Ever watched a rideshare driver take some crazy-long route to pick you up, or get you to your destination while inside you’re yelling “Why are you going that way when it’s so obviously wrong!!?”

I’m not the only one this happens to, right?

It’s hard to understand why they would follow this route to your pickup point:

A really indirect route from my ride-share driver’s location to my pick-up point
Just doing what the app told me to do…

…when any fool could just LOOK ON THE MAP and see there’s a more direct route:

The most direct route from my ride-share driver’s location to my pick-up point

Helps to look at the map.

If you ask that rideshare driver why they took that indirect route, they’ll probably answer that they just followed the instructions on their GPS app.

Ultimately they found you, but sometimes people get themselves into trouble by following what they see on Google Maps or listening to their GPS’s instructions.

Two tourists became bogged down and lost after Google Maps directed them to enter a remote part of a northern Queensland national park. Source: AAP / Supplied. Downloaded from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/german-tourists-blame-google-maps-mishap-for-week-lost-in-queensland/1ndpm4lzu

People get lost in life in pretty much the same way. Perhaps you have too.

Tough choices

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

Navigating Chronic Pain

Dealing with chronic pain can be challenging. The discomfort is present every time you get up from the couch or bed. Yet the doctors have assured you, this pain is not a sign of anything wrong and that being more active will actually be good for you. You want to enjoy what life has to offer, but you hate the constant pain. Do you obey your wishes for an enjoyable life (Option A), or your pain signals (Option B)? Choose.

Navigating Social Anxiety

You’ve been invited to a party with friends from your work or school. You’d love to go and feel more connected with people in this group, but every time you think about it, you are reminded of a past interaction with some of these individuals. Perhaps you said something awkward, and now you worry that it defines their perception of you. You fear that making a similar mistake again will lead to them wanting nothing to do with you. Do you play it safe and stay home (Option A), or do you risk humiliation and ostracism and go to the party (Option B)? Choose.

Navigating the Uncertainty of a New Relationship 

For some time you’ve been dating a person who seems like they could be the one. You feel like you deserve this as it’s only a year since you broke up with your previous partner, someone who had seemed early on like they were perfect for you, but as you asked them for increasing commitment they became… well, less. Less reliable, less loving, less in tune with you — just less of everything you had thought they would be. Then they finally made it clear that they weren’t on the same page as you. So now the problem is that when you think of taking things with the current person to the next level, you’re haunted by doubts — about yourself, about whether they’re really right for you, about even whether you can or should be with someone. You missed the signs with the previous person. What if you’re missing them this time too? Do you ask the new person for a deeper commitment, perhaps risking driving them away by being too keen (Option A), or end it now to protect yourself from the heartache when either they leave you or disappoint you like your last partner did (Option B)? Choose.

But as you go to make a choice in any of these scenarios, your mind warns you “If you choose option A you could end up with:

  1. more pain
  2. loneliness and regret
  3. loneliness and regret — again!

“and”, your mind continues, “if that happens”

  1. “you’ll be suffering all the more.”
  2. “you won’t have any friends and you’ll feel even lonelier.”
  3. “you will end up alone, depressed and a failure in love.”

Catastrophes all round. So even though you really want

  1. an enjoyable life
  2. connection with others, new friends and a group to belong to.
  3. love and deep connection to another

You go with option A. And you miss out on the goodies that might come from option B*.

You’re not missing out on the goodies from Option B because you’re stupid. Indeed if you think that, you’re just compounding the mistake. “I’m stupid” is not generally a helpful rule for navigating life’s challenges.

Let’s understand what your mind is doing when it walks you through those catastrophe scenarios.

Your mind is doing its job of trying to protect you from possible harm. Maybe even from probable harm.

The thing is though, that possible harm, and even probable harm can’t absolutely 100% guaranteed, actually harm you. Read that again if it didn’t make sense to you. Then read the next sentence.

Only actual harm can actually harm you.

The only way to determine the presence of actual harm is to be in the actual presence of harm. And in the scenarios above, the actual harm isn’t present in the moment when you’re making the choice.

