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Fear of Flying School podcast

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Do you HATE flying? Discover how to beat your phobia by hearing directly from aviation experts, psychologists and former fearful fliers. The Fear of Flying School podcast is presented by ex-nervous flier, Tim Benjamin.


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How to overcome your fear of flying: a therapist explains
When you think about how to overcome your fear of flying, do you wonder what the secret to success is? It turns out that for most people, there are MULTIPLE things. But what are they? And should they be dealt with in a SPECIFIC order? To find out, don’t miss this interview with New York therapist, Nathan Feiles. Nathan is a graduate of New York University and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of New York. And, like me, Nathan used to have a fear of flying. BIG TIME. But by using a variety of techniques, he managed to crush it. For good. Since then, he’s used his approach to successfully treat other people. If you DON’T listen to this interview, you’ll miss Nathan revealing: The 5 things you MUST deal with to beat your fear. What results you can REALISTICALLY expect. How much effort you need to put in. How long until you’ll see results. Plus loads of PROVEN tips. Interview transcript [INTERVIEW STARTS] Tim Benjamin: If you have a fear of flying, I’m sure you’ve spent a ton of time, trying to work out how to overcome it. Well, the good news is that today, you’re doing to find out. Hi – I’m Tim Benjamin from the Fear of Flying School. And joining me on the show is New York therapist, Nathan Feiles. Nathan is an expert in helping people overcome their fear of flying. And today, he’s going to tell us how he does it. Nathan – welcome. Nathan Feiles: Good morning Tim – how are you? Tim Benjamin: I’m really well – yourself? Nathan Feiles: Good thank you – I appreciate you having me. Tim Benjamin: Not all. Now – before we get started, Nathan, just so people can get a sense of what it is you do, can you just tell us a little about your role? Nathan Feiles: Sure – well I’m a therapist in New York City. And I do treat many different things. But a fear of flying is one of the – one of the specialities that I focus on as a therapist. You know, I work with many different people who have experienced fear of flying in different ways. Whether it’s they can’t get on a plane at all. Or people who can still fly – but they fly with a considerable amount of anxiety. I work with people on both sides of that spectrum. Tim Benjamin: Now, I know that you also have a personal interest in aviation. Tell me a bit about that. Nathan Feiles: Well, I myself – when I was younger I had a pretty considerable fear of flying myself. And that kind of generated my interest in flying in general where I started to become very interested in airplanes as a hobby. And learning about flying. And I started flying airplane simulation. And I’ve actually flown airline simulation as well as small plane simulation. And its really become – over time  – it’s become much more of a hobby than it’s become a fear. And as I became a therapist, I began to integrate it into the therapy as I started seeing more of a need for it. Tim Benjamin: In what way? Nathan Feiles: I’ve worked with – ah – a high number of anxiety cases. And there are other types that fall into fear of flying. But, what’s happened with people I’ve worked with for other issues is inevitably at some point in the treatment, they’ll say “I have to go on a trip” – either a business trip or some family’s having an event – there’s a wedding. Or – even in more sad cases – a family member just died – “I need to take a trip across the country”. Or, you know, there have been times when people have said to me “I would really LOVE to go on a trip – but I can’t. I NEED to get on an airplane.”. And that’s happened a lot more than you might expect. And this is when I’m NOT treating fear of flying issues – this is just when I’m treating something else – their fear of flying comes up. And the more that I started to see that, the more we started to focus on that as part of their treatment. And then I realized that there really was a strong need for it. And even though some of the other therapies out there touch on fear of flying – which they do in a roundabout way – there’s really a lack of treatment for specifically that targets fear of flying. Tim Benjamin: Well if we talk about those other approaches for a moment before we go on to talk about what YOU do. What do they typically – you know – what approach do they typically take to treating peoples’ fear of flying? Nathan Feiles: Well, often what you see – it depends on the type of therapy. There are many types of therapy – and they’re all very good and reputable in their own ways. But in terms of fear of flying, what we often see is one approach will take just going into your feelings about it. Let’s talk about the anxiety you have – let’s kind of break it down and see where that anxiety manifests in the past for you. They really try to get underneath the emotional experience of it. Which is interesting – and can be helpful – but it takes a VERY long time. If you’re going to approach fear of flying that way, it’s just an incomplete approach. Even if it targets an emotional symptom. Or even