Finding Life Balance Using the Four Forces of Flight

Do you feel like the weight of responsibility is keeping you grounded? Or the sheer drag of life is forcing on the brakes?

Do you find it hard to muster the requisite lift and thrust to overcome these forces in life?

Of course, we’ve all been there. We’ve all had those days where everything has felt like one big drag, where the simple act of getting out of bed has felt like this herculean task.

To be honest, that’s how I’ve been feeling recently. It got me thinking about this idea of life balance and how, exactly, one is supposed to find it?

Then something struck me. I thought, “Of course! Balance isn’t something you find. It is something you have to maintain – like a tightrope walker!”

Three ideas immediately sprung to mind:

  1. Don’t carry too much weight.
  2. Go at a steady pace.
  3. Don’t stop moving.

Then, as soon as I wrote these thoughts down, I had another brain wave.

It occurred to me that the same laws govern an aeroplane in flight. Then it occurred to me that the laws of aerodynamics might be able to teach us how to maintain balance in our own lives. 

So I came up with this post.

Anyway dear readers, please sit back and relax with your seat belts securely fasten, because I’m about to teach you how to fly…

The Four Forces of Flight

To give you a quick lesson in aerodynamicsthe four forces of flight are thrust, lift, drag, and weight. 

When you throw a paper aeroplane you give it thrust. On a conventional aeroplane thrust is generated by a propeller or jet engine that pulls air in and pushes it out in the opposite direction. 

The forward motion of the aeroplane causes air to pass over the wings. Because of the camber of the wing, this creates a pressure differential that sucks the wings upward. This force – namely lift – is what holds an aeroplane in the air. 

Counter to these forces are drag and weight. 

Drag is the resistance the aeroplane meets as it flies through the air. Weight is the force caused by gravity that pulls the aeroplane toward the earth. Thrust counteracts drag, whereas lift counteracts weight. 

Now, if lift and thrust are greater than weight and drag, your aeroplane will climb. If they are less, it will descend. If they are balanced, your aeroplane will remain in level flight. 

Here’s an awesome diagram:

The Four Forces of Living

To rename the four forces of flight, we can say that the four forces of living are Health, Purpose, Life & Responsibility. 

Just like an aeroplane, these forces counteract one another. Health (Thrust) counteracts Life (Drag), whereas Purpose (Lift) counteracts Responsibility (Weight).

Instead of an aeroplane, of course, it’s you that’s stuck in the middle.

Here’s another awesome diagram:

Now, we can say that we’re out of balance when the forces of life and responsibility are much greater than the other two.

This usually happens for one of two reasons.

The first comes from trying to avoid drag and weight altogether, preventing you from getting airborne in the first place (or out of bed). At the other end of the balance scales are those who carry far more than they’re capable of, causing them to stall.

From experience, I believe the latter is a far better place to be. The way I see it, having too much on your plate is a good thing. It means your life is already filled with purpose and meaning. 

That’s half the battle. 

Once you’re off the ground (which is the hardest part) balance becomes a question of priorities. Understanding exactly what we should pay attention to and what we should let go of.

With that in mind, let’s tackle these issues from the ground up by looking at what it takes to get airborne in the first place. 

Thrust vs Drag

Life is drag. 

Getting out of bed in the morning is drag. Making your breakfast, brushing your teeth, taking your dog for a walk, Donald Trump… all of these things are drag. 

What I mean is, anything and everything you do will always involve a certain amount of energy to overcome. It is unavoidable. No matter how streamlined your aeroplane is, you will always encounter resistance.  

The problem with attempts to avoid drag is it makes us weaker. Of course, this makes everything much harder. We need to test ourselves – to actively meet the resistance of life – to gain strength from it. 

Just like lifting weights in the gym causes us to gain muscle mass. By meeting the resistance of life, we gain strength from it. As we gain strength, over time, we’re able to climb higher. The higher we climb in life, the less resistance there is, the easier it becomes.

Badda bing badda boom.

So, how do we meet the resistance of life? 

We meet the resistance of life by targeting the very thing that creates the most drag: your health. 

The better your health is, the more energy you will have, the greater your ability to face and overcome life’s obstacles. 

Thrust is more critical than lift. 

Theoretically, with enough thrust, you can climb without generating any lift – like a rocketship. It’s impossible to get off the ground without it. That isn’t true of lift. Lift needs thrust to get off the ground. That’s why, as everyone likes to say, there is nothing more important than your health. 

