“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” – Victor Hugo
Are you lacking direction in life?
Not sure which way you should turn?
Do you have a big problem with no idea how to proceed?
Like whether you should quit the job you hate?
Or perhaps you’ve lost your job and have no idea what the hell you should do next?
Maybe you’re simply having a bit of trouble processing difficult emotions?
Whatever it is, my fine readers, fear not – for I have something that can help you formulate the ultimate solution (no promises)!
Introducing the CLEAR model! An outstanding structured approach for decision making and problem solving in everyday life!!!
(Is it just me or did that sound like a 90’s television commercial?)
Let’s get into it.
The CLEAR model stands for:
C – Clarify what the problem is.
L – Look for information and ideas.
E – Evaluate options.
A – Act on your decision.
R – Review how it is working.
Simple yet elegant I think you’ll agree.
Wherever did you come up with such a brilliant formula?
A great question Bob, thank you for asking.
The answer is I stole it of course!
As pilots we are taught it as a way to deal with problems we may encounter outside our normal day-to-day operations.
It achieves this by providing a series of defined steps that we can work through in order to (hopefully) achieve a safe outcome.
As the brain is a single channel processor that can only do one thing at a time (yes multi-tasking is a myth), this helps prevents it from being overloaded during periods of high stress and/or workload.
And I think we can all agree that it’s a time of high fucking stress Bob (if not workload)!
The problem with high levels of stress is it may overload your very simple single channel processor (I know it does mine), which can result in one or more of the following:
1 – Tunnel vision (or fixation) – focusing on one input to the exclusion of other vital data.
2 – Unconscious rejection of conflicting data.
3 – Slowing down of your decision making or, in the extreme, inability to make any decisions at all.
4- Impulsiveness – the desire to restore control makes you leap into action too early.
I think you’ll agree those aren’t very helpful responses Bob, especially for pilots.
But why exactly do you think a model designed for flight crew to problem solve on the flight deck of an aeroplane would be of any use to me in my normal day to day life?
Another great question Bob!
I asked myself the exact same one and let me tell you the answer I came up with:
But don’t just take my word for it Bob, let’s examine a working example completely unrelated to the realm of aviation.
Let’s examine how we might apply the CLEAR model to someone who is dealing with depression and/or anxiety – hardly the sort of problem flight crew look at solving on a aeroplane I think you’ll agree Bob!
THE CLEAR MODEL AS APPLIED TO DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY:
1 – CLARIFY
People who are depressed will often state I am depressed or I am anxious. However no one is depression, no one is anxiety. These are merely things one experiences.
One of the big problems so many people with mental health issues have is this kind of identification. They believe it is part of who they are. But this isn’t true.
Already we can see the importance of clarifying the problem.
A much more accurate thing to say would be, ‘I am currently experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety.’ This is a very significant shift in terminology that can help you to step back from your emotions.
If you want to go a step further by introducing some deep Buddhist wisdom (and I know you do bob) you might say in third person, ‘James is experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety.’ So as to introduce the idea (and reality) that you are not your ego. The I is not me. (Wow, my simple single processor is on fire!)
Anyway we could go on about how to properly clarify the problem but I don’t want to bore you Bob. At any rate, I think you’ll agree, we’re off to a winning start!
2 – LOOK
Observe. Simply be with whatever it is that is arising. Obviously this will work best if you can find somewhere quiet to sit without distraction. (Yes Bob, that means you’ll need to put away your phone.)
Once you have, be sure to take a few deep breaths and settle yourself. Maybe run through a quick body scan – place your hand on your heart if that helps – and then simply sit and observe.
Remember you’re not trying to achieve anything at this stage. You’re simply trying to observe what is going on from moment to moment. Run through your five senses if that helps. Use this time to gather information about what your emotions really feel like within the body.
If a thought arises, simply note it then come back to feeling your bodily sensations. Ultimately you want to go toward your negative emotions so you can observe them in fine detail.
Don’t resist them bob! Trust me.
This won’t be easy of course, especially if you’re new to the game of meditation but I promise you the long term benefits of having such a practise whenever faced with difficult emotions will pay off handsomely.
Anyway I’m sure you don’t need me to run through a meditation routine with you on here. You get the point Bob. Sit and look.
3 – EVALUTE
This is the part of the session where we introduce some curiosity. Maybe you can ask some questions such as,
What triggered my emotional state today?
What was it that caused my reaction?
What false belief or narrative are driving these feelings?
Moreover what emotions am I trying to avoid that I need to feel?
What are those feelings trying to tell me that I don’t understand?
After asking these question sit back and see what arises. I find this kind of exercise extremely useful for deriving insight whenever I have a reaction to something I don’t fully comprehend.
There are of course many different kinds of meditation practises you could apply to dealing with such emotional states but once agin I don’t want to bore you Bob.
4 – ACT
Now this will depend on what responses you derived from part 3 of this exceptional CLEAR model and how bad you suffer from said emotional problems.
It goes without saying that the most obvious thing to do if suffering from any kind of depression or mental health issue is to seek professional help.
Are you a therapist bob? No?
Worth a shot.
Anyway the next best thing, if you can’t afford a therapist or don’t feel you’re ready to face your demons yet (I won’t judge – it took my simple single processor a long time to pluck up the courage and ask for the help I needed) is to talk to your loved ones.
You’re not burdening them by opening up. If they love you they’ll want to know. Trust me Bob. It burdens them more not knowing.
Aside from those very obvious actions the next thing you can do is practise self-compassion. Place your hand on your heart and tell yourself, it’s ok. I’m here for you. Let me feel you. Whatever kind language speaks or works for you.
It’s important to state that you don’t fight depression or anxiety (contrary to what so many toxic positivity blogs tell you). You’re meant to accept it.