What is present is your mind screaming at you, “DON’T GO THAT WAY! SOMETHING TERRIBLE WILL HAPPEN.” (and sometimes it then whispers, “possibly”).

You see, your mind is a problem solving machine and its most fundamental function is predicting harm, so that you will take actual steps now to avoid it.

Your brain’s job is not detecting harm — that is the job of your senses. Your mind’s job is to

  1. get you moving quickly as possible when the senses detect present danger
  2. spend the rest of its time planning how to avoid future danger

To allow your senses to do their job, you have to get your mind to shut up enough that you can actually take in the signals from your senses.

If your mind was completely honest with you and told you

  • “but there’s only a 5% chance of this terrible thing happening” and
  • “Oh, by the way, if you follow my advice, you’ll also miss out on wonderful outcomes X, Y and Z” and
  • “Oh, and of course you’ll probably regret it and I’ll be here to remind you that you made a dumb choice as usual”

you wouldn’t follow your mind’s advice. And all your mind knows from 1000s of generations of evolution is that if you don’t follow your mind’s advice you will get us both killed!

So to make sure you obey your mind unquestioningly your mind employs your own emotions against your puny defences. This is why when you have those thoughts like:

  1. “you’ll be suffering all the more.”
  2. “you won’t have any friends and you’ll feel even lonelier.”
  3. “you will end up alone, depressed and a failure in love.”

they’re accompanied by immediate, intense and realistic feelings. Feelings like fear, anxiety, sadness, shame — basically whatever your mind thinks it will take to get you to pay attention.

Because to your mind, subtlety doesn’t work. Your mind is in the life or death business.

And for your mind, everything is life and death. Well, not everything…. obviously. But any of the good stuff that comes after it secures keeping you alive — stuff like serenity, contentment, aspiration, love, awe — comes a distant second.

Gargarin’s Moon wins the Prix de la Glaciere by 30 lengths at Paris Longchamps racecourse in June 2023

“Put down your glasses punters! Life and Death has left Joy, Serenity, Inspiration and Peace of Mind in the dust.”

See, your mind is like a GPS that has a programmed in bias towards

  1. Detecting risk
  2. Avoiding risk

even if it means you end up miserable, unfulfilled, anxious and depressed. As long as you’re not dead, it has done its job and you maybe even get to reproduce.

So how do I disable this GPS?

You can’t. It’s your mind. It’s wired into you through a combination of learning and genetics. You can’t disable it.

Then how do I reprogram it?

The same way it got programmed in the first place — through experience. But not just any experience. It has to be experience that you pay attention to as it happens to you. You see your brain is designed to learn new things, but to let it do that you have to focus on your senses, not your ‘GPS’ — your stories about what you think is happening, what should be happening, how you think things should be, what’s fair, what’s right, yadda, yadda, yadda.

What to take away from this

  1. Use your ‘GPS’ or the rules you know in most situations. They will usually work and save time.
  2. When you get stuck, pay attention to your senses. What is going on around you? What information is there in the environment that your GPS has maybe caused you to ignore?
  3. Ask ‘tracking’ questions like these:
  4. Did it work out the way I expected? If not, maybe I should be a bit more sceptical about my mind’s predictions.
  5. If my mind’s predictions were in error, what information was I not paying attention to when I was evaluating courses of action?
  6. What information are my intense feelings providing me about the situation? But also, what sources of information are my intense feelings blinding me to?
  7. What thoughts am i having that are predictions? Should I maybe hold those predictions lightly and test them in reality?
  8. Can I shift my focus from my thoughts, to the actual events that are happening?

Nothing’s foolproof in life including this advice. But I think you’ll find these questions applied mindfully will keep you from getting lost in life. Or in the outback.

*Something important to note here. We’re not saying Option A is always the wrong choice. Nor is Option B always the right choice. We’re instead asking you to just notice how you’re navigating life — via perhaps outdated information or by way of what is happening in each moment.

The ideas in this post can be found in my forthcoming book, This Solves Everything.