Treat the time you wakeup as the central-axis point of your being.
The point that keeps everything in balance.
The point that sets everything you want to happen in motion.
The point from which all order springs.
Don’t lie in. Don’t hit snooze. Don’t think about it.
Just. Get. Up.
No matter how bad your nights sleep, make sure you wake up at the same time.
Every. Single. Day.
This will be hard at first (if you’re not doing this already), but the longer term benefits are massive – especially for those who have trouble sleeping.
Because our bodies are biological clocks that love routine. When we wake up at the same time we reinforce our circadian rhythm.
Not only does this prompt us to go to bed at the same time, it allows our bodily functions and cycles to operate at optimum efficiency – keeping us as strong as a mother fucking Ox y’all!
(Add to this regularly scheduled meal times and you’ll really start to notice shit changing for you. In fact, you’ll notice your shit happening at the exact same time every single day, like clockwork.)
Waking up on the dot affects everything. Energy, metabolism, mood…
Conversely, when our lifestyle has been out of sync with our circadian rhythm for a long time, we start to put ourselves at greater risk to all sorts of diseases and mental health issues. (Check out this article for more info.)
And you can take all of this from a pilot who has been disrupting his circadian rhythm for ten years now with one exception: this past year.
Because of COVID I’ve seen a lot less flying through the night and a lot more regular sleep.
How do you feel, you ask?
Strong as a mother fucking Ox y’all! (And also scared for my job, but let’s blow past that…)
Now allow me to let you in on a couple of tips within this tip!
It takes 40 days or so to form a new habit. So stick with it. It will pay off.
Do I have to get up at 5am, you ask?
No, not at all.
The other important thing to understand is that you have a unique chronotype. (Have a look at this article for more info or take this quiz to help you find out which.)
I happen to be a wolf (side note: awesome).
I hate early mornings. I like to take things slow when I do get up – which is later than most I’ll admit.
I meditate, do a little journalling and reading with a leisurely coffee, and then I do some exercise and/or stretching before I crack on with the day.
I’m at my most alert in the evenings. So when everyone else sits down to binge watch Netflix, that’s when I get to work.
Unfortunately for us wolves, society is biased towards bears and lions (early birds). I used to believe I was lazy for the longest time.
It wasn’t until I understood my chronotpye that I really started listening to my body instead of forcing it. This in turn allowed me to formulate a routine that has me firing on all four cylinders.
It’s important to stress that while the early bird may catch the worm, the night owl gets to hunt mice mother fuckers!
So don’t feel bad about setting your schedule to match your chronotype.
We’re all different!
Whether that means you get up at 4am or 11am, the most important thing is that you wake up at the same time.
The simplest, most common sense piece of wisdom that the vast majority of people fuck up on a daily basis is this: Don’t make shit worse than it already is.
For example, imagine that a global pandemic ravages the world turning life as we know it on its head (oh wait). Now imagine how much harder it would be if you spent your entire time wishing it hadn’t happened (ah shit). Wishing for a different reality (yep, fucked that one up).
Or imagine that you’ve lost your job. Now imagine how much harder it would be if you spent your time blaming your employer for what happened. Pissing all your savings down the drain in anger. Instead of knuckling under and coming up with a plan. Instead of first accepting the hand you’ve been dealt and then putting in the hard yards so you come out the other side stronger.
It sounds simple, not making shit worse than it already is. However not making shit worse is about having the discipline to face your current reality as it stands. Having the discipline to first accept it.
This is why so many people fuck up this simple common sense piece of wisdom. They don’t practise acceptance (which is hard). They don’t first come to terms with what’s happened. Instead of pausing to have a think – instead of then making a measured response – they react rashly, caving in to impulsivity instead.
There’s something else we use in aviation to help us think clearly when faced with any non normal scenario. I believe it works just as well in everyday life. It’s called the CLEAR model. (If you’re interested I wrote all about it here.) It stands for the following:
C – Clarifywhat the problem is. (Global pandemic has left me unemployed.) L – Lookfor information and ideas. (Search for a new job or do an online course to gain new skills.) E – Evaluate your options. (Apply for jobs or learn a new skill or binge watch NETFLIX.) A – Act on your decision. (Binge watch NETFLIX.) R – Review how it is working. (Enjoying NETFLIX. Will continue to watch NETFLIX until I hate myself then reluctantly look for a new job.)
