Last week I flew to Nebraska for a speaking engagement. I had a stopover in Denver on my way back to Salt Lake City that required me to take a small aircraft—a Beach 1900 D model. Four other passengers and I climbed the stairs and took our seats on the twin-prop plane. I noticed the pilots, both probably in their twenties, both wearing very cool sunglasses, and both completely engaged for the entire hour and fifteen-minute flight.
Before now, getting from point A to point B in a plane seemed simple to me. I usually do it on a larger aircraft where the cockpit is closed. I sit down, fasten my seatbelt, have a snack, read something, maybe chat with someone, and soon I’m landing at my destination. But peeking into the cockpit this time opened my eyes to what it really takes for the people who are actually doing the getting there.
The pilots worked in tandem, constantly pushing levers, punching buttons, and adjusting dials. Like concert pianists playing an intricate duet, each would often cross over the other man’s arm. They would occasionally take out a chart or a map, some of them hand-drawn, to check their course.
Fascinated, I watched them the entire flight. I counted 263 touches (not counting all the times the captain reached for his Tupperware container of cherries). Each change was so small that I could not feel a difference in the plane’s performance. But each change was necessary to keep us safely on course.
How similar this is to life! Every day is dynamic and can be a little unpredictable, so we need our maps. We need to check where we are in relation to where we want to go and make minor yet frequent adjustments all along the way. If we have someone to help us watch for needed course corrections, even better.
After we landed, I was curious to know how many miles it is between the airport in McCook, Nebraska, and the mile high airport in Denver, Colorado, so I looked it up. And guess what. It’s 263 miles! I’m not even kidding.
How many times should each of us check our course? How many adjustments do we need?
For these pilots, those 263 tweaks happened at a rate of one every 15 to 20 seconds. But since life for most people doesn’t move quite as fast as an airliner, every mile or so should keep us on track just fine.
This week marks 44 years since astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. On July 20, 1969, he reported, “Houston, the eagle has landed.” Then he put his left foot down on the surface of the moon, which he later described as being like powdered charcoal. Then he uttered the now-famous phrase, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
That expression has inspired many and has become a part of world history. But how many of us know what Armstrong said next? To me, it’s even more thought-provoking. He observed, “It’s beautiful; it’s just like we planned it. Just like drill.”
I’ve thought about that so many times. Just like drill? How could it be just like drill? He had never even been there before. But he had planned and practiced, studied and calculated. And drilled. The moon landing didn’t just happen.
Armstrong’s comment is similar to something my son once said when he was little. We were at an amusement park. He saw the train ride, and he took off running. I caught up with him, and we rode that iron horse together. With the wind in his face, he closed his eyes and said, “It’s just like in my dream.” He’d never been to that park before.
We all behave in accordance with our past experiences, whether real or imagined. Our long-term memory stores images and events in real-time present tense. It doesn’t distinguish between vivid stimulation and actual activities, and it alerts us to follow previous instructions embedded in our subconscious memory.
So our past conditioning determines our current behavior and performance. What we learn right now is layered over many years of past conditioning. Over time we become that to which we are most exposed.
That’s why pep talks and fad diets never produce long-term results. People just go back to being themselves.
How do you recondition yourself? Top-level tennis coach Craig Manning, PhD, suggests deliberate practice. In his book The Fearless Mind, he explains that deliberate practice focuses not on the outcome; rather it is “activity explicitly intended to improve performance.” Manning points out that we should channel our mental energies toward objectives that we have direct control over.
So what do you really have control over? Your time, your attitude, and simple day-to-day choices. Working on them again and again will add new layers to your conditioning and put you in a natural, comfortable place. Then when the big things like a moon landing or the train ride of your dreams come, it will unfold naturally and feel like you’ve already been there before. Just like drill.
I once heard someone teach, “the moment you start giving excuses, is the moment you turn over your power and ability to actually turn things around in your life.” Here’s a wonderful story that teaches this important life lesson.
Two cousins grew up together in a small village in Southeast Asia. Both boys were the same age and came from similar backgrounds. But as they matured, small differences in their attitude toward work became more and more evident. One cousin eventually became an advisor to the king, while the other found employment as an oarsman for the royal canoe service. One evening, as the king and his court were making their annual tour of the kingdom, the canoe was landed for the night and the oarsmen were gathered around their cooking fire. Tired, sore, and sunburned, the oarsmen grumbled as oarsmen sometimes do, with the one cousin doing most of the talking.
