In last month’s installment of Exiting the Hold: Reaching your Aviation Goals we talked about understanding what type of learner you are to maximize your educational experience. This month we will focus on the importance of being a flexible thinker.
Neural pathways are like goat trails in the brain. We establish well-worn patterns of thinking and develop neural pathways, which become default ways of thought behavior. Thought, experience and behavior about events form schemas, a cognitive framework, that helps us to interpret and understand our world, and can be predictive in nature.
Humans naturally prefer to filter new information through an old “thought box” [schema]. Take a look at this video and see the concept in action:
The habit of assimilation means that we often times take new information and try to make sense of it through trying to relate it to old learning or ways of thinking. However many times information or experience won’t fit in an existing schema. In those times we have to accommodate the information into a new way of thinking. An example would be a young child that knows what a dog is [four-legged animal], but when sees a cow incorrectly identifies it as a dog. This child will have to accommodate the information of a large four-legged animal into another thought box to know it is a cow.
As an adult, it is sometimes difficult to allow yourself to be a learner, yet that is what we need to do to reach our goals. Brain research in decades past pointed to brain development being completed in stages of childhood and remaining relatively fixed until death. However in the late 90s research began to show evidence of neural plasticity, the idea that your brain isn’t completely hard-wired. Through experience and training, we can re-wire or alter the brain’s functioning, forcing a cortical and neuronal re-wiring. Breaking out of a cycle of inaction or inactivity requires action. If we default to old ways of thinking we will do ourselves a disservice.
Flexible thinking is key to getting out of a holding pattern. Practice makes practice, and through practice you will gain mastery. Having one achievement opens up the belief that you can do more. Learn from the best, and let yourself make mistakes, give yourself grace, and marvel how education can change your brain.
I am getting ready to head to Longview Texas to teach Right Seat Ready! a companion safety seminar I co-founded with my teaching partner Jan Maxwell. This national Mooney conference called MooneyMAX takes place October 10-14. The one-day Right Seat Ready! seminar is open to all non-pilot companions in single engine airplanes.
Jan and I toured with AOPA last year offering an abbreviated version of Right Seat Ready!. It never fails to amaze me how much anxiety our students have at the beginning of the day. You see, at the beginning of the day they are trying to fit all the new information into the old thought box that is labeled, “I am not a pilot.” However, by the end of the day the anxiety is gone, replaced by excitement of new learning, smiles, practice and encouragement. Before long the old thought box is replaced with one labeled “I am Right Seat Ready!”