Elevating the Threshold of Panic
Picking up from last week’s post in our series on Fighter Pilot Wisdom, here’s more from fighter ace Ran Ronen:
Why do we train? To perfect our flying skills, yes. But far more important, we practice to elevate our threshold of emotional detachment, to inculcate that state of preparedness and equilibrium that enables a pilot to function effectively under conditions of peril, urgency, and confusion.
If you or I were to hitch a ride in the backseat of a contemporary fighter jet, I’m betting our heart rate would hit 200 bpm before our pilot had completed the first barrel roll. And speaking purely for myself, by the time we had entered the Mach 1.3 power dive straight toward the deck, one of us would definitely be peeing in his pants.
Yet our pilot, male or female, would not have broken a sweat. Why? Is she superhuman? Is her courage DNA that far superior to ours? Here’s fighter ace Giora Romm describing part of the training regimen under his squadrom commander, Ran Ronen.
At the end of each training day, the squadron met in the briefing room. Ran stood up front. He went over every mistake we had made that day—not just those of the young pilots, but his own as well. He was fearless in his self-criticism, and he made us speak up with equal candor. If you had screwed up, you admitted it and took your medicine. Ego meant nothing, Improvement was everything.
You and I, in the bowels of a year-long or two-year-long solitary creative project, will strike Panic Point after Panic Point. Resistance will hammer us. We will be tempted over and over to freak out, to pull the plug, to self-destruct, to quit.
What will keep us going is training. Self-training in our case because we don’t have a squadron commander to help us.
On our own, we must train to elevate our threshold of panic. The pilot who flew us on our imaginary joy ride stayed calm because she had executed those same aerobatic maneuvers five hundred, a thousand times before. Each time her threshold of emotional detachment got a little higher. Each time she stayed cooler. Each time the action became more everyday.
Being a pro in any field means more than mastering technique. It means managing one’s emotions in times of extreme and unexpected stress. There’s no training manual for this.
Can we do it? Can we practice? Can we rehearse? Can we process our mistakes and learn?
Can we move up, mentally, from the backseat of the jet to the front?