learning from your mistakes

A mistake is painful because we have been conditioned to experience humiliation and shame. We expect ourselves to be able to perform. When we don't or can't, our internal critics tell us that we should be able to do better. Where an external critic adds to the internal embarrassment we react with fear that all such mistakes will recreate the emotional trauma.

Perhaps the biggest mistake in the exercise of good judgment is a failure to hear the voice of your own experience. Your own experiences are not just what happens to you, it's what you believe about what has happened to you. Your life experience at play or work has prepared you for many of the coming flights. Already you have had to unlearn, practice, study, relearn, and forget. You are about to relive your life experiences again. A mistake is an opportunity to find what works for you--and what doesn't. Recovery from a mistake should give you a good feeling. You have recovered, learned and reflected. All of which will make you a better pilot.

When a pilot enters a situation with uncertainty the chances are that his flying skills will be lessened. He will be spending at least some brain cycles dealing with stress and the fears caused by the uncertainty. Being told to relax by the instructor is not going to help. Your ability to cope will only be achieved by exposure and experience. The unexpected is always present as part of learning to fly. Keep your priorities in order, fly the plane FIRST, navigate and then communicate. You won't learn from your mistakes if you fail to acknowledge it as 'yours'. Denial of your part in creation of a flying mistake will only cause it to be repeated. The most dangerous flying mistake is the one you 'get away' with perhaps by not recognizing it as a mistake.

Flying is an art that takes knowledge, time, intensity, concentration and self-discipline. In the beginning there are likely to be deficiencies in knowledge and self-discipline. There will be excesses of intensity and concentration. A student's perception of success and failure is often based upon erroneous assumptions. Making mistakes is part of the process. Asking questions is part of the process. Being upset with yourself and the instructor is part of the process. A mistake is not a failure. It is a survivable learning experience. The worse thing that can arise from a mistake in judgment or performance is for the person to believe that he can 'get away' with it again.

Making mistakes is the "wake up call" part of the learning/flying process. Mistakes are not an enemy of learning. A recognized mistake is a learning success. Think of a flying mistake as an experiment that failed to produce the desired result. With each mistake/experiment you can eliminate procedures that don't produce desired results. The art of making flying mistakes is to turn them into tools of learning and prevention. Efficiency in learning is through remembering the results of your experiments. Student mistakes are what instructors see best. This instructor critiques student mistakes to make sure the cause, effect, and solution become apparent to the student.

The opportunity to make mistakes without fear of harm is an important part of the training process. A good instructor will let flying mistakes develop in the process of flight training at least to the point of student awareness. Then, when conditions allow, time should be taken to discuss the cause, result and correction. The mistake situation could then be re-established to help the student work it out more safely. Otherwise, the problem can be saved for ground discussion and a next flight review. On occasion, an instructor will deliberately create a situation that calls upon the student to correct a mistake. The safe correction of a potential problem is another essential student skill. All good instructors let their students make mistakes. All good instructors do not allow a specific mistake to become habitual or even occasional.

When an instructor tells you of a mistake, resist the urge to defend yourself or deny that a problem exists. Assume your critic to be right and of having the best of intentions to help you. Learn to live with all your mistakes, especially flying mistakes, without suffering. Use your internal critic to alert you of a coming mistake, but don't allow it to influence your stress level. Always, the instructor's premise is that you can do better next time.

Self-analysis of your flying is important. Develop a curiosity about what part went right until it went wrong. Do this in terms of where you feel weak, deficient, or insecure. Look for your mistakes. A few minutes reading, a short instructional flight, or a solo flight directed to a specific area is money and time well spent. If anxiety exists but you are uncertain as to the area or cause, take a flight review. Proficiency is the best flying insurance policy. You may not know what you don't know, but when you do know there is something you don't know, get help. When you are working to do every-thing right it is never boring.

You will better understand a difficulty or flying mistake by getting feedback from other pilots. Share your experiences and listen to similar experiences shared by others. You will never be able to create a unique flying mistake. Go back to your instructor and review the series of events from beginning to end. This changes a critic into a mentor. In a single-pilot operation, you know there's no one else to remind you so you pay closer attention, or at least you should.

There are good mistakes. A good mistake leads you into finding a better way of solving or avoiding a subsequent mistake. Not every solution will work. Share your solutions. Don't try to re-invent the wheel. Seek the opinion of others and alternate solutions. Read as much as your time allows about the experiences and mistakes of other flyers. Read their post-mistake advice. The advice that is given to others is wiser than the advice we give to ourselves. The objectivity of a story about a mistake allows others to see why specific mistakes are made and how they can be avoided. The highest level of learning is when students benefit from the experience of another.