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"Argh! What the hell?!" I growled aloud to no one in particular.

I was sitting at my desk hunched over my laptop and a pad of paper struggling with an ADF bearing-intercept problem. I'd been studying for the Commercial Pilot knowledge test and it had been going pretty easily until I hit this group of questions, and for some reason I just couldn't get my head around them.

"I'm an Advanced Ground Instructor!" I thought to myself. "I'm supposed to know this stuff!"

I confess that this is an all-too-common experience for me. Even though I "know better," my life-long habit of perfectionism and black-and-white thinking has been very persistent.

In last week's post, I argued against using affirmations of the kind recited by Al Franken's Stuart Smalley character as a source of confidence, but I also acknowledged that they can be very useful as reminders of things we actually believe but often forget. To help counter my perfectionist habits, I made an audio recording of some reminders (I can't bring myself to call them "affirmations") that I listen to regularly. As I sat there fuming in frustration, a phrase from that recording came to mind about how I prefer to respond to mistakes:

"I accept my mistakes with good humor, valuing them as an essential part of lifelong learning."

This reminded me that regardless of the standards of performance I set up for myself, mistakes are absolutely necessary, and so long as I want to continue learning, I must continue making them. This gave me just enough mental distance from the situation to let me ask my observe-act-observe questions and the answers immediately leaped out.

What do I notice?

Well, for one thing, I just tried to add my wind correction angle to my ground speed. Maybe this Advanced Ground Instructor had an Advanced Case of Fatigue!

What can I do?

Go to bed!

What are the results?

I immediately felt better both emotionally and physically. My breathing was deeper and more regular and the tension in my gut, jaw, and shoulders had relaxed. I heaved a deep sigh, closed the laptop, and sacked out for the night.

When I woke up in the morning, I almost immediately realized what I'd been doing wrong with the ADF problem.

"Oh, right! Where I am relative to the station determines whether a particular heading will intercept a given bearing. First figure out what quadrant I'm in and then pick the heading that will intercept the bearing." After a good night's sleep, it was easy!

OK, so maybe affirmations have their place in the pursuit of confidence after all. Sorry, Stuart—I didn't mean to dis you!

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