One of the difficult things to gauge for flight students is what exactly will be required of him/her while learning to fly. Since learning to fly is completely new (in most cases) it is difficult to set proper goals.
“Students don’t know, what they don’t know…” was a tagline for an article I wrote last year from Mentor Magazine (Winter 2013 issue, pages 35-6). Having unrealistic goals as a result of not fully understanding all the intricacies of flight training can lead to frustration and quitting. Both, bad. The good news is, with the use of four (4) EASY keys to setting good goals, frustration and potentially dropping out of flight training become must less of a possibility. The following four (4) keys are written directly to student pilots, but I encourage any flight instructor or pilot mentor to read along and understand the “you” is your student or mentee pilot!
Goals should be realistic. Having the goal of earning your pilot certificate is great, but that is big-picture/long term. You should have intermediate/short-term goals. Having short-term goals allows you to feel a sense of accomplishment or achievement as you move through learning to fly, instead of spending your entire training journey thinking, “I need to solo soon…” When you have a goal of mastering a skill, such as slow flight, this can be accomplished in a few hours. That sense of accomplishment can be turned into motivation to move towards the next goal. As these achievements add up that sense of continued accomplishment will propel you towards your big-picture goal.
Going hand-in-hand with having realistic goals is having attainable goals. Yes, making your first solo flight is attainable. But, it takes time and a lot of effort. Instead, having a goal to fly twice per week for a month is easily attainable and measured. Setting more immediately attainable goals again leads towards continuingly accomplishing these lower-level goals and providing motivation towards the big-picture goals such as earning a certificate/rating or making a first solo flight.
As you progress through your flight training your goals should be consistent. Employing short term, realistic and attainable goals is great, but you have to “stay the course,” if you will. After accomplishing a few short-term goals it is all too easy to think, “Gee, that was easy, lets try to take a bigger step now.” Instead of another short-term goal, sights can be set on a big-picture goal (think first solo). Changing from short-term goals to a big picture goal can lead to discouragement because of the greater time and effort required for the larger step. It is immensely important to maintain consistency when setting goals throughout learning to fly. At some point that first solo will be a short-term goal, instead of a long term goal, as it will be a small step from the previous goal of (the first) three consecutive unassisted landings (for example).
How will you know what is realistic and attainable when you are setting your goals, you might be asking… Well, that’s easy, ask your instructor. Tell them you are trying to set some short-term goals to help you keep progressing with your training. Your instructor will be able to make informed recommendations based on their teaching experience. Moreover, because they will know your learning style and ability to grasp new content they can help you understand exactly what you are capable of in terms of goal attainability and whether or not certain potential goals will be realistic for YOU in the short term.
Having goals that are well informed, realistic, attainable and consistent will set you up for success with achieving your big-picture goals. Short-term goals allow you to turn small steps into motivation, rather than seeing small steps as frustrating and not “good enough.” Remember, if you have goals that are aligned with these 4 keys you can expect your goals to be defined one more way: Realized!
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9