As Carl Rogers once said,
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
5 – REVIEW
This brings us to the final part of this most astonishing CLEAR model. Review or reflect.
Some questions you might consider:
How did that work out?
What can I add to the practise next time that might help me?
Maybe I can add journalling as a way to write down what arises during such a practise?
Am I still suffering from the same issues and thought patterns that I have for years on end?
If that last one is true then maybe it’s time to concede that you really do need professional help. I strongly encourage all with such issues to do exactly that. At the end of the day all these tools are helpful at managing your mental health but if you have some deeper issues it’s imperative you seek the professional help you need. There is absolutely no shame in this. Remember it is never too late to get the help you need. Never.
That’s all from me today Bob.
I hope this helped.
(Once again fine readers thank you so much for hearing me out. Applying tools from my professional life to other areas such as mental health and vice versa had been of enormous benefit to me which I why I wanted to share this idea with you today. I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments section below. Maybe give it a go and apply it to a different problem then let me know how you get on? Otherwise if you know of any other problem solving type acronyms I’d love to hear them as well. I’m a sucker for a good acronym! As always I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions on this blog.)
MENTAL HEALTH HOTLINES/WEBSITES:
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to land a commercial jet?
As you’ve travelled somewhere excitedly looking out of the passenger window and thought what the view is like from the front as you come into land?
Well I can tell you, on a good day, it’s truly exhilarating.
To safely bring one of those big birds back to earth. Gliding onto the tarmac with some 300 passengers behind you. It’s one of the most rewarding feelings in the world.
On a bad day, however, it can be more of a poo-your-pants kinda feeling. Or, to put it another way, it can be shit scary!
The following is a story about a particularly bad day ‘at the office’ for me. A story of my most traumatic experience as a young pilot. One that took me some time to recover from.
That said, it is one I now look back on as a defining moment in my career. One that led me to seek the help I needed and shape me into the man I am today. I’m not only a better pilot because of it, I’m a better person.
Before I continue I want to first say, I don’t mean to scare anyone with the following account – especially those who might already have a fear of flying (maybe stop reading now if you do) – but only to talk openly and honestly about what was a fairly traumatic experience for me in the interest of raising awareness around PTSD.
I also want to talk about how I coped afterwards in the interest of helping others who might have suffered similarly and might be looking for some guidance.
I hope you find this helpful.
Anyway, allow me to start with the story. Deep breathes everyone, here we go…
(I’m going to try to avoid using too much aviation jargon but will leave links attached for certain phrases in case any of you are unsure of the meaning)
The Story Of My Most Traumatic Experience As A Pilot
As we flew back to Hong Kong over the South China Sea I reflected on how the day had gone. I was pleased. We had flown to Kuala Lumpur without incident during which I managed a challenging approach followed by a decent landing. It was still early days during my Junior First Officer training and my landings had been less than consistent, so this was something of a relief for me. Still, I couldn’t help but doubt myself when thinking about our approach into Hong Kong. I tired to shake it off as we set up for the arrival.
I should say the idea of safely landing a passenger plane based on my skill alone was somewhat daunting for me at the time, especially given it was only my sixth sector ever as the pilot flying a jet (an Airbus A330 for any interested parties) with passengers aboard. I’d also spent the 3 years previous watching on as a Second Officer – without doing any hand flying except occasionally in the simulator – wondering if I was capable. Looking back I realise that I didn’t really believe it. What I’d done by constantly asking the question was reinforce the idea that I wasn’t. As so often comes up in the story about my past the big issue for me had nothing to do with capability, but self-belief.
The weather into Hong Kong was benign except for the wind that was coming from the south (which can mean the possibility of mechanical turbulence from the winds passing over the hills and buildings to the south of the runway, especially near the threshold of 25R – our arrival runway that day).
After briefing the arrival we started our descent. ATC told us to take up the hold while they dealt with the many arrivals typical that time of the day. I began to feel the butterflies build.
As we slowly descended in the hold, the Captain mentioned noticing how I was frequently wiping my hands on my trousers. He told me how Captains tend to notice these kinds of nervous ticks. I didn’t know what to say. I thought about how such a comment was suppose to help?! I knew I was nervous. I wasn’t trying to hide it. Anyway, was it not normal given I was still learning how to fly the damn thing?! I kept quiet and tried to focus on the task at hand.
When we finally joined final approach, my nerves worsened. I tired my best to ignore them but the butterflies were in overdrive. I began to wipe my increasingly sweaty hands with greater frequency – now acutely aware every time I did so! I told myself to breathe. We took the gear down followed by our final flaps. I then asked for the landing check list. Shortly afterwards we were cleared to land.
It was crunch time.
As I took the autopilot out, I felt the mechanical turbulence rock the plane. I tried my best to keep my scan going but had a habit of looking down at my PFD (Primary Flight Display) instead of outside. (As part of our scan we should be alternating between both, slowly increasing the amount of time looking outside as we get closer to the runway. Eventually you should be completely ‘heads up’ – only looking outside while the other pilot (the pilot monitoring) continues to monitor the instruments. I had a habit of fixating on the screen (PFD) a little too much instead of looking outside (Not uncommon for trainee pilots)).
When we passed over the threshold a positive wind change caused the aircraft to ballon slightly. At this stage I was looking up but had left it too late to get an adequate picture of what was going on. Instead of counteracting the ballooning effect by pushing the nose down, I did the opposite. In my nervous haste, with the runway growing bigger, I pitched the nose up, flaring way too early.
Then I froze.
Everything within my field of vision seemed to fade away and all I could feel was an overwhelming sinking feeling. Like my whole being was collapsing in on itself at the pit of my stomach.
I didn’t know what to do.