I believe this is a useful model that helps you first sit on your hands and then gain some much needed clarity before making a decision. Because that’s what you need to do. First accept what has happened and then become clear about your options.
There’s a character from the popular sitcom South Park called Captain Hindsight. For those who’ve not seen it, Captain Hindsight is a super hero (of sorts) who shows up to the scene of a disaster while it’s taking place. He then “helps” the people in need by making a stirring speech about all the ways everyone should have acted to prevent the tragedy from happening in the first place. Afterwards he flies away while everyone cheers hysterically, despite the fact he didn’t actually help anyone.
The reason I love this skit is because of how accurately it portrays our society at large. The way we all love to have such strong opinions after the fact. The way we complain about how our government has failed us or how incompetent our colleagues were, before declaring how they should have done this, that or what-the-fuck ever. All without doing diddly-squat except have an opinion (says the man sitting behind a keyboard).
Of course talking about lessons we sorely need to learn isn’t a problem, but I do believe the way we seek to attribute blame is. The way we like to sit on our high horse of righteousness and declare how superior we are. How we go on the offensive instead of looking to assume any kind of collective responsibility for our current state of affairs.
I believe this kind of blame culture blinds us.
For one, those who are responsible become less inclined to own that responsibility, to put up their hand when they’ve made a mistake. They also play the blame game in an attempt to deflect any shame placed on them by others. It also blinds those who point the finger from understanding how they might have been complicit. Like blaming those who voted for such and such instead of acknowledging the role they had avoiding difficult conversations in the past, or how looking down on others has only strengthened respective positions and deepened the divide…
Anyway this got me thinking, maybe part of our problem is the way we think about hindsight. The idea that hindsight is always 20/20. That maybe it would be better for all us to consider the possibility our hindsight isn’t nearly as clear sighted as we think. To think that maybe hindsight is rarely 20/20.
With that in mind I want to tell you a little story.
Earlier this year while flying an approach my crew and I found ourselves in a spot of bother after a number of events left us high on final approach. As a result of then having to ‘capture the approach path from above,’ we ended up busting our stabilised approach criteria. To put it simply, we were too fast.
In our attempt to configure the aircraft and “get the job done,” however, we became distracted and missed the check height at which we should have gone around (abandoned the approach). Instead we continued to landing.
Now I should stress that the speed came back and we landed safely. We got everything done, just later than we should have. But that’s not the point. The right recourse was to go around and we didn’t. It was a honest mistake but, there’s no two ways about it, we fucked up. (And cue Captain Hindsight to tell us exactly what we should have done).
About a week later, back in Hong Kong, the rest of the crew and I were called into work to undergo an ‘operational learning review.’ The sole goal of which was to learn from a safety perspective, to understand what had happened and why. All in keeping with what is known as a “Just Culture.”
For those who’ve not heard of the term, “in a Just Culture both employees and company accept accountability for their actions and learning from events, and the intention is that no one will face punitive action for any unpremeditated or inadvertent error or mistake.”
Anyway one of the more valuable lessons came from comparing what we thought had happened to what had actually happened as demonstrated by the flight data. How all of us had a somewhat, shall we say, favourable recollection of events. But also how all of us had quite different recollections from each other. This is what really hit home for me. Our extraordinary propensity to misinterpret past events. It made me realise that hindsight is most definitely not 20/20.
But there was something else I took from this experience. Something for which I’m extremely grateful. That was the manner in which our company took responsibility for our mistakes. The way our Chief Pilot took responsibility by trying to understand exactly what had happened and why. The way our flight operations department took responsibility by trying to understand what holes might exist in our procedures. The way our training department took responsibility by trying to understand whether the way we’ve been trained needed changing. But also the way our Captain emailed the fleet office immediately after the flight and fessed up. It started with him assuming a position of complete responsibility. All of which encouraged me to do same.
