,” before the “A-ha” lightbulb moment occurs.

One foolproof method to let you know if you’re lost: have you asked the question, “How did I get here?” It’s a question we’ve probably all asked ourselves at one time or another. We ask it when we’re confused, frustrated, and perplexed about our location. If we’ve asked that, we can be sure we’re are lost.

If we were on track, we would know exactly how we got to our current location. Think about where you are right now — whether it’s at home, school, your job, or maybe at Starbucks — you know where you are, right? If you know where you are, then you also, unless you were kidnapped, blindfolded and brought there, know how you got there. If we know where we are, we don’t need to ask how we got here.

Another example: if I’m driving home from work or school, something I do everyday, you could ask me where I was at any point in the journey and I could tell you. Why? Because I was on the expected course; I’d know where I was. But perhaps we got talking on the cell phone and made a wrong turn into a neighborhood we weren’t familiar with, then you might be lost. You wouldn’t want to stay lost would you? Probably not.

Once we realize that we’re lost, getting back on course is important if we want to get to our destination. We need to backtrack and find the point where we deviated from the directions. Regardless of how far off track we are now, it all started with one wrong turn. We should have gone straight instead of turning left; we should have turned right, but we went straight. From that initial point of deviation things nothing is what you expect.

Finding the point of deviation can be difficult, especially if we’ve been lost for a while. We have to track our steps until we find something familiar, something we recognize as being “on track.” It may take some time to find the point of deviation, but we can’t get to our destination, or back to our path, without finding that point.

Have you ever made a wrong turn by mistake and then tried following directions after you’ve taken that wrong turn? Nothing makes sense does it? We may think we’re following the directions, only because it’s not somewhere we’ve been before, nor are we familiar with our surrounding, but the reality is that we’re only taking ourselves further off course.

One thing you can be sure of: it’s hard to find the point of deviation without having an understanding the directions. The directions let you know when you’re back on track. Once you find the right path, get on it and stay on it by looking at the directions periodically, making sure you’re still on course.

And make sure to avoid shortcuts; not only do they increase the potential for getting lost, they also rarely take your anywhere worth going.

{For more from Stuart McDonald, check out his personal blog and follow him on Twitter}

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