My flight training began two years ago. My manic philosophy in all things is: GO ALL IN, 100%, no holds barred (or until collapsing). My flight training school and pilot shop got to know me pretty quickly because it immediately became my second home. The sales clerks in the store knew me on a first name basis by day three. Spending a ton of cash in one location during a condensed time frame is a great way to get to know people, by the way.
The airport is a great place to study. However, my children started wondering if I was ever going to move back in to our house after the first several weeks. It was then that I transformed a barely-used room into my pilot study. Posters of cockpits were covering the walls in no time. My bookshelves were filling up with aviation books that covered everything from weather to maneuvers to pilot communications. My printer was working overtime and my label maker was beginning to smoke from its overuse. Don’t even get me started on the index cards….there are just never enough index cards for a pilot-in-training! I now know the true purpose of a desk. It’s a place holder for highlighters of every color, post it notes, plotters, charts, various calculators (E6B) and the Kleenex boxes needed to dry my tears after calculating weight and balance and fuel usage necessary for cross-country jaunts.
I loved it (and still do)! Yes, obsessed would be a good adjective to use to describe me when it comes to aviation and becoming a better pilot. It is all positive though. My confidence has grown colossally. The freedom and exhilaration that learning and education provide is tremendous. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life! Putting the brakes on my aviation journey is impossible for me now. However, there have been times that my brain has had other ideas and decided to just shut down.
Hitting A Wall: Information Overload.
As much as there is to learn, my brain has slammed on the brakes more than once. It’s hard to predict when this will happen and it’s out of your control if it does. There have been days when I’ve read the same index card five times in a row and would just stare at it uncomprehendingly. What did I just read for the fifth time?? There must be a parasite living inside my skull right now!
Sitting at my desk staring blindly into space with little comprehension is frustrating. No matter how much coffee is poured, this brain has decided to go “off-duty” on occasion. It’s a strike you can do nothing about. It happens.
When you find yourself unable to retain any more information and feel like you want to stick your head into an ice bucket, fear not. Let it be. Remind yourself that there is no doubt you are giving all you can give to this endeavor. It requires an immense amount of energy and focus. Our bodies are capable of many amazing things but they also need rest. We read studies all the time about how important sleep and rest are. When my teenage sons have a big exam coming up and they’ve studied for hours, I gently nudge them to let it go and get a good nights sleep. We have to practice what we preach-we aren’t superhuman. I mean, I have experienced a huge growth in personal confidence but I’m still a mere mortal after all!
Help Me Knock Down This Wall!
Let your instructor know what you’re experiencing. Many teachers have been trained to recognize and coach others through plateaus. They may recommend taking a few days off. That may seem like a ridiculous suggestion. However, you may be surprised at how refreshed and refocused you’ll feel after allowing yourself to lay on your sofa catching up on some popular Netflix show that your “normal” friends are raving about.
Embrace Your Mental Collapse.
Do what works for me: tell your friends and family that you’re sick. It’s not technically a full-blown lie. You are experiencing a moment in time of extreme mental challenge. That’s the only way to get down time and allow myself to be horizontal for a couple of days. This proverbial wall has probably been personally encountered by me three times during the last two years.
Top 4 Recommendations When You Come Unhinged.
During this time, if you can’t allow yourself to fully shut off aviation, then find more entertaining ways to reinforce what you’re learning.
1). Read a non-fiction book about a pilot. This is one of my favorite things to do when feeling brain dead. Inspiring, true stories about aviators or pioneers in aviation always gives me a boost to dive back into training. Read about Amelia Earhart or Louis Zamperini. The challenges these individuals faced will make you feel like you can accomplish anything.
2). Watch a movie with an aviation theme. Find a new movie or a classic like Top Gun or Tora! Tora! Tora! You will see these movies with a new lens because of your new pilot knowledge! Sometimes you’ll be able to call their bluff and notice things that you know are unrealistic. Pointing these things out to others will either impress or annoy others but it will definitely boost your ego and get you fired up to jump into the cockpit again with new intensity.
3). Turn on a TV show about airplanes, of course! One of my favorite TV shows to watch is Air Disasters. It sounds dreadful. It’s CSI for airplane fanatics. You ride along with investigators as they dissect and determine causes of real-world plane crashes. While they’re explaining and putting all the pieces together, some of the things you’re learning about in flight training are reinforced and make sense in a way that an instructor may not be able to detail.
4). Read aviation magazines. There are a multitude of aviation magazines out there. You can subscribe to some of these at minimal cost. Some schools may actually have free ones for you to take home each month. Take advantage of that. Thumbing through these magazines, you can find entertaining and pleasant stories of flights that oftentimes pull together training themes in real-world scenarios. They can also inspire you to pursue other ratings or to fly to new locations. These stories motivate me because I love to experience new things. There’s no better way to get me reengaged than to unearth a new goal. Some of the magazine articles can be technical but when introduced by a different person or teaching style, can actually be a great way to drive a point home.
These are some of the things that have helped me get past a mental block in the past. There have been times as well that I’ve decided to forgo all aviation related media and just rent sappy chick flicks with my tissues-in-hand, eat bags and bags of Doritos while sipping tea or catch up on the latest and greatest sitcoms that allow me to laugh myself to tears. The point is that it’s okay to allow yourself a break. Other pilots and student pilots know the mental toll your training can bring and will not judge you negatively. You can always say: I’m sick!