When I look back I realise how easy it would have been for all of us to play the blame game. How easily I could have pointed at the finger at the Captain. Or how easily the company could have made scapegoats out of us. Instead learning in the interest of safety came first. Blame didn’t even enter into the equation. This is exactly what a Just Culture was designed to engineer – a sense of collective responsibility. I believe it works. I believe this is why Aviation has such an outstanding safety record.
I also believe it’s exactly this kind of culture we’d do well to implement more of in the real world. As the year draws to a close I’m hoping we might look back on 2020 as the year where we finally realised the need to come together. As the year we understood that when we take a position of collective responsibility, when all of us put our hands up and look at the ways in which we have failed – even if we weren’t the ones flying the aircraft – that we all stand to benefit. That it is only when we do, that we can say with any kind of certainty that hindsight is, in fact, 2020.
Thank you so much for reading everyone. I’m curious what you think. Is our certainty in retrospect granted or is it, perhaps, foolish? What about engineering a culture of collective responsibility? How might we do that? As always I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions. Wishing you all well, AP2 x
“It’s not the existence of beliefs that is the problem, but what happens to us when we hold them rigidly, without examining them, when we presume the absolutely centrality of our views and become disdainful of others.”
– Sharon Salzberg
“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.”
– law of propaganda attributed to Nazi Joseph Goebbels
As part of my selfless crusade to solve all the world‘s problems by doing nothing except have an opinion (how very middle white class of me), this week I thought I’d tackle the issue of why, exactly, so many of us are still prepared to trust such a prolific lier. Also why, exactly, honesty seems to hold the equivalent value of a broken condom in today’s society. As a bonus I thought I’d tell you all what, exactly, we need to do about it. You’re welcome! (Ok not exactly but ball park… ish)
Now you all remember the fable of the boy who cried wolf right? The boy who lies repeatedly, who consequently loses the trust of his fellow villagers? So much so that the day he actually tells the truth no-one believes him and so, as the story goes, the whole village gets fucked?
Now it would be unfair to lay all the blame at the feet of the boy who cried wolf, but the fable is more about the message for our children. And indeed Donald Trump’s Twitter feed is a small part of what I believe to be a much bigger problem. That is a society which has increasingly pandered to our Neolithic emotions for sake of clickbait. One in which the powerful algorithms that sit behind the other side of our screens (like the very one you’re reading now) – designed purely to keep us attached to said screens – feed us only the articles, opinions and beliefs we want to hear. Add all of this to a global pandemic and it appears we’ve found ourselves in the midst of the perfect shit storm. One in which people don’t know up from down anymore!
All of these issues have put a supercharger on a fundamental problem to do with the human condition. That is our propensity to look for the things we want to believe while ignoring everything else. Put another way, our propensity to love the smell of our own bullshit but hate the smell of anyone else’s. What the modern world has done is make it eminently easier to confirm our bullshit smells great, without having to go through the pain of smelling anyone else’s. (I mean, it just smells so good right?)
Anyway if I want to believe that global warning, the pandemic and recent election results are all part of some radical left wing plot by a satanic underground pedophile ring (that happens to be the Democratic Party) working to overthrow our lord and saviour Donald Trump, then I can. I can live in that world. I can easily find the sordid dark corners of the internet that will confirm it. In fact the algorithms will quickly realise that this is what gets me off and feed me that information. So all my social media channels and the like can help me mentally masterbate over my strongly held beliefs 24/7, 365 days a year.
I used to think the majority were immune from being so blatanly radicalised online but I’ve seen more and more of it in recent years. Even among friends and family. Even in my profession – one heavily driven by math and science!
Now there isn’t a single pilot in the world who believes the earth is flat. And should you find one I suggest you get off that plane toot sweet! (That is, unless, you also believe the earth is flat, in which case all I’ll say is, “Godspeed old chap.”) Why? Well, to state the obvious (like the earth is round), it’s because we have observed it first hand. Everything we’ve been taught as pilots is backed by everything we have observed as pilots. We know categorically that it simply isn’t true. Of course if we did believe it, well, our identity as pilots would coming crashing down to earth – hard! (Pun fully intended).
That said there are a number of pilots (more than I care to admit) who believe that global warming is a hoax. Greta Thunberg, for one, is not a popular lady in my line of work. I always end up asking these colleagues of mine the following question – it’s pretty convenient for a pilot to believe his or her choice of profession does nothing to harm the planet don’t you think?