We floated and floated, for what felt like an eternity, well beyond our desired touchdown zone, as we hovered above the runway.
The next thing I remember hearing was the captain announcing, “I have control.” He placed his hands on the thrust levers driving them fully forward to select maximum (TOGA) thrust. It took a while for the jet engines to spool up before we got the proverbial ‘kick up the ass’ and climbed away. When we eventually did the captain then announced, “Go-around, flaps.”
The rest is a blur.
I remember cleaning up the aircraft – retracting the flaps and gear as per our standard operating procedures during a go-around (an aborted approach to landing) – but little else except for how I felt.
What it felt like was the whole world had fallen apart. That my worst fears had been confirmed – that I wasn’t capable and didn’t belong in an aeroplane, let alone one with 300 passengers – and that my lack of ability was responsible for nearly having an accident. (To give you an idea of the dramatisation going on inside my head – the Training Captain was always in control of the situation.)
To reassure you lovely readers, while It is rare for a go-around to happen because of a botched landing, it does happen. It’s nothing to be alarmed about. It would be more alarming had we tired to continue with the landing. To explain, for those who don’t know, a go-around (an aborted approach) is a standard and very safe option available to us at any time during the approach should we elect discontinuing to be the safest course of action. In this case, as we had floated so far down the runway, flying away instead of landing and trying to stop on the limited amount of runway length left available was the safest option. (That didn’t stop it from shattering my ego of course.) I would also stress that this was during my training. Like any skill it takes a while to get the hang of it. Flying is no different. It’s also not uncommon for Training Captains to take control or help via a dual input (the Captain acts on the controls from his seat on the lefthand side of the cockpit at the same time as the pilot flying in the righthand seat does) when teaching inexperienced pilots to fly on a new aircraft type.
As we flew back around for a second approach, the captain asked if I was ok. I shook it off as best I could given the circumstances and declared confidently that I was. I can tell you now, I was not!
The second approach to landing happened quickly as ATC gave us priority to join final approach. I don’t remember much else except for the landing that was long as once again I flared too early. This time the Captain helped to bring the plane down safely by adding a dual input before we plonked onto the runway. A graceful landing, it was not!
As we taxied off the runway and to our parking bay I felt like the smallest person in the world.
The debrief afterwards was hard to take. The Captain tried his best to reassure me and get me to see the bigger picture – what a valuable learning experience this was, etc. – but all I wanted to do was go into hiding. To runaway, crawl under a rock and never come back out.
When I made my way from work on the train home, I remember reliving it over and over again in my head. I kept wondering what the hell had happened? How had it come to this? I couldn’t make sense of it. My initial base training (where trainees fly circuits at a remote airfield without passengers boarded before flying commercially) had gone so well. I had felt so confident but now it felt like I’d fallen into the abyss. I knew it was going to take everything to climb back up. It was everything I didn’t believe I had. .
Dealing With The Aftermath And How I Eventually Overcame My Inner Demons
That evening I’d made plans to have dinner with my parents. When I arrived at their apartment I explained to them what had happened. I didn’t realise at the time just how important it was to simply talk. How getting those words out in the open immediately lessened the power they’d had over me, trapped inside my head. Had I gone home that evening my natural inclination would have been to lock myself away. I know this would have definitely made things worse.
One big problem I’ve always had is talking openly about my problems. Instead my defence has long been to withdraw inward – something I picked up from years of being bullied as an adolescent.
Instead my parents were there to pick me up when I needed it most. They helped me to see how it was something from which I would learn and grow. Something for which I would one day look back on be truly grateful. It was difficult to see at the time but they were, of course, right.
It’s for this reason I strongly believe having people in your life that you can talk to openly and honestly is something we all need.
Still this was only the beginning of a long road to recovery for me. To give you a little more background, my problems extended well beyond the event itself. I had deeper issues to do with low self esteem yet to work through – inner demons that undoubtedly contributed to what happened that day. Although I did eventually seek the help I needed, it took a long time to find the courage to do so. I dreaded going to work. I worried incessantly during my spare time. When I was at work I became especially nervous about performing landings. I remember feeling my heart beat so hard I thought it was going to come out of my chest! I regularly thought about throwing in the towel and giving up. Yet I didn’t. I kept going, against all the will in my being, something inside me wasn’t prepared to let this event define me like that. That this time I wouldn’t let it end in failure.
(Again I want to reassure you lovely readers that I did seek help for PTSD following what happened – however the help I’m referring to above relates to the larger issues I had with both anxiety and depression that long preceded this event. In both cases when I did seek professional help, it was never their opinion that I needed any form medication or that I was a danger to myself or others or that I should stop flying. Had they thought so, they had the power to ground me. Before you jump on my back for continuing to fly despite suffered from mental illness, I want you to know I never believed my issues were so bad I couldn’t perform my duties. I’m confiding in you all now partly because I believe there is still a very unhealthy stigma surrounding mental illness – especially in aviation – where such topics are still strictly taboo despite the crucial need to talk about them!)
Ultimately it was getting back in the seat and facing my demons head on that allowed me to overcome them.
I managed to overcome my fears by proving to myself I was more than capable. Little by little, flight by flight, landing by landing, the anxiety that gripped my heart began to loosen. I went on to complete my Junior First Officer training and then First Officer upgrade the first time of asking and to a very good standard, with no other hiccups along the way. Following that I flew for years around the region with so much exposure that landing the plane became second nature.
Still, there was a feeling that wouldn’t go away. A feeling that continued to plague me. A feeling that I knew if I didn’t face, it would continue to plague me for the rest of my life. I put it off, out of fear, for as long as I could. Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer. I reached out and finally got the help I knew in my heart I’d needed all along.
