Navigating the skies has never been more challenging, and as pilots, we often find
ourselves facing increasing stress and demands. The aviation landscape is evolving,
and so are the pressures on our well-being. Balancing less sleep, more flights, and
maintaining peak performance can be a tough act. However, there's a powerful tool
that's taking flight in the pilot community—Mindfulness.
Grounded for Takeoff:
Your Personal Pre-Flight
Just like conducting a thorough walk-around for your aircraft, taking a moment for an
internal check is crucial. Mindfulness tools can enhance your mental focus and
resilience, providing a solid foundation for a successful journey.
A Pre-Flight Checklist for Increased Mental Focus and Resilience, providing a solid foundation for a successful journey.
1) Practice Gratitude
Write down 3 things you’re grateful for every morning after you wake up or every night before going to bed. This can be as simple as, “I’m grateful to have clean water,” to “I’m grateful I have this opportunity to fly.” Whatever it is, it’s about you!
Why it’s Important: Gratitude improves your outlook going into situations, reduces stress, and improves sleep. Studies have also shown that those who practice gratitude are less likely to develop PTSD symptoms after stressful situations. Aka... you're less likely to take things home after the fact!
2) Focus on Past Successes
Remember all of the other times that you've excelled and overcame challenges! We’ve all had to work hard to do things we weren’t sure we could do. This is no exception.
Why it’s Important: You've been practicing. It’s important to remind yourself that your skill level hasn't changed, just the pressure you're feeling about whatever it is that you’re doing. You’ve got this!
aka Chair Flying! Mentally fly the plane, from that first walkaround to the moment you get off the plane. From the start of the maneuver to the end. You can also practice running through your checklists while in cruise or mimic doing the maneuvers. Hover over which buttons you would need. That way if the time comes, you’ll be ready to go.
Why it’s Important: When we enter stressful situations, even if we know ahead of time what we need to do, our stress-response kicks in and brings us back to what’s familiar. If you want to feel confident in your ability to recover in the air while under stress, the best thing you can do is practice those techniques on repeat during times of calm.
4) Practice Deep Breathing
Inhale to the count of 6, hold your breath to the count of 15, and exhale to the count of 10. Repeat 5-10 times.
Why it’s Important: Focusing on something in the moment, even if it's just intentionally slowing down ONE breath in and one breath out, can signal to your body that its okay to slow down. Think of it like telling yourself, "I have controls" You are literally taking your body and brain from automatic to manual. If done regularly, it will also help bring your focus and attention back into the airplane faster in a stressful situation.
5) Ready for Takeoff
Enhancing Pilot Effectiveness
These mindfulness techniques empower you both on the cockpit and on the ground. To
help you unwind, I've included a link to a free body scan audio download. Consider
trying it before bedtime if you're having trouble relaxing.
Being a top-tier pilot and prioritizing self-care aren't mutually exclusive; they're non-
negotiable. Take care of yourselves, fellow aviators, and fly high!
Blue skies ✈️
Owner & Founder of Aviation Conversations
Stress Management, Leadership, and Soft Skills Training for Pilots