“What an easy life those advisors have,” complained the cousin. “We strain our bare backs in the hot sun all day long, while they sit under the canopy and talk. We can talk as easily as they! Do not we have intelligence, and wisdom and experience? We would make fine advisors to the king! And yet it is we that toil to the point of exhaustion, and they who relax in the shade!”
The cousin went on like this for several minutes, not knowing that the king, who had paused during his walk in the trees, and could hear everything the oarsman was saying. Later that night, when the whole camp was asleep, the king awakened the oarsman.
“A mysterious sound interrupted my sleep,” said the king. “Go up the hill and find out what is was.”
The oarsman obediently set off up the hill, then came back a few minutes later to report. “It is nothing of concern,” he said, “just a mother cat who gave birth to a litter of kittens.”
“What kind of cat?” asked the king. The oarsman hadn’t taken notice, so he went back up the hill, and returned a short time later.
“Siamese,” he reported.
“How many kittens?” asked the king. Once again, the cousin trekked up the hill, for he hadn’t bothered to note the size of the litter. Soon he came back to the king.
“Six,” he replied.
“How many male, and how many female?” was the king’s next question.
Another hike up the hill, and the obedient oarsman returned with the answer: “Three male, three female.”
“Very good,” said the king. “Now come with me.” The oarsman followed the king over to the sleeping advisors, where the other cousin was shaken awake. “A mysterious sound interrupted my sleep,” said the king for the second time that night. “Go up the hill and find out what it was.”
Quickly the advisor went up the hill to investigate. After several minutes, he returned and addressed the king. “It is of no concern,” he began. “There is an overturned barrel at the top of the hill. Inside a Siamese cat has given birth to a litter of six kittens: three male and three female. The cat belongs to the mayor of the local village, who apologizes for the interruption of your sleep. He would be honored if you took the pick of the litter as a royal pet.”
Based on human nature, it probably took several of these incidents before the oarsman got the picture. But did you get it? The attitude you take toward any venture directly affects your approach to it. How you approach any endeavor greatly determines your likelihood of success. And your success – or lack of it- has an equally direct effect on your attitude. It’s all tied together, and it can be a spiral staircase up, or a spiral funnel down.
Recently our family took a trip out to sunny California for a much-needed vacation. We visited the Magic Kingdom. It really is magical; even though I’m like forty-something, I still love those rides.
As we were getting close to the park, I heard one of my kids say, “I wonder what Dad’s gonna pull off this time. Last time he scored us some fast passes when they were all out.”
Talk about pressure. After all, what’s so bad about waiting in line for a few minutes?
After a day at Disney, we hopped over to California Adventure to check out Radiator Springs Racers. But when we got there, the wait in line was 90 minutes long. Are you kidding me? Holy DMV! Who waits in line for 90 minutes for a four-minute ride? Everyone, apparently.
Needless to say, we hit the road looking for shorter lines and had great success. But deep down we all wanted to ride those shiny red, blue, and yellow cars together. Only now the information desk displayed a 120-minute wait and no fast passes.
As my family walked past, I secretly walked over to the desk and said, “It would be so magical if you could find a few more fast passes for the Racers.”
The girl smiled and said, “I wish we could, but we are completely out. Your best chance for fast passes on that ride would be at the ride entrance.” So I told my family to go ahead to the next adventure and I would catch up.
I bee-lined it over to the Racers line once again with complete confidence that the gate keeper could spare a few fast passes. I walked up to the girl with the biggest smile and asked if she would spare some fast passes for my family. She kept smiling and said, “I’m sorry, we’re all out. I wish I could say yes, but no.”
Based on the crazy-long line, I believed her and started to walk away. But after a few steps I turned around and, said, “Will you tell me who could say yes?” Then that big smile came back on her face and she said, “The guest service desk near the front entrance.”
Some time had gone by since I had ditched my family, so I ran all the way back to the entrance area. When I got there, my face must have looked pretty flushed. The nice lady at the desk took one look at me and said, “Whatever it is, I can make it better.”
While catching my breath, I whispered, “Racers.”
“I’ll be right back,” she said.
Moments later she returned and handed me enough passes for the whole family.
The Racer ride really was incredible. Here’s a video of it (not mine; just one from YouTube).
Here are some clues to think about.
How many times did I go for no? Three.
Then I practiced something I learned from my friend Don Ward: Never take no from someone who doesn’t have the power to say yes.
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