The first month of 2022 is behind us and it feels like it’s going at a rate of knots. The rate of change and replanning of the past two years looks set to pervade this year too, asking us to reinvent our plans or lay them off multiple times over its course. Change is a constant that we’ve always had to deal with in some manner, but perhaps not quite to the degree we’ve been required to shift lately. Whether you’re feeling energised or a little weary inside yourself, keeping our wits about us and managing our energy well are going to be the trade secrets of 2022.
Considering how to manage our year from the onset seems like a worthwhile exercise, regardless of whether we feel we have sight of what’s coming or not. Particularly when we don’t feel like we have sight of what’s coming.
In aviation, we aim to fly the shortest route between two points – those points being our point of departure, and our destination. On some flights, that route may literally be a ruler-like line between those two points on the map. Often, routing may not be entirely straight, requiring us to navigate by certain checkpoints and around certain areas on the ground. On lengthy globe-circling occasions, the shortest route may become an arc, or Great Circle – the “straight lines” of spherical geometry. Whichever the case, speed to destination isn’t the only factor considered, and the best route is not always a straight line.
Being knocked off track is also a given in aviation. We may take off from A and aim for B, but nature and life are designed to make accomplishing that a challenge. Whether it’s the setting of our directional instruments, a thunderstorm to go round, or just the wind that tries to side-track us, the accuracy of our course is something that requires constant checking and correction. Whilst aviation provides much certainty in its routine and habits, uniforms and training; it also provides constant variety and challenge in its intricacies. No two days are the same, and the thrill of applying our skill to overcoming those daily challenges is part of what makes it a passion industry.
As we look out across the oncoming year, perhaps there is some value in the mindset and skills with which pilots approach a flight.
In the same way that pilots must know what our destination is before we take off, we should all have a strong idea of what we’re aiming to achieve this year. What would you like to have accomplished or “arrived at” by the end of this year? It’s necessary to know what you’re aiming at so that you can judge what will be required to get there. What provisions will you need; which resources; how much fuel? Knowing what you want to achieve this year may only be a list of three worthy “high level” factors. Enough to keep us busy, important enough to be worth accomplishing, but not so many that we don’t have time to adequately focus on any of them.
Once we’ve established what destination we’d like to arrive at, our next step is to determine what our route might look like to get there. The shortest route may not always be the simplest. There may be other factors to consider when plotting our route, but the end result should be a route we’re happy to take on.
Next is to ensure we know what we need on board to accomplish our planned route. Do we have the required clearances to go where we intend to go? Do we have enough fuel? Do we have enough rested and capable crew to make the journey safely? Have we adequately considered what our alternate plans and destinations might look like if are forced to reconsider mid-flight? Do we have enough extra fuel to reach those alternates if we need to?
Once we’re convinced of all of the above planning, we’re now ready to release ourselves into the next phase of our journey. Flight. The actual journey between where we are now and where we’d like to be. This is where the certainty diminishes and the challenge kicks in.
We have a phrase in aviation that says “Never let an aircraft take you somewhere your brain didn’t get to 5 minutes earlier”. The idea is that our thinking is always “5 minutes ahead of the aircraft”. Pilots are constantly considering what needs to happen next, or even what might happen next, and planning for it. Aviation is an unforgiving “sport” if you allow yourself to get “behind” your aircraft. Part of this is basics like having the next radio frequency you need to call already programmed in so that you don’t spend time looking for it when you should be contacting them. Part of this is a mental attitude that is constantly scanning for possibilities and preparing for them ahead of time.
We expect things to change. We expect things to go a different way to what we’ve planned. We expect to have to make course corrections and we are constantly comparing our actual route to our intended route and considering what the requirements are to reach our destination safely.
Whilst this mental attitude may sound exhausting to many, when practised, it becomes a source of confident calm. It’s a mental outlook that means we are prepared. It means that, more often than not, our route is successfully smooth and “straight” – not because it was necessarily easy or straight forward, but because we were flexible and prepared in our thinking and we saw the necessary deviations and reacquiring of our desired track before they happened.
We addressed our journey with certain criteria – a desire to arrive at our planned destination in the shortest and most efficient amount of time. We recognised that we may need to be flexible in order to make that happen. And we were prepared to accept an alternate if the safety of our flight depended on it. Above all else, we were fully primed (resources, fuel, planning) to undertake all of the above, and our constant checking of our track vs our desired route as we undertook our journey allowed us to make small corrections before bigger ones became necessary.
As 2022 gets further underway, ensure you know what destination you’re aiming at this year. Ensure that it is “high level” enough that it will be fulfilling for you to achieve it and that it is realistic enough to be within your control. Demanding destinations that are not vaguely within our control is a bad start. When you’ve decided on your aim, be realistic about what it will take for you to accomplish and consider that you may need to be flexible in your approach. Once you’re airborne, keep a constant check on how far you’ve been pushed off track and make the small course corrections needed before they become big ones that require you to divert to an alternate destination.
This kind of outlook prepares us mentally for all eventualities and makes us agile enough to handle even those we may not have considered. When we expect change and challenge, we are ready for it, and we remain in a calm and centered state even as we reconsider our routing. When we consider what we may need to face and how it may require us to act, we ensure we’re never dragged into a state of panic and frenzy. When we assess the resources we have available and how we may use them to our best advantage (resources include our own personal energy) we’re less likely to find ourselves in a situation where we’re running out of choices.
What is it you’d like to accomplish in 2022? What will it require of you? Are you prepared to be flexible to get there? Which are your most precious resources and how will you actively manage them to ensure they last?
by Christen Killick
January 24th, 2022