On Getting Lost

Adam Bailey • October 6, 2021



Sometimes when we're working hard at code, we get into a state where nothing is working. You are trying all kinds of different things to fix the bug or to move forward, and it's been so long since the code actually worked, that you've forgotten how to get back to solid ground.

The same can also be true in life! We get lost in ourselves and our progress (or lack of). Here's how I try to manage them both.


The best way to avoid getting lost is to prepare for possible outcomes before initiating the journey.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

Take some time to read through the code, and take note of any areas you may need to clarify beforehand. Ask questions, refer to documentation, and get at least a small grasp on what lies ahead.

Before you enter that supermarket, make sure you have your shopping list. Take note of where you parked. Be prepared to pay, and adjust your mentality in case you run into someone you know. Be positive, and even have some examples of "small talk" in case the need arises.


In addition to "preparation", which for a mountain climber might include having the right pack, rope, and knowledge of the weather, you are going to need to make calculated and careful progress as you go. Sometimes the progress is lateral, sometimes it means taking a few steps back. But the idea is to climb to the top eventually, by whatever safe means necessary.

When a climber reaches a new high point, or point of progress, they need to set the carabiner so that in case they fall, they can return to the point they last made progress to. It also means they don't fall and die, but you get my point. Is there something locking you in to that last "working" point in your code?

For software, we use Git. Git helps with, among many other things, keeping track of your progress. A good rule of thumb is to commit regularly at points in your work where you are sure things are working, no matter how small the progress. This allows you to revert to that point at any time should you get lost.

In life, we use our memory, which is much more fallible. We avoid getting lost by remembering where we were previously. When you remembered where you parked, that was the first step in not getting lost in the mall. When you enter the store, remember which store. When you spend an hour in the mall, remember at all times, where you entered from. While this seems quite extreme, there have been many times I've forgotten where I parked or started.

When our memory cannot be trusted, the camera on our smartphones can. Take a picture of the parking lot, of the store. Commit the picture to your phone's memory, and you don't need your human one anymore.

Committing code

Each point of progress in git is called a commit.

To commit some code to your project, make sure things work, or are safe for you to attach yourself with a carabiner. Then add your code:

1git add .

Now that your code is added to git, make your commit and a message to let your future self (or a team member) know what the changes were:

1git commit -m 'Text change'

What if the code breaks due to this one text change? Are you sure you only added text since your last commit? let's find out.

1# typing this
2$ git diff
4# returns this
5@@ -133,6 +133,7 @@
7+ new line of text
9@@ -142,7 +143,7 @@
10- toggle()"
11+ toggl()"

And then we know that it was not just the line of text, we also accidentally deleted a letter from a method, which broke the code. We can easily put all of this back to where it was when it was working, with git reset. Typing:

1$ git reset --hard HEAD

Takes you right back to before you added the text at all, right to the previous working state.

Now this only really works if you trust that you have ONLY made commits with working code, so always run tests to make sure each commit is good before you move forward. In other words, make sure you set your carabiner to a solid spot in the cliff side, so that if you fall, it will catch you, and you can climb back to the last safe place.

But what if you did accidentally commit some broken code? Git has the ability to reset back to different points, so you can figure out which commit broke something.

1$ git log --oneline
3# returns
4b764644 Text change
57c709f0 Some other commit
69ef9173 An even older commit
1# this takes you right back to the state of the code from that older commit
2$ git reset 9ef9173

You can basically go back to three carabiner positions ago and not fall from there.

This was a lot of code specific instruction, but wouldn't it be great to have that for life? We could say "Go back to before I screwed that thing up in my life".


While this article is an extremely simple example of how to use Git, It can also be a simple framework for progress in life, whether it be finding your way, or returning to different ways of thinking - A useful analogy for not getting lost, and remembering incremental steps.

A carabiner can keep a climber alive and not lose progress, good use of your memory (or a smartphone) can get you back home or to your starting point, Git can return you to a working state in software. Simple solutions can let our brains freely focus on other things.

Let structure be your way-finder!

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