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Why Did I Do That?

"Controls, instruments, brakes," I called out breathlessly as I sat on the runway in the glider waiting for a tow.

"Whoa, whoa—slow down!" my instructor Jimmy interrupted. "It's been a while since you've flown, so you need to be extra careful. Take that checklist again from the top—slowly!"

It was an early lesson in how external pressures, or the perception of them, can lead to carelessness and errors in the cockpit. Feeling rushed to clear the runway, I was forgetting critical checklist items—a habit that can be hazardous to one's health!

In flight training, we learn about common hazardous attitudes and how they can affect our decision making. The FAA recognizes five in particular: anti-authority, impulsivity, invulnerability, machismo, and resignation, and they provide a self-assessment test to help us pilots identify our strongest tendencies among these. (As today's story illustrates, I score high on impulsivity!) The training goes further to help pilots identify hazardous attitudes when they arise and to counter them with "antidotes" designed to avert disaster.

What isn't usually explored in flight training is how we come by our hazardous attitudes in the first place. Our attitudes ultimately derive from our fundamental values and beliefs, but so much of what I truly believe and value remains outside my awareness. My own choices and actions can be baffling to me—I find myself doing something stupid or inexplicable and ask, "Why did I do that?"

As I described in my last post, I've recently become aware of an internal conflict between the strong desire to achieve a goal like earning my Flight Instructor Certificate and the belief that achieving goals makes me an obnoxious blowhard. How can I learn to recognize and resolve these conflicts? I can look for unexplained behavior as clues to my true values and bring them out into the light. Antidotes to hazardous attitudes are a good technique to apply in the cockpit, but some time and attention spent uncovering the roots of those attitudes is a more reliable way to defuse them before they arise.

It took me a while to learn the lesson from that early experience in the glider years ago. Thinking back to the urgency I felt, I realized that because I strongly value consideration for others, I believe that being "in the way" is a serious offense that needs immediate correction. My impulsive actions were a misguided attempt to be considerate of others, but my carelessness could easily have endangered others and myself. The FAA's antidote to impulsivity, "Not so fast—Think first!" would definitely have helped in that situation, but a conscious awareness of my true values is ultimately a more reliable guide.

"Controls: free and correct; ballast: none; straps: secure; instruments: altimeter set to field elevation; trim: set; canopy: closed and locked; brakes: cycled and locked," I intoned—slowly—verifying each item by sight and touch.

"That's better," Jimmy said. "OK, let's go."

So, I waggled my rudder to signal the tow pilot, and off we went. It was a great flight.

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