Win in Life with a Fighter Pilot Mindset


One of the things that fighter pilots are taught early is to control the aircraft and not let the aircraft control them. Similarly, you must control your life and not let it control you if you want to succeed. There are three types of people in the world:

  • Those who make things happen
  • Those who watch things happen
  • Those who wonder what happened

Which one do you want to be?

The big difference is where do you want to go and the level of your commitment. When people know where they want to go and are fully committed to making it happen, they will. There is a big difference between “want to” versus “will do.”  You also have to know how to implement those changes.

Where Do You Spend Your Time?

Think about what you do in a typical day. How much time is spent texting, Snapchatting, surfing the internet or watching television? Do those activities move you closer to your goal or farther away from it? While it is fine to have recreational time, be purposeful about how much of it you put into your day.

Determine where you want to go or accomplish and then develop a set of actions and put them in a weekly/monthly completion timeline with a definitive due date. That means SMART goals. Write it down and track your progress daily. If you’re not meeting you’re timeline, just like flying, figure out what needs to be done to fix it and then make the necessary corrections to get you to your destination.

Although the exact meanings can vary, SMART is an acronym that stands for goals that are:

• S – Specific

• M – Measurable

• A – Attainable

• R – Results-Oriented

• T – Time-Based

The Importance of Setting Goals

Everyone should strive to better themselves. People have dreams and goals are dreams with a due date. Without goals, you’re in a holding pattern going round and round burning fuel (time).

Imagine looking around when you’re 60 or 65 and saying, “Where did all the time go?”

Then, you realize that you should have done something about this a long time ago. Time in life is like fuel in an airplane. You only have so much in the tank and you can’t get it back once you’ve used it all up. So use it wisely.

Go through your life knowing where you want to go and have a plan as to how you’re going to get there. Write it all down, develop your life plan and then track your progress. I’ve known a lot of people that are just going through the motions every day. Control your own destiny or someone else will.

Mentally Prepare for Your Day

Pilots have a series of checks they go through as part of their flight planning process. You should start or per-flight your day in the same manner. Pilots start the process with a simple checklist called I.M.S.A.F.E. (“I’m Safe). It goes like this:

– I: Illness – Am I sick and will that have an impact on my ability to fly?

– M: Medications – Am on any medications that may cloud or impact my judgement?

– S: Stress – Am I under any major stress that will detract from stay focused?

– A: Alcohol – Am I hung-over and will it impact my ability to function in the aircraft?

– F: Fatigue – Am I tired and will it have an impact on my ability to stay alert?

– E: Emotion – Am I in the right place emotionally to fly today?

How do each of these areas impact what you have on your flight plan for the day? To be on top of your daily game, you have to get all of these issues under control.

Your mindset dominates your abilities, and can determine daily outcomes. This means that it’s important to know where your head is at and have clarity amidst a distracting environment.

What Do You Want on Your Tombstone?

In my book, Pushing the Envelope, I talk about the fact that none of us can escape the grave. It will happen to everyone one day. When that time comes, what do you want your tombstone to say? Are the things you’re doing today conducive to achieving that epitaph?

For me, if I could have a conversation today with my 20-something self, it would be to work harder on yourself than you do on your job. That’s a great and inspiring line from Jim Rohn.

I was taught that if you worked hard on your job things would always work out for you. And I did work hard on my job(s). As a result, I missed a lot of recitals, birthdays, anniversaries, family outings and cancelled too many vacations all because I needed to work on my job.

And a result, the jobs were successful, but my personal and family life suffered and I won’t get that back. I put my learning/education, my family and my life on hold because the job came first. I wasn’t living a balanced life. I did it wrong; don’t get caught in the same trap. Decide what’s really important, what you want to really do, and then go do it. Live your own life and not someone else’s.

With that said, one thing that a lot of people do is “should” themselves to death. I hear a lot of people saying, “I should have done this” and “I should have done that.” Well, STOP IT!!! You need to accept where you are in your life and take responsibility for it. Then, like flying an airplane, take control of the situation. Focus on the 1-2 items you can remedy now and then begin to navigate the obstacles as you work through your own OODA loop to your destination. An OODA loop is another fighter pilot acronym and is simply a decision making loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.

What Is Most Important?

I ask people of all ages who/what do they want to be when they grow up. Most can’t answer that question with clairty. So, first you need to figure out what game you want to play and then what your strategy or flight plan is going to be. It’s key to remember that the destination never changes. Only the way we get there does.

It’s not all about winning. No one is perfect at something the first time they try it. Whether it’s playing the piano, driving a car, managing people, running a business or flying an airplane. Those are learned skills that get better with time, practice and experience. 

We need to understand that there will be set-backs along the way. There is no way around it. If you are going to try something new, there will be a learning curve. The key is to learn from those set-backs, stay committed and keep moving forward. Keep progressing. Have faith in yourself and keep trying. From my chair, the only people in life that fail are the ones who never try.

Life is a journey. Figure out early where you want to go and then Go for It!!! Don’t let other people tell you it can’t be done. Trust me. I did a lot more in my life than what people told me I could do. So can you.

Be true to yourself. Live your dream and not someone else’s. Be our own person; develop your own plan, opinions and style. Be you!

Finish your life with no regrets. Enjoy the ride and end it with a strong sense of accomplishment and a smile on your face as you say “Wow!!! What a trip!!!”