an emotional experience or history. There are other more behavioural or CBT-type approaches that tend to be a little bit more helpful. They kind of target the experience of flying through an exposure approach. The problem with this is that it still lacks certain components that you’ll see are present with a fear of flying. It kind of helps people conquer a stage – one at a time. But there’s only so far you can go with exposure since nowadays you can’t really go past the security gate unless you’re actually going to fly on the plane. So – um – CBT tends to be a little bit more helpful, but as you’ll see, it’s still a bit incomplete. Tim Benjamin: That’s – uh – a kind of summation of some of the OTHER approaches out there. Can you walk me through what it is that YOU do when somebody presents with a fear of flying? Nathan Feiles: Sure. Well, the program that I created, it takes – it takes therapy approaches – and it combines it with the flying experience itself. So, there are basically – there are a few modules of how I approach fear of flying which kind of encompasses each different experience that a person will have while on an airplane. So, there IS the emotional experience that is still very relevant. We have to understand what your fear of flying comes from – whether it’s – maybe there’s just a general claustrophobia. Or a fear of heights that you might have. It could be a fear of getting sick and not being able to get help. It could be just a fear of loss of control. A fear of flying can – the fear is LESS of crashing than something else underneath it. So, we DO have to understand what your own fear is coming from. So, it’s part of the emotional experience. There also is a relaxation component to it, which falls under the principle that – the relaxation component falls under the principle that you CANNOT be anxious and relaxed at the same time. So, if you can get relaxed, then we can take away some of that anxiety. And that’s just done with – we go through a whole a whole bunch of different relaxation exercises. There are grounding techniques, mindfulness, there are general deep breathing, there’s some other meditations that we use. So, it’s really a comprehensive relaxation component to try to decrease the physical anxiety. Which also actually helps decrease EMOTIONAL anxiety as well as physical symptoms. So, beyond that there are also other, more cognitive components to it that – the best way to describe it – are PERCEIVED threats – or things that we – and many people who have a fear of flying – have an over-active imagination. And imaginations are very good for a lot of creativity. But in terms of flying, it can really work AGAINST a person. Having an over-active imagination is where we start to picture things happening that are NOT happening. And one good example is people who picture a wing falling off of an airplane. Or the airplane just dropping out of the sky. And that just DOESN’T happen. It’s something that – if it DID happen – then there’s probably a one in a BILLION chance of that happening. And it’s not really – it’s a PERCEIVED threat. It’s something that’s SO unlikely to happen that we’re kind of creating our own anxiety there. So, part of what we do is try to perceive – I’m sorry – we try to tackle the perceived threats by understanding what is possible with flying – and what is MUCH LESS likely to happen. And so, through that, that comes from understanding your flying environment. And this is where the aviation component comes in – is understanding how flying actually works. Now, with this program, you don’t learn how to become a pilot. It’s not going to teach you how to fly a plane or things like that. But it’s going to teach you how the plane works. What’s happening while you’re flying. What the sounds are that you hear. What the sensations are that you feel. And a popular one for that is right after you take off, after about 30 seconds you feel the plane kind of sink a little bit. That’s the experience people tend to have – which is not happening at all but that’s the perception. What’s really happening there is that the plane requires a LOT more thrust to take off than it does to continue to climb. So, after the plane is well off the ground, they decrease the throttle – they decrease the speed a little bit. And that’s experienced as a sinking sensation. But the plane is still climbing and perfectly fine. So, understanding things like this – what you’re hearing – what you’re FEELING – will help you understand that your environment is still OK. As opposed to a sound that you hear that you don’t understand – your brain interprets it as a problem. So, learning these aviation components will help – when you combine it with everything else – to relax you. And one major component that I haven’t mentioned yet is the idea of ‘normalization’. This is a very important module in overcoming fear of flying. The thing about flying is people’s brains don’t understand it as routine because they often do it – well it’s kind of an oxy-moron – they often do it so infrequently. When your brain does something less frequently – when you finally DO that thing again – there’s kind of an alarm in your brain. That ‘This ISN’T normal – I don’t UNDERSTAND this. What’s supposed to happen now?’