Friday, 4 May 2012

Am I a control freak?

This is a question that happened to come up on our Manchester course last weekend (29th April)  Quite a common question that occurs on a lot of our courses in various guises.

'I need to feel like I am in control and I don't feel like I am in control 'up there' - does that make me a control freak?!'

Some thoughts...

It is probably part of being a human that wants us to be in control of our surroundings and circumstances?  The trick is recognising the boundaries of our control is it not?  This does not make you any form of 'freak' by the way...
The fact of the matter is that we are not in control of very much.  We are not even that much in control of our own bodies as most of it is done automatically by our subconscious (for want of a term)

It is okay to want to be organised. It is okay to want to manage the risk of a situation.  For example, one of our colleagues runs health and safety training. His approach is quite different to the stereotypical thoughts around health and safety that some people have. Health and safety training is not trying to stop people doing their jobs. It is about educating people around the potential risk areas that are associated with their jobs. There is risk in a lot of things that we do and places we go to.  It is about taking a balanced view of potential risks and then minimising the chances of the risky thing occurring.  So, if we want to be in control of a situation, then we need to look at what are the reasonable boundaries of my control....


Two 'extreme' examples of control being challenged (people we know)
1.  A 6 foot 4 male who is a 2nd Degree Black Belt in Karate, was attacked. He remembers a noise from behind and then waking up in hospital two days later.  He didn't know anything about it. It was beyond his control.

2. A friend of ours teaches people advanced driving and police driving skills. He was hit by a drunk driver.  He was driving normally and did not see the drunk driver. It was beyond his control. (He is okay by the way)
These are of course extreme examples. But, would you not agree, that these two individuals were so prepared and should have been completely in control of their situations that this couldn't and shouldn't have happened?!  But it did anyway.

We are only in control of so much and there is a heck of a lot outside of our control.


On our courses, Richard asks at the beginning of the day for a show of hands in answer to various questions. One of which is something like, 'Who needs to be in control?'  Most of the room put their hands up at this point.    As mentioned above, it is okay to want to be in control. It is also important to recognise what we can reasonably expect to be in control of and what we can't.
Flying - things we can control versus things we can't

I booked a flight to take off at 1030 AM.
There was a delay and the flight didn't take off till 1245

I always book Seat 45 A. This is a window seat next to an exit. I always sit there.
You check in and see that you have been allocated seat 45A.  You get on board and realise that the aircraft type has been changed and so now seat 45A is not an exit seat.

The flight is scheduled for 3 hours. I never fly for more than 3 hours and I must always fly direct.
The destination airport has a huge storm cloud over it. All incoming flights have been told to hold for 30 minutes. At the end of the 30 minutes, the storm cloud is still over the airport. The pilots decide to divert to their planned diversion airport.  They land, refuel and take off and land straight back into your destination. The flight total is now nearer 6 hours.

I won't fly on flights where the weather looks like it will be turbulent.  I don't like the turbulence and can't relax until it is over. I always sit over the wing or at the front as there is less turbulence.
Turbulence is always there. Some turbulence can be predicted and some can't so you may as well expect it.  Sometimes it is predicted and then it doesn't show up when it should have done. The air is beyond our control.  We can put on our seatbelts and then as long as we are attached to the aircraft, we will come to no harm.(Except perhaps the passenger that refuses to sit down falling onto us!)

I won't fly at night or over water.  It does not feel as safe.
The aircraft doesn't know whether it is night time, day time, over land, over water... The crew are rested for when you fly.  The route has been planned well before and they are legally allowed to fly over. Someone else is in control of the route, the back up diversion airports, the fuel, the engineering... All of this is beyond our control.
What can you do?

Most of our attendees will report that they don't like feeling out of control. When you turn up for a flight, you are not in control of very much of what happens next. You are processed through the various security, immigration and airport systems.  You become a seat number. Quite disconcerting when we are so in control the rest of our lives?!

Practically, this is what you can control to give you some of your 'power' back:

  • You can book online and with most airlines choose your seat.
  • You can decide whether to fly direct or save a few pounds and fly via 'who knows where...'  Up to you.
  • You can check airport websites before you travel so that you know the likely procedures and layout of where you are going
  • You can find out tons of research and maps and rules about the place that you are flying to. You can share this with everyone else that is travelling to get them involved/excited but importantly to share the responsibility
  • You can plan pretty much everything before you go via online. Having a folder with all your plans in one place... contact numbers...directions...Gives you control
  • You can look on the FCO (Foreign Commonwealth Office Embassy) sites for the country that you are going to as they have lots of information for visitors
  • You can take loads of things in carry on baggage to entertain yourself and children
  • You can dress with many light layers so that you can manage your own temperature control
  • You can get to the airport early, get rid of your bags, go and have something to eat. Shop even? 
  • You can buy water once you get through the security checks. Then, you are self sufficient when onboard the aircraft in case the crew do a vanishing trick (Some airline crew seem to shut the galley curtain and you never see them again! Not naming names though)
  • Sit in your seat, put the air vent on and put everything away you don't need. Look around to see where are the toilets, how far away is the galley (nearer the galley = hotter the food and more choice!) and how far to the nearest two exits?
  • Once you can undo your seat belt, walk around the aircraft every hour or so as it makes you feel less more in control of your environment.  Talk to other people doing the same.
Psychologically, you can control:

  • Read around the subject of safe flying books that exist out there (our book is an example flying without fear, 101 questions answered)
  • Watch our flying without fear video clip as many times as you like to familiarise yourself with flying, movement and noises. Here is a link
  • Practice proper deep breathing regularly.  5 minutes a day will give you remarkable reserves. Surely, in your hectic schedule, you are entitled to 5 mins uninterrupted deep breathing relaxation time?!  Here is one on you could try (not from us)
  • When (not if) you experience turbulence (which is uncomfortable to you but doesn't bother the aircraft one tiny bit) you use your deep breathing combined with positive self talk.  E.G.  I can cope. This turbulence is uncomfortable but not dangerous. Who says I have to love flying, I can still know that I am safe?
  • This situation is not as I wanted it to be (e.g. Seat 45 A or flight lasting longer than 3 hours) and that is just the way it is!  Whether I like it or not, some things are just beyond my control.
  • Compartmentalise the whole experience.  Drive to airport 1 hour. Check in 1 hour. Breakfast/coffee 30 mins.  Security checks 40 mins.  Wait it lounge 40 mins. Board aircraft 10 mins. Take off 10 mins. Eat and have a drink 1 hour.  Go for a walk.  Read book 1 hour. Watch film 2 hours. Go for walk...   Well, you get the idea.  As humans, we are not used to such unstructured time with nothing to do but sit there like a big potato!
  • If you have persistent negative thoughts and you can't do anything about them yet, try this technique.  You are driving down the motorway doing your own thing, as each car comes near you, you nod at it and on it goes. You are not trying to control it; You are just acknowledging it.  That is what you can try with negative thoughts.  Just acknowledge them and let them go on their way. Some people just count
As always, our blogs are intended to help. They are meant with good intentions and to give you something read to help with your fear of flying....

This weekend, we are in Edinburgh... looking forward to meeting you there if  you are going.

Take care
Paul & Richard
Virgin Atlantic 'Flying without Fear' Programme
Next courses coming up:

Edinburgh 6th May
Leeds 20th May
Birmingham 10th June
Southampton 24th June
Gatwick 8th July
Children's course 14th July


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