“Seeing challenges as growth opportunities empowers us to ask ourselves questions such as “What can I learn from this” or “What would I have done differently next time”.
What follows is an account sent to us by a Pilot who wanted to share their own experiences and how they dealt with the situation. They make no claims about their experience other than hoping it may be of interest and possible help to other pilots. We are tremendously grateful to them.
What is Resilience
Resilience can be described as the capability of a person to adapt to new circumstances, withstand adversity and recover from difficult situations or challenges quickly. It is the ability to respond under pressure and solve problems. In a constantly demanding and high-pressure environment of a pilot, resilience is key to deal with discomfort and adversity. With greater flexibility and adaptation skills, the instantaneous onset of challenges, which potentially cloud the mind of a pilot, can be dealt with calmly and professionally. This capacity makes a pilot mentally agile and more resourceful. The goal is more likely attained and the pilot is left at higher energy levels and mental strength to carry out the flight in a safe and efficient manner.
Resilience in Pilots
Resilient pilots are emotionally stable and in tune with themselves and with those around them. With empathy, they manage to control their own emotions and react adequately to somebody else’s emotional state. This ability will almost certainly always stand in their favour. Especially in close proximity working environments such as the cabin or the flight deck, in which a sensitive perception of the prevailing emotional climate is vital, this ability can change hazardous situations into a well-managed and safe operation.
The role of the captain cannot be overemphasised in this respect. A resilient leader will give the crew and passengers a solid and reassuring impression of handling a particular event. It will be dealt with calmly but swiftly, in an organised and structured style, leaving spare capacity to step back and observe the situation from different points of view in order to react in a considerate and conscientious way.
With this approach to working life, a change in a working roster can be more easily accepted, unreliable technical data can be coped with, challenging personalities can be flexibly addressed and safety threats or emergencies are managed to a high standard.
Benefits to Pilots Being Resilient
In a pilot’s working environment characterised by change, fast pace, pressure and uncertainty, it has never been more important to demonstrate resilience and adapt to a vulnerable climate.
Building resilience, means enhancing our reactive options by drawing upon a wider repertoire of our personal strengths and abilities. Knowing we have all the resources we need within ourselves, helps us make an active decision about how we will respond to a certain event.
We can learn to control our state of mind, and consciously make the decision to view a difficult event as a positive challenge. We often experience positive & negative emotions simultaneously, even in difficult times. Learning to accept all emotions and subsequently driving our reaction (our thoughts and behaviour) with the best intention towards the common goal, is the desired outcome. When reflecting on situations, seeing the potential in every circumstance helps us overcome uncomfortable situations. I am convinced this “life-long learning attitude” is the healthiest state for any pilot, as there will never be a time when we know it all. Contrary, we will always encounter challenges we did not foresee and with a humble but positive attitude of taking new situations on board and ticking them off as a “learning experience”, we remain vigilant, adaptive and continue to enhance our own safety parameters. Seeing challenges as growth opportunities empowers us to ask ourselves questions such as “What can I learn from this” or “What would I have done differently next time”. We thereby naturally learn new skills, enhance our experience level and reactive repertoire, which strengthen our resilience.
Resilience teaches us to pay more attention to our positive thoughts and encourages us to see the good side in everything. A simple example for a less constructive mind-set is “It is such a lovely day today, it would be so much better to have the day off. Every time the sun shines, I am working”. Whereas a more positive mind-set would be “I am happy the weather is beautiful today. I’d much rather fly in good weather than in bad weather”. A simple detail such as the above example can set the tone of the day. Are we starting in a grumpy mood, which will quickly drain energy and affect the working climate of the whole crew, or are we able to enjoy the good day, making our working life so much lighter and more enjoyable for all?
How pilot resilience is supported
There are currently not many practical or accessible resources to support pilots facing resilience-based challenges. The most obvious solution is a trusting conversation with an empathetic individual who has the ability to listen well, understand the full scope of the situation and respond in an encouraging, confidence building manner. Some of our captains are well equipped to perform this function during a de-brief, others are far less equipped but still seek to offer their conclusions. The latter situation can do more damage to a person’s confidence than estimated, in my view.
A supporting example is the experience of a hard landing, which is a highly uncomfortable sensation and can doubtlessly shake us up. A supportive reaction would be to focus on the good handling characteristics to bring out the positive side and then progressively make constructive suggestions we can learn from to avoid the same reaction when similar conditions are next encountered. Ending the conversation on a light note and placing a tick next to this box, leaves us upbeat and optimistic, restoring our confidence and leaving a positive effect on our resilience. I have experienced quite a different reaction of my captain after one of my very first firm landings. The incidence was laughed away and made fun of over and over again. The only problem was, I didn’t much feel like laughing. I preferred to talk about it in all seriousness so I could learn from it and cope better next time. With more experience and better resilience skills at hand now, I can indeed smile about my own firm landings, which we all frequently experience on our fleet. However, the above event left me mildly demoralised and in self-doubt, which I do not wish for anyone to experience. Our psychological peer support program can be an ideal solution here.
Pilot experience - Resilience