Of course that’s what I want to believe too. The same way I want to believe that eating Bambi actually helps the rainforest grow (hmmm delicious and environmentally friendly). I don’t want to confront the ways in which my lifestyle choices have undeniably and aggressively contributed to the problem of global warming. I don’t want to face that shame. But I must. We all must. We cannot afford to pick and choose the science that fits the narrative we want to believe. I think it’s high time we all grow the fuck up and eat our vegetables (like what I did there?). Of course that’s very difficult to do if we stop believing vegetables are actually good for us.
So how do we safeguard against rampant disinformation, smear campaigns, powerful clickbait algorithms, media networks who place the same value on integrity as they do the toilet paper they wipe their asses with, and a certain orange twat with a twitter feed? Well we certainly shouldn’t hope for any of that to change soon. No. What I believe we need to do is become more aware as individuals. We need to understand that ALL OF US are extremely susceptible to believing whatever it is we want to. That we are always looking for the things that confirm our extremely narrow minded view of the world. That confirms our bullshit smells great.
A good way to guard against this is to start with the assumption that what you believe is, in fact, bullshit. To make sure you go through the pain of questioning your own beliefs regularly. To find the information that challenges you to think differently (and also fact check the shit out of anything you do read). Look for the evidence that supports the other side. Go deep. Learn HOW to think not WHAT to think. This is what a good education teaches you to do.
This is important because people who know how to think understand they know far less than they could ever possibly hope to know in single lifetime about anyone subject. They understand there is no black and white – only a sea of grey (or maybe brown). For this reason they don’t hang tightly onto their undeniably limited views of the world. They are also willing to keep said mind open to other possibilities and viewpoints that question or contradict their previously held beliefs. They remain open to the possibility that they are wrong (because they probably are). More importantly though they understand the need to place their faith in the experts of their respective fields.
There’s something else that’s worth bearing in mind. We as a society (hate to break it to you) care more about our emotions than the truth. Ultimately this is the biggest issue of all. Until we start making the truth our top priority, until we start protecting it, until we start worshipping it like it’s our God… Until we start making honesty one of our most important values, we are fucked. It is time, ladies and gentlemen, to wake the fuck up and do so. To face reality for it is. Not only our own but that of the world. That is, that Global warming is not a hoax but the earth is, in fact, flat! You can trust me as a pilot of course – I’ve nearly flown of the edge several times…
Rant complete – thanks for reading everyone. As always, if it wasn’t abundantly clear, my writing requires a pinch of salt.StillI’d appreciate your complete honest opinions on the matter below. Also if you happen to think my shit stinks please say so. Even if it hurts I want to know so that I may feed myself a more wholesome plant based diet – so my shit can stink that little bit less. My feelings are NOT more important than the truth. Wishing you all the very best, AP2 🙏
There’s a term in aviation that all pilots know well called the first solo. It’s when a new pilot completes a takeoff, short flight and safe landing, all by him or herself, for the very first time. It’s basically the aviation equivalent of losing your virginity. You kinda line the aeroplane up with the strip, take your best aim and hope the landing doesn’t hurt too much. It’s something you never ever forget (no matter how much you might want to). For a pilot it is a very special, sacred even, moment.
I’d no idea I would be doing my first solo the day that I did. My instructor hadn’t given the slightest indication that he thought I was ready. He simply briefed me to taxi back to the same spot once I was done, then told me “Godspeed old chap,” and closed the cockpit door behind him – leaving me completely befuddled as I taxied gingerly to the runway threshold. Then, without thinking about it, I set maximum thrust and took off, all by myself.
It was, without a doubt, one of single most exhilarating moments of my aviation career. One of those rare moments of pure ecstasy, like you’re on top of the world. I felt invincible. That was, at least, until I was flying back when I looked down at the runway and it dawned on me, ‘shit I’ve got to land this thing!’ My exact thought at this point was, ‘Fuck,’ repeated several times in quick succession.
Anyway ladies and gentlemen, I bring this up because, right now, I feel like this very post is my blogging first solo. And to be brutally honest with you all – I’m petrified. I have the same feeling I did when I stared down at that runway just over eleven years ago now. The same dawning realisation that I have to do this all by myself. That same sinking feeling – like I’ve missed a crucial part of my training.