Health is thrust. 

This is where we must start if we want to maintain balance.

How to Increase Thrust

The four pillars of health are rest (sleep), fuel (diet), movement (exercise) and mental health.

Let me break each of those down for you.

  1. Prioritise your sleep. 

The most productive thing you can do is prioritise your sleep and then build your life around it. Here are a few top tips from yours truly.

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Have a proper evening routine to help you wind down in the evening and a kick-ass morning routine to get you pumped after you wake up. 

Other things worth considering include limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption. Also, limiting blue light exposure in the evenings and increasing it in the mornings. (Hello sunlight!) 

For more about sleep, I can highly recommend checking out this site: thesleepdoctor.com.

A book I can also highly recommend is Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.

  1. Change your diet.

The food you eat is the fuel you put into your aeroplane. If you feed it garbage, you’re going to get shit performance. A balanced diet is so essential for generating thrust. 

Of course, I could prattle on about getting your five a day, but I don’t want to bore you. I can, however, recommend you take a look at Dr. Mark Hyman’s blog

His book, What The Heck Should I Eat, is worth your time.

  1. Get regular exercise.

An aeroplane needs to fly the same way a car needs to be driven. If you leave your car in the garage for too long, it’s going to create problems. We are designed to move. I suggest a mixture of weight lifting, core exercises, cardio, and yoga. 

Of course, if you hate going to the gym, then don’t. Find something you enjoy. I love to swim and play tennis. I also love to go for long walks in my local park. I find few things calm my mind as well. 

The most important thing is that you make exercise a habit.

If you really find yourself struggling for motivation, consider following along to an online exercise video from the comfort of your living room floor. 

You can find tons of free workout videos here at: fitnessblender.com

  1. Look after your mental health. 

All of the above are intrinsically linked to your mental health; however, there are other tools worth implementing. 

The main forms of personal therapy I use are meditation, yoga, and journaling. I also earmark a half-hour to talk to my wife about any concerns or feelings I have every evening without fail

Having someone you can talk to who you can trust when shit gets serious is SO DAMN IMPORTANT. 

Moving on. 

Lift vs Weight

Responsibility is weight.

You cannot avoid it. You didn’t ask for this life, but here you are anyway. Now you have a fundamental responsibility to love, honour, and protect that one life. 

So many struggle against their responsibilities – desperately wishing they didn’t have to deal with them. Yet, our responsibilities indirectly generate lift. The same way an aeroplane takes cargo and passengers onboard. That “weight” pays for the fuel which generates thrust and then, consequently, lift. 

Now, you might think the fewer responsibilities you have, the lighter you will feel, the more able you’ll be to climb. To a certain extent, this is true. We need to be careful about how many responsibilities we choose to take on – depending on our capacity – for that reason. 

It’s important to stress that if you make all of the world’s problems your own, you’ll never take off. 

However, an absence of responsibility isn’t freedom. An absence of responsibility isn’t anything. It’s like an absence of weight. There’s no aeroplane in the first place. To avoid responsibility is to avoid life itself. To try to live in its absence will leave you feeling void. 

The major difference between responsibility and purpose is perspective. You will always have responsibilities. Understanding how they serve your greater purpose helps you find the motivation to take them on. This is what turns your responsibilities into a source of lift.

Of course, purpose is the thing that gets you up and moving in the morning. It’s the things in your life that give you both joy and hope. 

Purpose is lift.

How to Generate Lift

  1. Remain Grounded

Wherever you are in life, it’s essential to remain grounded. The only place we live is here and now. To constantly wish you had arrived at your destination is to miss the part we call life – that would be a far greater tragedy than not making your destination. That’s why, as a mantra for life, one should always start with radical acceptance.

I like to think of radical acceptance in terms of three pillars:

  • The first is present moment awareness. 
  • The second is universal compassion. 
  • The third is gratitude. 

Meditation is an excellent tool for all of the above. I also use several mindful hacks throughout the day to keep my monkey mind from getting lost in the clouds. Writing in a gratitude journal is another habit that’s worth implementing. 

Without harping on for too long, I can highly recommend the following book: Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach

  1. Build a Moral Compass

This is something you should prioritise long before you start setting goals. I suggest you design your own moral compass by listing out a set of values that mean the most to you and then listing those in order of personal significance. 