When I did everything changed for me. I can honestly say I don’t suffer from depression or PTSD anymore. I’m still working through some issues regarding anxiety but even that has lost its hold over me.
It’s for this reason I will always be a voice for encouraging others, especially for anyone who is reading and has suffered from any sort of trauma or mental illness, to ask for the help they need.
I can tell you from experience that that later you leave it the harder it is to solve.
That said, it’s never too late to get the help you need. Never. And solve it you can.
I really hope I can inspire others who may have difficulty getting the help they need, to find the courage to do so. To come out and talk about their problems openly and to know that there is no shame in this whatsoever. Whether talking to a professional, friends and family or simply leaving a comment here – we all need to be having far more of these awkward discussions. We are all human and part of being human is to know we can’t do it alone. Together we are stronger and together we can help one another change. However difficult the road might be for you, please know that change is always possible. It starts with talking.
“Fly The Aircraft To The Ground” – Some Closing Thoughts
The day after the landing that wasn’t, I remember getting a call from work. Another senior Captain called to ask how I was and discuss a recurring problem he’d noticed when teaching Junior First Officers to fly. He said he’d noticed how many of them stopped flying after the flare. If you can nail the flare exactly this isn’t such a big issue, but if you flare early, or wind conditions cause you to land long, he’d noticed a tendency to let go even if the aircraft hadn’t landed yet. He said “you have to fly the aircraft to the ground.”
I never forgot that advice. Not only because it was a very practical tip that summed up exactly what I hadn’t done. But it resonated with me on a deeper level.
You have to fly the aircraft to the ground.
Don’t think because you’re on final approach you can relax. Don’t think because you’re almost home you can let your guard down. You have to keep flying. You have to keep going. Keep taking responsibility for your life and your problems. Life isn’t just one big problem to solve and then you’re set. It’s a series of never ending problems for which you have to take responsibility right till the end. You have strive to stay in control. You have to believe you can deal with it. Should you get it wrong, then you need to let go of you ego and go around.
You can always go around if you don’t get it right.
There is no shame in this. Don’t be afraid to go around and try again. But try again you must. It’s up to all of us to manage our own journeys in life and to make sure we come home safely. I, for one, have ever faith that you can.
For Additional Information regarding PTSD please follow the links below:
“A few modern philosophers assert that individual intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protect & react against this brutal pessimism… With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgement and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.” – ALFRED BINET (early 1900s)
I’d lived with a fixed mindset for years.
It was a mindset driven by a deep seated belief of not being good enough. Not being smart enough.
Simply not being enough.
I told myself all sorts of lies based off this. Lies that sounded so strongly I became crippled with depression and anxiety.
My mind tortured my heart until it shut off completely.
I’m happy to say I’m in a much better place now.
I’m more productive than I’ve ever been. I’m calmer, more confident. My thinking is clearer. I trust in my heart again.
I’m beginning to wake up to who I truly am.
One of the reasons, I believe, is an understanding that nothing is fixed. Nothing is permanent.
Through true insight gained from asking for help, I’ve been able to gradually change the harmful narrative I’d spent over a decade strengthening.
I didn’t realise it then, not in these terms at least, but one of the major reasons I managed to overcome depression was because I started to cultivate a growth mindset.
For those who’ve never heard the termonolgy before, Maria Popova from her blog post: Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives explains it well:
A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled.
A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behaviour, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.
Much of our understanding on the idea stems from the work of Stanford psychologist Carol S. Dweck as outlined in her brilliant book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
Through her research Dweck demonstrates just how limiting a fixed mindset can be in stalling motivation and progress, especially following failure or when facing challenges. Conversely she demonstrates that those with a growth mindset see failure not as a confirmation of being unable or unintelligent, but as something from which they can learn and improve.
At the crux of her argument is the idea that those with a growth mindset understand just how valuable effort is over any sort of innate talent.
They understand effort = intelligence, and so fall in love with the process of improvement. On the other hand those with a fixed mindset are so worried about what failure might say about them, they come to dread doing what they have to in order to succeed. In extreme cases they avoid doing all together so as to avoid the pain of failure.
“This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”
When I began to think back over my own life in these terms, I began to see how damaging a fixed mindset had been throughout my life.
Failure to me was confirmation I was one.
I hated doing certain work from a young age. Languages, in particular, were difficult for me. I was led to believe, by many teachers nonetheless, I wasn’t good at English and/or Languages.
I didn’t bother putting any effort into those subjects. I remember thinking what’s the point. I’m not any good so might as well concentrate on what I am.
The trouble is it worked in reversed too!
I was regularly told how good I was at math – that it was something I should pursue because it will open many doors. This was drilled home to me.
I completely lost interest in a subject I once loved. I still managed to scrape an A during my GCSE’s, but much to my father’s disappointment, I decided not to pursue it as an A level. I didn’t want people to find out, that if I put in the effort and failed, I might not be that good after all.
My parents, who I know believed were doing the right thing, didn’t realise how harmful praising my natural abilities were. It turns out that praising a child’s natural ability, or telling them how clever they are, is extremely damaging because it fixes a child’s mindset.
As Dweck notes,
“The ability praise pushed students right into the fixed mindset, and they showed all the signs of it, too: When we gave them a choice, they rejected a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their flaws and call into question their talent… In contrast, when students were praised for effort, 90 percent of them wanted the challenging new task that they could learn from.”
I’ll tell you a story of another teacher who never made mention of my abilities in English. She had me moved into her English class for the top peers in our age group (even though I belonged in the bottom). She made sure I sat at the front and paid keen attention (she was somewhat terrifying which helped). Despite not putting much effort into my coursework during those years, because of her, because of what I learnt through the effort I was forced to put in, I achieved B’s in both English Language and Literature.
You might think so what?