I should say this isn’t the first post I’ve done for PO. Troy and Bogdan had the foresight to test run one of my pieces a short while back – Why Crying Like A Little Girl Is The Manliest Thing You Can Do. (Which, incidentally, seems particularly pertinent given I feel like crying myself to sleep every night at the moment.) It’s just that this time they’ve given me the keys and closed the cockpit door behind them.
“Godspeed old chap,” they said.
Yet I’ve only been playing with my own poky… blog for half a year now. In that time I’ve amassed a meagre total of just over 300 followers. Now here I am, writing for a blog with nearly 16,000!
Is that right?
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
And so I apologise dear readers if all this feels a bit awkward or if my delivery isn’t the smoothest. I’m sure that with time, I’ll be able to the hit the right spot. But you’ll have to bear with me – I am working with rather limited equipment, at least (ahem), linguistically speaking.
Anyway there’s no doubt that I want to be here. That I want to engage with as many wonderful, like-minded people who share in what is such a wonderful community here on WordPress. I believe this will undoubtedly help me grow as both a person and a writer. Which is why when I saw Troy’s ad to say they were looking for writers I was chomping at the bit. And before I circle back to my story, to bring this post home, let me take this moment to say how extremely grateful I am to him and the rest of the team here at PO for welcoming me on-board!
However unlike the average person who feel pride and confidence when they achieve something, I feel nothing but relief that I didn’t fuck it up. A bit like when a captain tells me that was a nice landing (or not) after we’ve taxied off the runway, that’s the moment I realise it’s ok to exhale.
So after my brief moment of joy the other day when I found out the news, my mind, just like it did all those years ago when staring down at the runway, expedited itself into the warm and cosy rabbit-hole of crippling self-doubt.
‘There’s no way I’m good enough to blog on PO. Everyone is going to realise that I don’t belong here. The writers here are all established – Linguistic PHD students, English professors and the like. They also seem to use this thing called discretion. I’m just a pilot with a shockingly poor grasp of the only language I know. I mean, what the fuck should I write about anyhow? What should I make my first post about? Should I make it about me and all my problems seen as no one cares or asked? Great idea!’
Then it occurred to me, I was pointlessly overthinking about what I should write for a blog called pointless overthinking. That at least made me chuckle. Then, just like I did following my mild panic attack all those years ago, I took several big breathes and thought to myself – maybe, just maybe, I’ll feel at home here after all. That maybe, just maybe, I can pull off this landing.
Thank you so much for reading everyone. I want to ask you what scary first time experiences you’ve had? How did it go? Was it unbearably awkward? Or was it, in fact, not nearly as bad as you thought it would be? Was it maybe even, rather pleasant? How did you deal with nerves? Also if you have any other feedback or remarks please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments section below. Just be gentle – it’s my first time after all.
To my regular readers: This was my first ‘offcial’ post for pointless overthinking. I wanted to share it with you all here on my blog and to let you know I will be writing a weekly post for them going forward. For those who haven’t checked it out I highly recommend heading over there and taking a look (link at the bottom). It’s run by a team of wonderful writers, professionals, thinkers and the like that I am honoured to now be a part of.
Hello lovely readers and welcome to my monthly newsletter! Included is a round up of what I’ve written about this past August. To begin with are some thoughts on what has been a difficult month for me personally. I hope that you can draw some inspiration from my words. Love to all X
To be honest with you I’ve been struggling recently.
My spirit has taken a hit after returning to a long-haul roster for first time since January. Having to spend my layovers confined to some very tired looking hotel rooms – including a week at an airport hotel – has been difficult for me.
The joy of getting lost in some of the world’s most exciting cities has always been one of my favourite pastimes. To get out of the hotel room always provided my mind with the outlet it needed to remain sane despite the loss of sleep.
Getting lost in the back streets of Roma, watching the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea from a beach in Tel Aviv, hiring a bike and riding across the golden gate bridge on a beautiful summers day in San Fransisco…
Need I remind myself of how extraordinarily privileged I am to have enjoyed all of these things as part of my job.