. And that right there triggers its own anxiety. So, a big portion of the program is training your brain to understand how ROUTINE flying really is. That there are MANY tens of thousands of flights that go out per day. But not just that – but understanding – not just training yourself to say ‘Oh – yeah – it’s really routine.’ – but actually INTERNALIZE the idea of how routine it is. And that’s what a lot of exercises also target. And just to bring this into light for one quick example here. Something that we do that’s risky on a daily basis is taking a shower. People have gone into the shower and they’ve slipped. They fall – and they hit their head – and some people have actually died from that. But, I would take a risk here and assume that you probably take a shower on a day-to-day basis – without much anxiety. Because it’s something that you do EVERY day – something that’s become so normal to you that the risk of it is not experienced. The risk of it is so low that you don’t really experience it as a risk. So, part of what we aim to do with fear of flying is to train our brains to understand that the risk is so low that we can just go into it as if we were taking a shower. Or riding a bike. Or anything else. Tim Benjamin: Now – I’ve got a question for you. We’ve covered four separate elements of your program – the first of which was dealing with people’s underlying emotional issues. I’m interested to learn a little more about that – how that works. You pointed out that a person could have one – or perhaps more – emotional issues underlying their fear. One of the examples that you used was an underlying fear of heights – which might actually be a key reason why somebody fears flying. If we use heights as an example, how would you go about dealing with that person’s fear of heights? Nathan Feiles: Well, fear of heights is a tricky one because that also signals other anxieties. The underlying anxiety to ALL of this is a fear of death. And I know that’s a hard thing for many people to talk about. But when we fear heights, we fear falling. We fear falling because we fear ultimately that we’re going to fall to our death in some way. So, when we’re looking at emotional factors for flying, part of it is understanding our – and coming to terms with – our own fears of death in certain ways. Which, you know, is a piece that we look at, we talk about, we uncover the history to the fear of death. To where it comes from, to where the anxieties are. And fear of death often comes at a very young age where – for example – if we’re over-protected – and unable to experience things in the world – they become more scary to us because we’ve been warned away from things. So, the more we’re warned away from something, the more we develop fear. And so we have to start looking at those underlying anxieties, the underlying fears of death. And through that, we can re-structure – this is where cognitive re-structuring comes in – we can kind of re-structure our brain to understand heights. Or flying. Or even enclosed spaces in different ways than we perceived them before. Tim Benjamin: Another thing you touched on as being part of your program is the issue of relaxation. What sorts of relaxation practises to you walk people through? Nathan Feiles: Well, there are several that we use. Each session kind of has its own structure. And each session also has a review of all the techniques that we do. And also introduces a new one each time. So, there’s kind of a constant flow and practice of these relaxation techniques. There are – as I mentioned – a few of these before. We do ‘grounding’ techniques which kind of help us – it gets us in touch with our flying environment. So, for example, we can sit on an airplane and we can just be very present. We can look around and see what’s around us. For example, I see the seats around me. I see the window. I feel my feet touching the floor. I feel my back against the chair. And this sounds very simple. But as we go through and get this on a deeper level, we begin to – for lack of a better way of saying it right now – we begin to kind of feel ‘at one’ with the airplane. And that can actually really help increase relaxation in terms of our own feeling of flying through the air with the airplane. It’s a very different feeling than feeling removed from ourselves and kind of forced into this box. Which is a very removed emotional experience which actually increases anxiety. So, grounding exercises. We learn how to regulate our breath which – when anxious – our breath speeds up. So, we start breathing HIGHER. We start to hyperventilate a little bit. We start to feel closer to things like panic attacks. So, being able to regulate breath through certain deep breathing exercises and counting and breathing. We learn how to bring our breath deeper. So we become more relaxed – and best – further away from anxiety and panic. Tim Benjamin: You also touched on the issue of perceived threats. You know – the kind of threats likely to emerge from an overly creative mind. How do you deal with that? Because that seems to me to be another particularly tricky issue to combat. Nathan Feiles: Right – and that’s where I think fear of flying therapies have really lacked – up until recently – because perceived threats are HARD to change just by the experience of flying. Now I’ve treated people who say that they fly every week for business. And they’re terrified EVERY time they get on a plane. And this usually comes from the overactive imagination which