I then suggest you think about the identity you want to form based on your set of particular values. Following that, you want to build habits that reinforce this identity. (i.e., a loving father and husband who makes time for his family every day, a person who prioritises his own health by meditating and exercising every day, a person who writes every day).

(For all things habit related, I suggest reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. You can find his blog here.)

Once you’ve done that, you can start thinking more about the destination by setting some short and long-term goals. Just keep in mind that it’s far more important to embody the person you wish to be today than it is to achieve anything in the long run. 

After all, shit happens, and rarely if ever, in this life, we end up at the destination we had in mind.

  1. Change Your Perspective

Turn your demons into angels by giving meaning to your pain. 

If your battle is with mental health, then make that part of your purpose in your life. If you have suffered a major affliction, draw on that pain to help others who have suffered/are suffering similarly. I believe this is one of the most powerful ways to generate lift in life. You can apply this idea to almost all areas of your life.

Take having children as an example. They are a significant source of lift in my life, but they are also a considerable weight. I can either look at them as a weight or actively choose to take them on board – to make it my mission to help raise a generation of resilient, responsible, and virtuous children. 

Need I say anymore?

  1. Remove Unnecessary Baggage

Many of us carry baggage we really shouldn’t. Usually, that baggage is other people’s bullshit that has found its way into our minds. Once again, becoming clear about your values will help here. Know what is truly important to you and then not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks.

This is no easy battle, of course, but a great place to start is by getting a handle on your smartphone addiction. Disconnect and have a digital sabbath one day a week. This should help you gain some much-needed clarity.

I also recommend living a simple life. Be happier with less. Spend the money on a few high-quality products/hobbies that give you a considerable amount of joy instead of mindlessly consuming things you don’t need because it’s a “good deal.” 

This applies to people too. Form close relationships instead of lots of superficial ones. Find the people you love and trust. Cut out the toxic individuals that aren’t serving you.

  1. Make time for the things and people you love. 

Doing the things you have to do but don’t want to makes you feel less guilty about doing what you love. To turn that on its head, doing what you love gives you the energy to do the things you have to but don’t want to.

As part of harmonious life, you must make time for the things you love. Whether that’s reading, playing video games, or socialising… Don’t neglect fun. Don’t neglect joy. Don’t neglect being silly and spontaneous. Don’t neglect your sense of adventure. Try new restaurants, dance in the rain, fart and laugh about it.

Occasionally say fuck it to all of the above and just go with the flow.

You definitely need that.

Maintaining Straight and Level

Your day-to-day journey, just like life itself, should follow a similar pattern. At first, you should apply more thrust to overcome the forces of drag and weight. You should reduce the thrust and glide gently back to earth towards the end of the day.

As for maintaining straight and level flight, the rest of the time, I don’t believe it should feel like this almighty struggle – like everything has a threat level response attached to it. 

When you encounter turbulence, you shouldn’t fight it. You should take a seat, ride it out, and then gently fly your bird back to your desired track and level. 

If you really do feel like you’re stalling, there is only one thing for it. You must push the nose down to regain lift. Don’t, whatever you do, keep pitching up in desperation. Heed the warning signs and let go of the controls. 

The truth is maintaining balance is a state of mind. One that is firmly grounded in the present moment. It is about going with the flow and dissolving the boundaries that separate work from play, life from death, purpose from responsibility…

It’s important to have a destination in mind, but it’s equally important we don’t get hung up on it. As cliche as it is to say, life is about the journey, not the destination. 

Take care of yourself today. Tackle your most pressing responsibilities today. Get rid of any unnecessary baggage. After that, learn to go with the flow and enjoy the journey.

If you can, then you really will fly free. 

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing at the following: 

https://pointlessoverthinking.com

https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Also on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot


Regaining Lift

Most of us experience stalling at some stage in our lives. In our attempts to be all we can. In our attempts to climb as high as we can, as fast as we can.

The problem is, like an aeroplane, we can only climb so fast. If we pitch the nose up too high, or carry too much weight, we run the risk of stalling. And if we do, then we’re only left with one choice. 

Just like an aeroplane, the only way to recover – the only way – is to point the nose back towards the ground. You have to sacrifice height in order to regain lift. 

For many of us this is the last thing we want. 

