263 Moves

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.




Just Like Drill

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.