Yet, as I sit from my hotel room admiring the city scape over Sydney’s darling harbour, I can’t help but pine for the outdoors. It would be a perfect day to climb the harbour bridge or head down to bondi beach. The world is a forbidden fruit at the moment that makes me want it even more.
I feel I’ve done extremely well to make the most of this year but the truth is it’s beginning to catch up with me. I feel so sad as I sit and write these words. As wonderful an outlet as blogging has been, the human spirit struggles in isolation.
There’s something else that’s been bothering me since returning to work. Something that’s become much more apparent since returning from a long period of regular sleep. That is just how important it has been for my mental health. The body simply isn’t designed to miss a nights sleep, let alone 3 or 4 times a month as is so often the case.
When you start to do the maths it becomes a little scary.
3 to 4 nights of missed sleep per month is roughly equal to 1 year’s worth of sleep lost during the course of 10! A milestone I will reach very soon. At the age of 33, staring down the barrel of doing this for another 30, makes me want to pull the trigger now.
The warning signs are present – both physically and mentally. My body has started to tell me things my heart doesn’t want to hear. Winning the battle against depression and anxiety in my work is one thing, saving my longer term health is another. There is nothing more important than your health.
I already know I can only do this job for a handful more years. Still, I desperately don’t want the last of those years to be like this. I want to leave on my terms – knowing that it was because I chose to leave, not because my health forced me to. I want to leave simply because I know in my heart that it’s the right time to do so, with no regrets. Unfortunately this may well be out of my control. Whether it’s the coronavirus or my health that forces my hand, I have to be prepared to move on. To accept that some things are simply out of my control.
With all that said, today, I still have a job and it’s never been more important to remain grateful for that fact. To remember how my job helps the world keep ticking at a time when it’s all but ground to a halt. To remember that beyond all of this I still love to fly aeroplanes.
Some thoughts about freedom and responsibility. From the article:
“Freedom demands we choose our responsibilities. The same way that having a life demands we protect it. If you want freedom of choice then you have to choose to take responsibility for your life. If you don’t someone else will choose your responsibilities for you. The danger is they will use that for their own profit and power by forming a narrative you refused to take responsibility for forming yourself. In doing so they will shut your mind from your heart. The moment that happens you’ve lost your freedom.”
I had a lot of fun writing this one – dishing out some timeless advice about how to write a to-do list that doesn’t make you want to jump off a building. As I wrote:
“Why exactly does writing out our responsibilities on paper cause some us to run away from them faster than a teenage boy climaxes? After all we know this kind of behaviour doesn’t help us, yet we can’t help ourselves. Sometimes all we want is to tell life to go fuck itself and so we do, even if that means fucking ourselves in the process.“
A more heartfelt piece that explores that question, “Am I doing this because of love or fear?” As I wrote:
“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.”
My weekly newsletter designed to rewrite the narrative that Mondays are the most depressing day of the week and to get you in the mood for the week ahead. Following a 4:3:2:1 approach, it contains 4 exceptional thoughts from me (ha), 3 admittedly better quotes from others, and 2 things I’ve been reading and/or listening to in the week that have helped me grow. It finishes with 1 something silly to designed to make you lovely readers smile. The link above was this weeks post. Below are from the rest of the month. Enjoy!
That’s everything from me for the wonderful month of August guys and gals. I’d like to finish by thanking all you lovely readers for taking the time to read my pokey little blog. Although it’s not been the best month of the year for me mentally – you have all helped tremendously. You really have given me strength to carry on.
For anyone else who is struggling may I add that it’s perfectly ok if you are. It’s very important to allow yourself to feel sad when you do. We must mourn the past if we are to live freely in the present. To do that you have to show up for your emotions. Ultimately that’s what I believe courage is, showing up for your emotions however they are, however difficult they may be.
If you want to drop me a line in the comments section please do. I welcome ALL thoughts and opinions on this blog. Please don’t be afraid to speak up. I’m a stupid man but I have a big heart. All I want is to help all of you as you have helped me. Together we are better.
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.
Am I doing this because of love or fear?
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.
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 – Clarifywhat the problem is. L – Lookfor 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 again 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 it 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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)
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
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.