When we’ve had our eyes on that optimum crushing level – that perfect enviable position we wish we were at in life – we find it hard to let go. We become so fixated on that place we lose all sense of what’s actually going on, what actually needs to be done in the here and now. 

Of course if you keep pitching up in desperation – if you refuse to accept your situation – well, then, the results can be catastrophic. 

Towards the end of 2019 I found myself in such a stall. I was mentally and physically exhausted. The relentlessly busy rosters and regular night flying had taken its toll. I also needed help navigating depression. 

I’d known for some time I needed help, I just didn’t want to admit it. So in desperation I kept trying to pitch the nose up. Of course it only made things worse. I only found myself in a deeper stall. 

Eventually I conceded. I acknowledged the stall and pointed the nose down. I asked for the professional help I’d ignored getting for years. 

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Shortly afterwards the pandemic gripped the world and I suddenly found myself with an abundance of time at home. All of which gave me the perfect opportunity to keep the nose down. To utilise my support systems. As a result I spent the first half of 2020 at home, resting, writing, reading and being with the people I love.

It was exactly what I needed to regain lift. 

By June, when I finally went back to work I felt ready, like the heavy fog that had shrouded my mind had lifted and I could fly once more. It’s just that, this time, the whole world had stalled. Little did I know just how long that stall would last. A year on I still don’t. 

What followed were a series of professional setbacks. The biggest of which came when my company consigned our sister airline to the history books. A fifth of our workforce went jobless overnight. Those of us lucky enough to still cling to our jobs in aviation, were forced onto a new contract in very friendly sign-or-be-sacked kinda manner.

Fast forward to the present day and my coworkers are still fearing for their livelihoods. Many of them have family who live abroad they haven’t seen for well over a year. I’m one of the lucky ones with my family here in Hong Kong. On top this the lack of flying means many of us are rusty. The added stress isn’t helped by quarantine or the ever changing medical/testing requirements. I haven’t even mentioned the fear of contracting the virus itself.

This week I actually got to fly. To give you an idea of the times, the Captain and I flew an empty passenger jet to Hanoi and back. We carried nothing but a bit of cargo in the belly. On arrival into Hong Kong we were made to test for COVID, then wait 3 hours for the results before they let us go home. We were the lucky ones. Many of our other colleagues flying to higher risk destinations and/or with passengers on board are made to quarantine for 3 weeks in a hotel room before being allowed home. 

All the above has made the job more demanding that it has ever been. 

Yet, despite this, flying to Hanoi and back was some of the most fun I’ve had in an aeroplane for a number of years. I believe that’s because this pandemic has given me something from being forced to point the nose down for the past year and a half. What I believe it really takes to recover from any stall in life: perspective

I became a pilot to fly aeroplanes and travel the world, but that’s not why I get in an aeroplane anymore. I’ve come to realise those motives alone aren’t enough anymore. They don’t generate enough lift. 

Now I fly, above all else, to help the world. To make sure the few passengers who need to travel get home to their families safely. To help transport critical cargo where it needs to go. To keep my company afloat. I fly not just for me and my family, but for the man or women sitting next to me and their families. I fly for all those who lost their jobs. I fly as part of a rich and proud aviation heritage during what is arguably its most difficult hour. 

It’s like that story about three bricklayers who were asked: “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I am building the house of God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

I’ve transitioned from the second bricklayer to the third. I fly with a far greater passion derived from a deeper meaning that’s been given to this profession – to all things – during this time. Ultimately that’s what I believe pointing the nose down allows you to see. It reminds you what it’s all about. Why you even get up in the morning. 

And call me crazy, but for the first time in a while I feel a glimmer of hope. Now that I’m fully vaccinated, with a slight uptick in the amount of flying rostered this month, with genuine talks of opening up travel bubbles… 

Of course I’m aware you have to be very careful with hope. Often the light at the end of the tunnel is simply another train coming at you. And if it is, so be it. I’m ready.

Still, I do believe this time we might actually be at the bottom of this stall. That we might finally have the energy – the perspective – to start the slow ascent towards bluer skies. Back towards a new, more sustainable, cruising level. I, for one, can’t wait for the day I look back down the cabin and see the plane full of happy travellers once more.

I, for one, am more than ready to do my part, to help make that happen.  


(Thanks for reading everyone. I’m curious to know what stories you have of stalling in life? How did you deal with it? What helped you recover? Let us know below. Wishing you well.)

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com