I grew up in a very small country town in South Australia. No movie theatre, no traffic lights, not even a McDonalds! In 1987, a close friend returned from his summer vacation in Adelaide and told me he had watched a movie called ’Top Gun’. The movie had a big impact on him, and he announced he had decided to become a fighter pilot. This career choice made sense to me…my Dad was a private pilot and I’d been flying with him since I was 18 months old; so, I decided I to become a fighter pilot too.
After making my career decision, I spent hours daydreaming about flying over my house in an F/A-18. I pictured it from the perspective of the cockpit; as I flew past my house, I looked down and could see myself in my tiny backyard. I also pictured the scene from my backyard looking up at the jet flying past. The ‘video’ I played over and over in my mind was very vivid…I could hear the noise of the jet, and I imagined what I could see and feel from the cockpit looking down.
Around 10 years later, I actually DID fly over my home town in an F/A-18! Even the flight path I took was identical to what I had played over and over in my head all those years before.
What is it about mentally rehearsing a future event over and over which often causes it to become reality? It seems to work for bad outcomes too…think of all the golfers who end up in the water hazard or bunker because they focus on it!
My own theory on how this works:
1. A focus on the desired goal helps us make the thousands of 'micro decisions' required to achieve it. Even though we may not be conscious of the reason why, we seem to ’automatically’ take certain courses of action. The cumulative effect of these micro decisions is that we continually move closer and closer to what we have pictured in our head.
2. We prepare our psyche for the new role. This is particularly important when your goal is seemingly unachievable, and is a powerful technique for stopping any tendency towards self-sabotage you may have.
A brief expansion on point two. Around 18 months before my airline command course, I starting deliberately daydreaming about being a captain; flying off to a nice destination in Europe with a full crew complement and 300 passengers. A few times a week I would mentally rehearse this as I was drifting off to sleep at night; I imagined sitting in the left seat of an A350 while carrying out all the ‘captain tasks’, and I also imagined looking at myself from a third person perspective; watching myself make decisions, talk to the engineer, and brief my crew.
This process seemed to make my ‘psyche’ 100% convinced that I belonged in the left seat of an airliner. When I began my command training I had already ‘mentally’ become a captain, and because of this, I could recover quite quickly from the inevitable errors and mistakes I made. My brain didn’t interpret a mistake as a threat to my success on the course…it was just another error which I would try and learn from and avoid next time.
I guess the takeaway from this is that we need to be selective when daydreaming. What we rehearse over and over in our heads has a tendency to become our reality.
Use this force for good!