Well given my coursework material, which counted for a large percentage of the final grade, averaged between a C and a D, I must have aced the final examinations. I would also point out, before I joined her class, I was far, far behind the rest of the pack. On top of which I was going through some very difficult times in my life (I’ll get to that shortly). To this day they’re my proudest grades from secondary school.
Forgetting the grade, however, what she proved was far more important, even if it didn’t fully register till years later. She proved that if I chose to apply myself I was more than capable. She helped plant the seed for developing a growth mindset that would bear fruit many years later.
‘Prolonged bullying can instil a fixed mindset. Especially if others stand by and do nothing… Victims say that when they’re tortured and demeaned and none comes to their defence, they start to believe they deserve it. They start to judge themselves and to think they’re inferior.‘
I would love to say from this point everything got better. That I understood and moved forward with a newfound belief and started to grow.
But it didn’t.
It got worse. Much worse.
My problems stemmed from many variables, but bullying played the biggest role. Those years of secondary school were brutal for me. I was bullied every day at school for years.
This was compounded by the fact my parents couldn’t see what was happening. I was at boarding school halfway across the world. They didn’t know.
The trauma of being bullied repeatedly hardwired my response to withdraw from everyone and everything. I shut down as a way to repress the overwhelming emotions I didn’t know how to process. It was depression in the making.
Ultimately this was a major problem because it prevented me for doing what I needed the most.
Ask for help.
What followed makes perfect sense to me now.
When my first love of two years broke up with me during University, I fell apart. I had no confidence I was capable of being on my own. No belief I was lovable, or that I’d be capable of finding it again.
Similarly, when I messed up a landing so badly during my early Junior First Officer training as a pilot (that the Captain had to take over and go around), it felt like my whole world had fallen apart. I put on a brave face but when I got home I broke down. The feelings of inadequacy came flooding up. It was too much for me.
(For those who don’t know in aviation, a go-around is an aborted landing of an aircraft that is on final approach.)
Carrying on afterwards, whenever I faced failure of some kind, was extremely, extremely difficult. Difficulties would often trigger a bout of depression that could last for weeks if not months at a time.
What my fixed mindset always wanted was to give up. To retreat into my shell. To shut down rather than fail and confirm what years of bullying had led me to believe.
It took everything I had to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To understand these were just lessons on the road of life which all of us go through.
Still, something in my heart kept my head above water.
The small voices of a growth mindset, planted there by various people including my parents, my high-school English teacher and my wife, to name a few, who all understood I really was capable, were enough in the end to pull me through. To all of them I am, and always will be, extremely grateful.
Yet it was all much harder than it needed to be. The major problem wasn’t my fixed mindset, but that the depression and paralysing anxiety it caused, prevented me from reaching out for help. I knew I needed it but for years I simply couldn’t find the strength.
It wasn’t until after my son was born, when I came home from work one day consumed by a regular bout of depression. As I sat with him and looked into his eyes, I realised I didn’t want to be around him.
I didn’t want to father him.
The familiar feeling of wanting to runaway and hide, to withdraw into my shell, to shirk all my responsibilities – including that as a father – broke me. The remorse and guilt was too much to bear. I left the room and the tears fell.
I let the sadness consume me.
I cried and cried. I cried until nothing was left but a strange peace. Something inside me changed. Something that said this time I couldn’t let depression win. I won’t. I didn’t think about what to do next. I simply picked up the phone.
I reached out.
I asked for help.
“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives”
I rate it as both the most courageous and important decision I’ve ever made. Since then the changes have far exceeded what I thought possible.
Am I out of the woods yet?
No, not a chance.
But I can honestly say after I sought help, after over a decade of suffering from what was eventually diagnosed as long-term depression, I’ve not had an episode since.
I still struggle with anxiety and other emotions that surface, especially in the face of adversity. However the difference is they don’t consume me like they used to.
I’m acutely aware of where those emotions and the false narrative are coming from. This has helped me to gradually let them go.
I also realised through the flooding of my subconscious with positive thinking and reading (the same way bullying can flood your subconscious with negative thinking), you can change the narrative in your head. You can literally grow out of a fixed mindset. You can literally grow out of depression!
Of course I don’t want to underplay how difficult this all was or, indeed, still is. To this day being bullied remains one of the most difficult topics for me to talk about personally, let alone publicly, but I now understand the need to do so.
In not facing your demons, you only give them strength. You only strengthen your fixed mindset. By not asking for help you only make it harder to do later on.
Ultimately if there was just one message I could convey to those struggling with depression – to those who suffer from an all consuming self-doubt – it would be to ask for help.
To somehow find the courage within you and reach out.
I know how hard it is.
But please remember, asking for help is simply asking someone else to help you grow. We all need help from one another – from the day we’re born till the day we die. The last thing it shows is that you’ve failed or that you’re incapable.
It shows the exact opposite.
It shows that despite everything you’re still willing to show up. It shows you’re not willing to let past demons fix in you any false belief. It shows that you understand that within you is another voice. Another mindset that knows you have so much more to give. A mindset we all have.
It is only you who can set it free.
It starts by asking for help.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck
Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives by Maria Popova
Dear readers, thank you so much for listening to what I have to say! In the interest of growth, I’d love to hear any comments, suggestions, questions or criticisms you may have in the comments sections below. Thanks again. Yours, AP2.
It was late the other night that my wife told me about her sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the amount of things she sets herself to do – of always feeling pushed to do things – of feeling the need to do things – that she sometimes feels driven by an underlying sense of ‘not good enough.’
I paused to take in what she was saying, before climbing into bed next to her.
She’s certainly not alone, I thought. I knew those feelings well. I suspect those feelings are probably shared by the vast majority of young professionals driven by certain expectations of society, of their parents, of their conditioning to be the best version of themselves.
