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What next? Preparing for Challenge — Aviation Frame – Part 2

Have you ever watched a TED talk or read a book that flipped your perspective on something? I mean – radically – flipped your perspective? Maybe even blew your mind?

What was it like? What changed for you? How relevant is the changed perspective to you now?

As explained in the previous newsletter, we hold mental models (called frames) in our long-term memory that help us explain and make sense of our experiences. We use the frames, blending as necessary, mostly subconsciously … until there’s a mismatch, resulting in an experience of surprise (provided the mismatch exceeds a ‘threshold’ as explained in this aviation psychology paper referred to in the previous newsletter). From there we need more conscious effort to assess the effectiveness of the current frame(s) and then swap to different frame(s), refine frames or build a new frame.

The surprise can be experienced in different ways, and can be slow or sudden.

Having your mind blown is one type of surprise that is often (but not always!) a more pleasant experience. It could come as a result of new information in a ready-made frame or trigger the crystallisation of prior information or experience for us, resulting in that pleasant sensation of insight, the ‘aha moment’. Or it could be the seed that sparks a thirst for new information to create a new frame.

Confusion is another type of surprise, but tends to be experienced as uncomfortable. We might feel frustrated, embarrassed or even ashamed. But as explained by Associate Professor Jason Lodge in this podcast (or this article if you prefer to read) – we can learn to recognise confusion as a sign of the need to reframe.

How can we use surprise to help us in preparing to deal with challenges?

Hearing the reframe about confusion (above) was a distinct ‘aha moment’ for me, neatly and succinctly drawing together a collection of other, less complete, frames. It went straight into my toolkit! It’s increased my awareness of my reactions to confusion, which has allowed me to learn and practice responding with curiosity, which has been far more effective.

Paying attention to these frame-mismatch surprises in our daily lives is one way to help us direct our conscious action to increase the range and richness of our frames, and observe our practice in frame switching. As we become more practiced, we grow in confidence.

Here are some other ways:

  • Consciously enriching the store of frames. Three significant ways we can do this are:

    • Mining our past experiences. Experience is where the ‘rubber’ of our frames (ideas, concepts, practices and plans) ‘hits the road’, in turn providing fodder for refinement of our frames! In mining our experiences we gain both understanding and practice at ways to glean understanding. It also increases our self-awareness and confidence as we reflect on how we worked through challenges, strengths and learning edges.
      • Work from curiosity, analysis and critique, not condemnation or criticism. Try to see past experiences from different perspectives, such as that of a friend, or treat it as a case study.
    • Learning from others’ experiences. Thankfully we don’t have to have all the experiences to benefit from the learning! Here are some suggested sources:
      • Mentors, trusted colleagues, friends, relatives – especially people who might take a very different approach from your own. Asking others about their stories is also a beautiful gift to them.
      • Biographies and histories.
      • Podcasts, TED talks.
      • Philosophy and spirituality books, even novels and poetry, since all are about making or distilling meaning from human experience.
    • Imagining, planning and rehearsing. If we know we will be facing a situation that challenges us, we can plan ahead and practice different possible scenarios. For example, we can imagine ourselves in the challenge, stopping at various points to consider different scenarios and how we’d respond. Although the situation likely won’t turn out exactly the same, the practice increases our store of frames and reduces the likelihood of surprise.
  • Building confidence. This is a huge topic in itself and there are many readily-available resources. Here are some I’ve tried:

    • Identifying inner resources, especially those that help us re-orientate, re-centre and feel calm. Mining past experiences can expose hidden strengths and helpful practices.
    • Learning and practicing skills that help us connect with those inner resources, like mindfulness and breathing, so they’re automatic under challenging situations.
    • Undertaking activities that stretch us or move us out of our comfort zone, which teaches us or strengthens ways of dealing with different types of challenge. This can extend from easily accessible activities such as puzzles, to taking up an instrument or dancing, to guided physical challenges.
  • Building skills. Learn and practice skills such as those that help us gain clarity, think differently or manage conflict. The next newsletter covers some response skills used in aviation.

  • Building a support network. Who’s on our team? What are their strengths?

Past and present experiences – ours and others’ – are rich ground for enriching our store of frames. Practicing with those frames and other skills, moving beyond our comfort zones and identifying our team all build confidence and capacity for dealing with challenge.

To get started: Make time in a calm environment to revisit a challenge you feel proud of how you dealt with. Before you start, journal what you already know you learned from the challenge. Close your eyes and imagine you are watching a movie adaptation of your challenge as an audience member. Journal anything new that you experienced or learned from the different perspective.

Gloved hand holding a mirrored ball in the snow between two train tracks
Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

Please note: Many people have suffered from mental health issues as a result of the pandemic, including people who have never experienced issues before. This newsletter series is not a substitute for professional mental health support specific to your circumstances. If you have mental health issues, please access professional mental health services before attempting any of the practices in this newsletter series. Links to some Australian organisations and their online resources are below:

Beyond Blue
Black Dog Institute

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