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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

Repetition has a direct impact on perceptual, motor and cognitive skills and our implicit memory. If we remember three days ago, implicit memory is the storing of activities we perform all the time … those things that we don’t have to think about to do. The trick for pilots or anyone learning to perform a new activity… flying a new plane, driving, yoga, musical instrument, learning to operate your iPhone… is to create implicit memories of the activity you’re learning.

How do we accomplish this? Tie perceptual clues to repetition, or direct priming, and you will increase recall.

When operating a commercial airliner we have many tasks to perform even before we depart. Each phase of flight includes a series of duties. Tying a perceptual clue to the procedure phase will trigger a reminder of what to do and when.

For example, when the pushback coordinator tells us he’s ready, I immediately check the doors, and then move onto the ensuing steps. That is the clue to trigger the series of events that will follow. When we receive the 'wave off' from the ground crew, the first officer moves the flaps. When we receive the pushback and start clearance, the captain turns on the beacon and the first officer selects AUTO on the transponder. For every action, there is a reaction. Those clues start the process and assist in recall, but how do you remember what to do next?

Repetition enforces the behavior.

Do it and keep doing it until you can do it without thinking. When the pushback coordinator tells us he’s ready, and I check the doors, I also must turn on the APU bleed, confirm the ground power is removed, turn on the fuel pumps and read the pushback check list and obtain the pushback clearance. The more I do this … it will become part of my implicit memory. But we only have so many hours in the simulator, or our plane, and have so little time to practice. Close your eyes and visualize. I promise to dedicate an entire blog to the power of visualization, but for right now…believe me when I tell you that if you close your eyes and picture yourself pushing the buttons, moving the flaps, pressing the keys on your piano, or flaring at that perfect height… your mind cannot distinguish between what you actually see from what you visualize. It works.

When processes become automatic, you have enabled yourself to perform more than one task at hand. When you can commit procedures to automatic processing they will be faster, enhance the ability to perform other tasks, and while unavailable to the conscious they will occur when the appropriate stimulus is provided. The ability to auto-process will enable you to perform more than one task at hand. Men… we call this multi-tasking.

When the world falls apart (or you're taking a checkride) and you need to focus on the non-normals of life, it’s good to know that you have the solid foundation of your normal operating procedures ingrained in your implicit memory so you just don’t need to think about them.

For all beginning pilots just starting out, I recommend you create and establish your own procedures. Do the same thing, the same time, everytime, and your learning curve will excel!

Tomorrow Moods and Emotions… how they assist or hinder memory!

Have a wonderful day!

~ Karlene


  1. First, I must tell you my 4 year old sat in a helicopter today (stationary) and it was absolutely the biggest thrill. Maybe we have a budding pilot in the family as well!

    You're so right, the repetition of an act is an amazing way to lock memory. I remember how my dance teacher would make us practice, practice, practice, until we could hardly breathe. But when we performed, we hardly needed to think about the steps. The focus was so complete!


  2. Oh Portia, that is so exciting! But we'll have to convert him to fixed wings. :)
    Thanks for your comment...Could you imagine having to think about the steps during a performance? My daughters danced too... and they did it until they got it right. Do you still dance?

  3. Outstanding writeup. I enjoyed it. Cant wait for the book!

  4. I gave up dance after a knee injury, but my little daughter had her first lessons this year. I hope she loves it as much as I did :-)

  5. Thanks Chats! Autographed copy for you my friend!

  6. Portia, I am so sorry for your knee injury. But you will have so much fun with watching your daughter through the years. They are so cute that age!


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