As I responded, in one of my rare moments of clarity, I remembered a question that I wrote down from a podcast I heard a few weeks ago. It’s something I’ve asked myself repeatedly since, as a way to guide my actions , especially when I’ve felt a strong resistance to them – like my perceived need to keep up with my own work.
The question was this:
“Am I making this decision because of love or fear?”– Dr Vivek Murthy
I felt it was such an insightful way of asking yourself why or why not you should do something – whatever that may be – as you go about your day. The more I contemplated it over the following weeks, the more I realised how powerful it was as a guiding force in keeping the values I hold close to my heart, clear in my mind. After all, I believe all our feelings and actions are driven, on a basis level, by one of these two underlying emotions. This question is a great way of bringing to light, exactly which one of these two emotions is driving your actions at any particular moment.
Is this decision because of fear or love?
As I climbed into bed I asked my wife what her motives are for doing (she’s a yoga teacher FYI) what she’s been doing? Is it because she believes strongly in the cause, to help others, or does she feel pushed to perform, to be better because of some perceived need to prove something to others or, indeed, herself? Is it from, on some level, a feeling of inadequacy, of not being good enough as she is right now?
I went on to explain something that dawned on me about why my own motivation towards work had stalled so many times in the past.
I never felt good enough. I was scared what others thought. I was scared that I would underperform and not be seen as good enough in the eyes of my coworkers. I was so scared of ‘being found out’ for who I thought I was. Of confirming a long help belief – a false one – that I wasn’t good enough. The same has been true of my writing.
Thinking back it’s no wonder my motivation died. It’s no wonder when I sat down to do the work I needed that it was such an enormous struggle. It felt like walking through quick sand as I ploughed ahead while fighting the stress, anxiety and sometimes, full blown depression, that had consumed my heart.
If only someone had shouted, “you are good enough you fool – you know this – you’re just doing it for the wrong reasons.”
Alas, I know that wouldn’t have helped. True insight and understanding has to come from within and that takes time. It has taken years to grow in my heart. It still is.
LOVE AS MOTIVATION FOR WORK & LIFE
The last six months – since the world of aviation has been brought to its knees because of the coronavirus pandemic – have given me, like countless others, plenty of time to reflect.
With regards to work I have come to realise that framing my motivations, to be clear that they are coming from a genuine place of love, is what I need to do. Whipping myself into shape doesn’t work in the longer term. It’s too hard.
As I explained to my wife, when I sit down to prepare for work, for a flight or simulator check, whatever it may be, the question I have started asking is, am I preparing from a place of fear or love? And, if I am feeling fearful, what is it that I’m really afraid of? Why am I doing what I am? If it’s because I feel the need to prove something, then I know I’m coming from the wrong place.
Of course preparing so you don’t fuck up in such a way that the flight ends in catastrophe is one way to think about things. Ultimately that’s our goal – Safety absolutely, rightly, comes first. However there’s a big difference between preparing or working from a place of all consuming fear, versus love. Even if you still feel fearful, if you’re coming from a place of genuine love, that will give you strength to carry on. To stare down the eyes of the beast.
I relayed some of those loving motives, as they applied to me in my work, to my wife.
To honour and protect my fellow crew members whom I owe it to perform at my best as I know they are. To do my best for every single passenger we transport – to make sure they arrive at their destinations – that they make it home safely to their loved ones. To remember I am providing for my own family through this job – that gives us everything we need to live a happy, healthy and secure life. To remember I love myself – self preservation because I want to be alive – so I can be around for my family and friends. So my wife has a husband to love her. So my son has a father to lead him.
There’s something else at this moment in time too.
Although there isn’t a huge amount of flying to go around at the moment – I realised the small amount there is, is an opportunity to be part of something, to help in a way most others around the world can’t. To help bring the few people who need to travel for very urgent reasons. To help bring critical supplies, medical or otherwise, to areas of the world who desperately need it. To help the world keep turning to some degree at a time when it has all but ground to a halt! It’s a gift to be able to do something more than simply stay at home during this pandemic. I know millions of others would give a lot for the opportunity to do the same. It’s something to be extremely grateful for.
While these might seem like obvious motivations, I can tell you they are easily lost, or have been for me at least, in a profession so heavily driven by perfectionism – to prove your competency, and that you know everything there is to know. The pressure to prove yourself isn’t part of the the job I relish.
Yet, when I allowed myself to think in these terms, I found myself itching to get back into the righthand seat for the first time in a long time. To be a larger part of this fight against the coronavirus pandemic – even if that means I only get to fly a single sector. I want to help in any way I can. Through my wiring and my profession.
I now realise just how important it is to remind myself of my real motives when I feel anxious, especially when plagued by self-doubt, to help refocus the mind and bring me back to the present.
Am I doing this because of love or fear?
As I relayed these thoughts to my wife that night, it was interesting to hear that for the charity classes she had been organising, from which she earned not a penny, she had felt none of this resistance. She believed in the cause strongly, for a number of reasons including bringing people together from their homes at this difficult time globally. So they too could do something more than just sit at home – to contribute to charities in need, while showing love to themselves. A beautiful act of self-compassion extending outwards.
It’s obvious isn’t it? She had been acting from a place of love and the motivation for doing so was effortless.
FEAR AS A GATEWAY TO COMPASSION
Fear is part of what all of us should be feeling at the moment. It’s a good thing. If fear didn’t play its part – we’d have become extinct a long time ago. Self preservation is paramount to keeping all of us safe. However if thats the only reason, if all your thinking about is the I, it’ll wear you thin quickly. Fear on this level isn’t designed to keep you running for months or years at a time. It certainly won’t be what sustains you during this pandemic. It can’t.
To find motivation for long term action, for maintaining integrity, for anything, you have to consider love.
