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Safety Publications/Articles

Mindful misdirection

Flight instructors guide their students through the learning process. Sometimes, that may mean taking them momentarily away from where we want them to go.

Author Eric Liu traveled across the country in search of life-changing teachers from all walks of life. He encountered Bryan Price of the Seattle Mariners, whose job it was to teach Eric to throw a changeup (it looks like a fastball but comes out of the hand more slowly).

Eric threw a satisfactory fastball but couldn't master the changeup. He began thinking how ridiculous he looked with each unbalanced and wobbly toss.

Bryan told Eric to correct only one thing. "Keep your head quiet," he said. This meant for Eric to hold his head steady and square, with a fixed gaze. As a result, Eric concentrated only on his head position and the target. His throw improved, but was still inconsistent. Then Bryan asked Eric to throw a few full-steam, straight fastballs. Eric threw them consistently. Abruptly, Bryan asked Eric to throw the changeup. He did it perfectly.

Sometimes laying off lessons for a day or two, or even a week, helps the learning process. The subconscious mind gets the time that it needs to assimilate and assemble the previous lesson's components into a desired change in behavior.

Bryan used the fastball interlude as a distraction. Eric's pitching behavior improved as his mind became quiet long enough for his subconscious mind to synthesize the changeup throwing instructions. Flight instructors can use a similar strategy in the cockpit. When a student seems frustrated about learning a particular new skill, have him throw a fastball for a few minutes. I'll let you make the pitch.

By Rod Machado

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