"I learned the discipline of flying in order to have the freedom of flight....
Discipline prevents crashes."
~ Captain John Cook, British Airways, Concorde Pilot
“ABC… Always Be Correcting”. This was the advice my flight instructor gave me years ago when I was a student pilot in the Canadian Armed Forces. It was valuable advice for learning how to fly. It turns out that it is also excellent advice for life - the key to finding balance is catching problems when they are small and making the necessary small corrections.
In many ways, life is like flying. Once we take off there are lots of turns, changes of heading, changes of altitude and, for some of us, big changes in attitude as well. Some parts of the trip are nice and smooth but there are also parts where we must buckle our seatbelts as we go through some teeth-rattling turbulence. We are all pilots on our incredible journey through life. The key is to manage the challenges on our flight in order to make the most of our time and find joy in the journey.
When my flight instructor said, “In aviation, ABC stands for Always Be Correcting”, he was teaching me that smooth flying is the result of keen observation and a sensitivity to changes combined with small corrections in the flight controls. To non-pilots, the instrument panel of an airplane can look like a mess of dials and switches. Life can often look like a mess too. We get information coming at us from all directions. There is a lot to absorb but if we pay attention to the right indicators, we often have all the information that is necessary to help us make good decisions. In flying, a pilot who is paying close attention to the instruments can catch errors early and make the necessary small corrections for a smooth flight. In life, if we catch problems early and make the necessary changes, we can reduce our stress, improve our health, build stronger relationships, have a positive influence on those around us and lead happier lives.
In all aircraft cockpits, you will find basic instruments which give a pilot information on things such as aircraft speed, altitude and heading. It is critical that a pilot continually scans the instruments, particularly when flying in cloud without any outside visual references, in order to keep the aircraft safe and in control. Scanning is a systematic process - if something interrupts the scan and a pilot gets distracted for too long, then bad things can happen. Without visual cues, the inner ear can play tricks on the brain. The pilot might believe that the aircraft is straight and level when in fact it is in a turn, in a descent or even possibly upside down. That is obviously a very dangerous situation. The lesson for pilots is to continually scan and trust the instruments. Lives depend on it. In our journey through life, we can easily fool ourselves into thinking that we are flying straight and level when in fact we are not. We can unintentionally put ourselves in difficult situations. We can ignore important information, and even rationalize our choices, until we come face to face with a crisis and often by then it can be too late. Thankfully though, there are “instruments” in our lives that we, like pilots, can systematically scan to catch problems early so that our journey is not only safe but also one filled with happiness and purpose.
Is it reasonable to expect an aircraft to magically stay at a desired air speed, altitude and heading without any need for pilot input? No, of course not. An aircraft’s environment is active and constantly changing. There are updrafts and downdrafts. The wind can suddenly change direction. That’s all part of flying. Pilots can’t control the wind, but they can control how they react to it. It would be so much easier if every flight had a tail wind which shortened the trip and every landing was smooth and easy with the wind on the nose. Flying isn’t like that, however. Sometimes the only open runway has heavy crosswinds and it’s a rodeo ride all the way to the ground. Other times you have to divert around thunderstorms and your arrival time is delayed. Factors outside of our control are all part of life too. Shit happens. It just does. Life is full of challenges which knock us around. The key to a smooth flight, and a well-balanced life, is to keep the scan going, catch problems early and make small corrections. My flight instructor used to get on my case for sitting on errors. He would say, “If you see an error don’t accept it, correct it”. You don’t magically get back to the desired airspeed, heading and altitude by just looking at and accepting the error. You must respond. You have to do the work. If I didn’t catch my errors quickly enough, then I had to speed up my scanning. All the information that I needed was right there in front of me on the instruments. The key to being what is referred to in aviation as “on the numbers” was to keep a good scan going, notice the errors and fix them. Correcting small errors requires small inputs. Big errors lead to big inputs and that makes for a very bumpy ride. The secret to success was ABC…Always Be Correcting.
Some people might argue that looking for errors in our lives and always trying to correct them puts extra stress on us in what is already a hectic world. However, if we are to find joy in the journey, I believe we must always be looking for ways to achieve balance. Watching out for imbalance does not mean looking at life in a negative way. Despite our best efforts, problems are just a basic part of life. The goal should not be to eliminate all problems but to be alert to what is going on around us and to catch problems when they are small. Being aware means maximizing the experience and living in the moment. Working on balance in life is good for our health, our relationships, our finances and our scope of experience. When we focus on achieving balance, we are equipped to take on more and make the most of our limited time here.
It is important to note, though, that leading a well-balanced life does not mean giving all things equal weight. Our interests, skills and experiences are unique to us. How we distribute our time, talents and finances will be unique to us too. What works for one person may not work for another. Our priorities and focus change as we go through life. New interests, skills and experiences get added to the scales. Life is an ongoing attempt to find equilibrium - some people even like to say that life is a circus. Well, then make your life a Cirque du Soleil performance with a great story and amazing displays of balance. As the performance unfolds on stage, the act gets more and more complicated and the skills become more and more impressive. Watch the performers closely and you will see they are constantly making small changes in order to keep their balance. They catch errors early, and they correct them. ABC…Always Be Correcting.
In the pages ahead, we will explore some of the “instruments” in our lives that can give us the information we need to find balance with our time, talents and finances. We will explore ways to keep our “scan” going so we can catch problems early and make small corrections to give us a smooth flight. When you make the scan a regular part of your life, you will start to notice things that you have never noticed before. You will start to appreciate the small things in life because you will be sensitive to how much the small things matter. You will be living in the moment and seeing what I like to call “the extraordinary in the everyday”. The journey ahead requires honesty and hard work. Change always does. It is a journey of self-forgiveness - we can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. If you are way off the airspeed, heading and altitude that you want to be at, you know it is time to make some changes. They may be big changes at first, but in time you will fine-tune the corrections. Whatever the weather at your point of departure, one thing you can be sure of is that it’s always sunny above the clouds. And with the sun on your face, you can see everything from a new and beautiful perspective. You are the pilot in control of your life. The controls are in your hands. Make it a great flight! It starts with the ABCs…Always Be Correcting.
In Flight Check
Are you ready to come aboard, take to the skies and start your journey?