Why are you doing it?
For the elderly and the sick, the most vulnerable in society, your loved ones and your friends, your grandparents and your parents, your brother and your sisters, your children and your grandchildren…
Why are you doing it?
Is it because of love or fear?
I want to stress that listening to and acknowledging your fear is important. It’s telling us something. ie there’s a snake over there – I better walk the other way. Or, there’s a deadly and highly infectious disease, maybe I should stay indoors for a while or wear a mask…
However our fears are often based on clinging and attachment – a fear of losing something – whether that’s something you have, control of a situation, other people’s behaviour, how society and governments should function, etc.
Fear is telling us something about reality we wish were different. It’s telling us to act and to make it so! However, what’s often lost on people is what exactly needs to change. I can tell you, far more often than not, it isn’t reality that needs to change. Reality is perfectly fine as it is, because it can’t be any other way. It’s your expectations of reality. If you’re feeling angry that’s coming from you. It’s your emotion to deal with and take responsibility for. The same applies to anxiety and depression. Emotions I know well. They are my responsibility to deal with. Whether that means I need to take time to meditate or seek therapy – I need to work out why. I need to understand before I can change. Before I can accept what I cannot change.
Ultimately fear is asking for us to change something or accept something.
With regards to situations we have little or no control over, acceptance is key. You will never find peace in the moment, if you don’t accept it as it is. If it happens to be a situation like the coronavirus pandemic, as much as we might wish it to be different, if we cannot act, if we cannot change it, we must learn to accept it. That means to accept your fear of the situation. This isn’t easy of course. But I do believe, by acknowledging your fear, understanding it as a shared feeling that millions of others are also experiencing, you are actually coming from a place of love and compassion. It is this, that will lead to acceptance.
Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance, said it beautifully:
“When we understand our pain as an intrinsic gateway to compassion, we begin to awaken from the imprisoning story of a suffering self. In the moments when we tenderly hold our anger, for instance, we cut through our identity as an angry self. The anger no longer feels like a personal flaw or an oppressive burden. We begin to see its universal nature—it’s not our anger, it is not our pain. Everyone lives with anger, with fear, with grief.”
She goes on, “Understanding that the pain in our life is an expression of universal suffering opens us to the fullness of Radical Acceptance. Rather than being a problem, our depression, fear and anger are “entrusted to us,” and can be dedicated to our awakening. When we carry our pain with the kindness of acceptance instead of the bitterness of resistance, our hearts become an edgeless sea of compassion.”
Even in the grip of fear, pain or depression, we can act from love. In fact it’s possible fear can stir in us far greater compassion and love, than we otherwise knew we had.
Here’s a definition of courage for you.
Courage is acting from a place of love, doing what you know to be right, not in the absence of fear, but because of it.
Let me ask you a question. If you see a child, let’s say its your child, step out onto the road into oncoming traffic and you take the courageous decision to run out to save his or her life. Was that decision to save your child’s life based on love or fear? Have a long think about it. Most will answer without thinking. Love. But was it? Consider the crucial part fear had to play in this scenario. Fear of losing something you love. Fear of your child getting badly hurt or worse. I believe it was fear that sprung you into action. Don’t forget that fear can come from a place of love too. Fear when really acknowledged and listened to, can be a powerful gateway to compassion. When you understand the love behind your fear, you will know how you should act.
Back to the present – our only true reality – and the situation of the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re feeling fearful for yourself or your loved ones, if acting out of fear, fear that seems too much to bear, sit with it and be kind. Don’t resist it – you’ll only give it strength. Instead, remind yourself of the love behind that fear. Remember the loving reasons behind what you’re doing. Remember what we all are. It’s such a beautiful thing. It really is. To be part of something bigger than ourselves. To see the world unite behind a common cause like it has. It gives me so much hope for the future. Don’t forget the love. It’s the love that will sustain you. It’s love that will sustain us all. So I ask you, and I ask myself, again and again,
“Am I doing this because of love or fear?”
- Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach – an excellent and timely book, that has inspired a great deal of my thinking and writing recently.
- Dr. Vivek Murthy — Former Surgeon General on Combatting COVID-19, Loneliness, and More – The Tim Ferris show podcast where I heard the question from Dr. Vivek Murthy.
Following on from my 4 part 2019 review, below are my pledges and goals for the coming year. I intend to do a monthly review of these goals as a way of holding myself on accountable as the year progresses. I hope you enjoy!
MY 2020 PLEDGES
By the end of 2020 my wife and I will have begun trying for a second child (or be pregnant with the second (and last!) on the way).
With regards to work I will be “command ready” having worked to further my operation and confidence to its highest ever level. I will have attended a performance based course to help in this regard. I will have taken an extended period of 3 months off work from May till July.
Health wise, I will be far more consistent with regards to my exercise and healthy living habits, sticking to my morning and evening routines that incorporates yoga and/or some other form of physical exercise. I will have completed one alcohol free week every month plus one alcohol free month during the year. My eating habits will much improved following a ‘slow carb diet’ 5 days a week. I’ll also have found a new activity based hobby that I enjoy outside of the home. As a result I’ll be as fit as ever having achieved my desired body fat percentage of 14%. My back injury will have completely healed.
My mental health will be vastly improved due to a more consistent practice of meditation, reading and writing that I’ll have better incorporated into both my morning and evening routines. I will have attended at least one silent retreat and a transcendental course to further my practise. I will have opened up to my parents about my previous difficulties and become much closer to them as a result. I will talk to my wife every single night when at home before bed.
In my spare time I will continue to write everyday. My first goal will be to write and publish a children’s book for wiggles. I will also start a new blog that explores the question of how to live a healthier and happier life at home and at work, as well as being a better father, husband and all round human being. I will have taken the time to volunteer and start annual donations to two new charities.
