Right now, the concept of an “Escape Room” is very popular with people. I’ve done two so far, and wanted to recap some of the lessons I learned. In particular, the importance of recognizing patterns.

For those that don’t know, an escape room is a place where you are put into locked rooms and fed clues that allow you to progress into eventually leaving the room. They are meant to be solvable, but usually contain a high degree of difficulty.

The first time I went into an escape room, I quickly found the key that released us from our handcuffs. Then we began looking for clues. One person assumed a leadership role and began trying to decipher some cryptic writing on the wall.

When they failed to figure out the puzzle, we called for help. That’s when we all learned that the writing on the wall had nothing to do with the next step. The person was ascribing meaning to things where it didn’t actually exist. This happened again and again during the game, until we ran out of time and essentially lost.

This can happen to anyone. There’s a good Terminator: Sara Connor Chronicles episode called Strange Things Happen at the One Point Two where Sara drags her team through a lot of unnecessary danger because she gives meaning to three dots. I won’t spoil the episode, but it’s a good metaphor for what I’m trying to explain here.

Generally, to move forward, you have to see key information and base conclusions off of it. Otherwise, you will be trapped over and over by things that aren’t actually there.

I learned my lesson, and the next time I was in an escape room, I assumed the leadership role among my team. This time, we came through in flying colors and I was ecstatic that we escaped. We would have had a good time regardless, but sometimes, it’s nice to flex your problem-solving muscle among friends.

All it took to make it out of the situation was the ability to see what was really there. So whenever we’re confronted by obstacles or challenges, we have to ask ourselves, “What is really going on here?”. Our own biases may tell one story; the facts another; and others may layer on their own narrative.

Sometimes, people misinterpret the clues. This can happen to anyone, but it’s 100% on us to find a systematic approach so we get to our goals and are not waylaid or distracted. Once you know the truth–what things actually mean–you’re going to overcome challenges.

The exit is right there…and it’s been there all along.