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Performance Hack - Visualising like a military pilot.


Flying the 'cardboard bomber'.

When we initially perform a new task, it absorbs much of our conscious thought and we are unable to do much else while we perform it. We find that thinking about the necessary sequence of events uses up all of our ‘brain space’, and all other tasks become almost impossible.


But…pilots NEED free brain space. History is littered with the wreckage of aircraft whose pilots ran out of it.


So, what do we do?

Think about tying your shoelaces. As a five year old, learning this new task required almost all of our ‘brain space’, but now we can quite easily have a conversation whilst lacing our shoes. This is because through repetition, we have become ‘unconsciously competent’ at the task, and can do it almost automatically.

In military flying training, pilots are expected to learn a new task and quickly become competent at it. The training is extremely expensive, and there just isn’t time for repeated practice in the air. So…we visualise.


In this photo, we see a student pilot sitting in front of the cardboard cockpit which is issued at the start of air force pilot's course. Although the helmet, jacket and gloves are purely for the amusement of his mates, the student is about to engage in what all military pilots have spent hundreds of hours doing. Visualising. We close our eyes, vividly imagine ourselves in the cockpit and perform the tasks over and over again. We look at imaginary instruments, flick imaginary switches, and talk over imaginary radios.


Over the years, I have found that I may have to start a new sequence 10 times before I can rehearse it perfectly (I think this is a combination of settling into the slightly 'meditative state' required, and also the time required to remember the sequence). Once I can perfectly visualise the sequence in my head, I then repeat it over and over again, freeing up more and more brain space each time.


Research has repeatedly shown that our brains can’t tell if we are actually performing a task, or just thinking about it. The effect of mental rehearsal is just as effective as the real task in freeing up our brain space.


So, how do you use this technique to increase YOUR performance? Visualisation is a highly effective technique for ALL tasks we perform. You can use it to make better sales presentations, improve your public speaking, and even increase your empathy.

High performers are always looking for ways to improve, and visualisation is a powerful tool in your ‘performance toolbox’.

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