At home I will be far more environmentally conscious having done a large amount of research into how I can live more sustainably. This will act as a model for Wiggles as he grows up.
Financially we’ll be in very good shape having organised a better tracking/savings system as we look to the future. We will have made a significant investment into my brother’s hedge fund and also a third property. I will have also invested in renewable technologies and/or an environmental project aimed at helping save the planet. Insurance wise we will have reviewed and updated all our policies and plans as necessary and have set up a will.
MY 2020 GOALS
- Meditate 365 days/year
- Attend a silent retreat
- Complete a course in transcendental meditation
- 5 x Exercise days/week
- 4 x Alcohol free days/week
- 1 x Alcohol free week/month
- 1 x Alcohol free month/year
- 5 x low carb/high protein days/week (during intermittent fasting window 12 till 8)
- 4 x long fast/year (24hr-76hr)
- 14% body-fat goal
- Stretch/Yoga daily
- Perform LASIK
- Heal back injury
- Find new activity based hobby to commit weekly
- Oxfam Trail Walker 2020?
- Be ‘Command Ready’ by 2021
- Complete Performance course through work
- Logbook journal after every flight – write 1 thing I did well and 1 thing I could do better
- Take an extended period off work (3 months following LASIK? – May – July)
- Publish first children’s book
- Start new blog (with a particular focus on health this year)
- Post 1 new article/week
- Write daily (As a minimum in my 5MJ)
- Read 2 books/month
- Read daily
- Set Liam goals to help his achieve throughout the year
- Date night x 1/week
- Talk to my wife every night when at home
- Open up to Mum and Dad
- Environmental research/piece on blog about how to live more sustainably/responsibly at home for the family to centre around
- Set goals and make changes based on this research
- Skiing Japan Trip (February)
- April/May getaway with Holly
- Silent retreat (May in Bhutan?)
- UK Trip (June)
- Croatia and Serbia – Villa plus Ogi and Mia wedding (September/October)
- UK (Christmas)
- File/pay UK Taxes
- File/pay HK Taxes
- Research new mortgage for London apartment
- Invest in my brother’s fund
- Invest in third property
- Sort better tracking/savings system with longer term goals in mind
- Write a will
- Set up loss of income insurance through Union
- Set up annual donation to 2 x new charities
- Volunteer locally
Hi there and welcome to part 2 of my 2019 review! Today I’m looking at work, specifically my career in aviation and as a writer. As before two major questions are driving my thoughts. Those are, ‘What went well?’ and What could I do better?’. I hope you enjoy.
In terms of my job (the one that pays the bills), I’m flying less often as a result of requesting a long haul roster, which means I get more days off. Given how young my boy is, family time is simply a much bigger priority for me at the moment. I don’t feel guilty about this however, the result is, quite naturally, a less proficient operation. Approaching my command I will look to focus more on my operation again, but for now and looking forward to 2020, given it’s still a way off, my focus will remain on improving my own health and well-being on top of becoming a better father to Liam and husband to Holly.
With that said I would at least say I have achieved a much healthier relationship towards work, especially with regards to flying through the night, which previously occupied a much greater and more negative space in my head. Working with my therapist has paid dividends in this regard.
I also have a better handle on my anxiety toward flying with certain, shall we say, personality types. Although rare, previous experiences had left me feeling nervous almost every time I showed up to work. Outside of my family it was perhaps the biggest driver for me to seek help. I used to take work home with me all the time – worrying about my performance, lack of drive, who I might have to fly with, the havoc night flying must be having on my health – basically A LOT OF NEGATIVE SHIT. Without getting into too much detail about my therapy, we worked out a great deal of these thoughts stemmed from an underlying belief of inadequacy that I had been carrying around with me for a very long time.
I can happily say my perspective has changed significantly. The boundaries between work and home are much clearer – more or less forgetting about work when at home and feeling more excited and motivated when back at it. I’m less hard on myself when I don’t have the best day and far better at taking the positives.
Next year will very much be about bringing this improved perspective toward work consistently. I still have demons to fight, but unlike before I now look forward to the battle. I now want to put myself in the uncomfortable situations – take the more challenging sectors with the more difficult captains – knowing that I’m more than capable of dealing with them, but that I still have things to learn and room to grow. We always do.
I think it’s fair to say I haven’t really felt like a captain yet up to this point in my career – settling and becoming too comfortable with my role as First Officer and Second Officer before that. However far off it may be, I want to feel that I am truly ‘Command ready’ by the end of 2020, so that the course may be less of a shock to the system than previous upgrades have proved. This will be my ultimate work goal for next year.
To achieve that I will look at perfecting my routines around work as well as at it. I will never turn down a sector offered and I will challenge myself at every opportunity to put myself in the captains shoes. I will seek to attend a command performance course. I will ask the question, “What could I have done better/differently?” Beyond that I will remember, It is a privilege to be an aviator and I owe it to the profession to give it my all.
Consistently writing every day has to be a major goal for 2020. Setting myself the goal of one post a week, or however many a month, has not proven the best way to get me writing. If anything I find it demotivating when I inevitably miss the deadlines set for myself. I think much more important is the process or routine of writing. Making it a daily habit. If I simply do, then I know I’ll be more productive regardless of how many articles/posts/books I actually end up producing.
Like a lot of things, I’ve had too much of an on and off relationship with writing, as has been the case this year. Happily I’ve seen a major improvement, in the latter part of this year. I have been writing almost everyday. In the past month. I’ve written my family Christmas newsletter, finished my first draft of my children’s book, which I hope to get published next year, written in my 5MJ every day and started this blog. Let see what I can get done in a year by committing to the simple goal of writing just one lousy paragraph a day.