links to the perceived threats. Now – just to clarify – a PERCEIVED threat is something that we FEEL is a real threat – even though it’s not an ACTUAL threat. So – for example – if we see a cat and we think it’s a tiger – we become very scared because we’re afraid we’re going to be attacked. But, if we understand that there is no actual threat here, then our anxiety will decrease a lot. So, this issue has been problematic because it needs to be trained through UNDERSTANDING of our flying environment. If we’re afraid that the wing of the airplane is going to fall off – and we can picture it happening – then we’re going to become VERY anxious. But if we understand that in most airplanes a wing is ONE long wing – as opposed to two separate wings that are stapled onto the side – it’s actually one long wing that goes through the airplane itself – you can see that it’s much less likely that it’ll just break off the side of a plane. So, being able to understand that your threats that you’re perceiving are not ACTUAL threats is what overcomes this part. It’s not really through just flying a lot here. It’s not necessarily through just deep breathing and through understanding your own emotional experience. But, it’s understanding that your environment is SAFER than you’re imagining. And that’s where the aviation component comes in. Tim Benjamin: It’s interesting – you touched a moment ago on this issue of people who fly a lot but are still terrified every time they get into a plane. Is that a common situation that you see? Nathan Feiles: It is actually a bit more common than one would think. I would say it’s NOT the majority of the people that I see – but there are a fair handful that do fly frequently for work and they say they basically panic each time. But they have to do it – it’s part of their work and they need their job. So, it is somewhat common. But the basic part that comes out of each person who flies under these conditions – it’s the perceived threats that come out. That they just don’t know what’s happening. They feel the plane is sinking after it takes off. They feel the turbulence. And they’re afraid that the plane can’t handle it. And the surrounding issue here is that they just don’t know. They just don’t understand what’s happening. They don’t understand what IS possible with the airplane and what ISN’T possible with the airplane. And in the air. So, this is pretty common actually. But it does tend to surround this one issue of perceived threats. Tim Benjamin: On the subject of perceived threats, what are the ones you see most commonly? Nathan Feiles: Well, as I’ve mentioned, the most common one is the idea that the wing is going to fall off of the plane. And another one is – that I mentioned before – the airplane sinking. People feel that when the plane takes off, that it’s sinking. And that you’re lucky to have recovered from the sink – as opposed to understanding that it’s just a reduction in speed that – in the air – is experienced as a sinking feeling. Another one that’s pretty common is the idea that the plane is just going to drop out of the sky. And one thing that is also helpful for people to know is that a plane just doesn’t suddenly stop and fall out of the sky. That planes are actually able to run on one engine. So, even if you’re on a 4 engine plane and 3 of the engines stop working – if 1 of the engines is working, the plane can still fly. And can still land. Even if ALL of the engines on an airplane stop working, it can still act as a glider. So, it doesn’t just drop out and go to the ground. It actually can glide through the air without the engines working and can glide to an airport or to a flat surface to land. Which is actually something people might have seen when that famous landing a few years back in the Hudson river. That plane lost both of its engines because of a bird – they ran into a bunch of birds. And the engines stopped working. BUT – they didn’t just drop out of the sky. They were able to glide to a place where the pilot could safely land the plane there in the river which IS a trained technique – that if there’s water that they can land in – that that’s actually a GOOD thing. The point of that is basically that – even without the engines – the airplane can still act as a glider and be able to be piloted somewhere. So, these are kind of the top three fears – perceived threats – that I see the most. But there are certainly other ones. Tim Benjamin: Well, it’s interesting because – staying with perceived threats for a moment – after 9/11, famously there was a reduction in the number of people flying – these are people who chose to drive instead – and as a result, the number of people killed on the roads in the United States increased somewhat. The irony being these folk were too scared to fly because of the threat of terrorism – but ended up being killed on the roads instead. Do you find that the kind of vague threat of terrorism is something that comes up in your conversations with clients? Nathan Feiles: It is something that comes up. And that’s another one of those – it is a perceived threat – mainly because the chances are still SO low of something like that happening. And this is where the media plays in to the fear of flying. And the media has a much bigger hand in this than people often realise. We are INNUNDATED with flying being unsafe through the media. Now, they DON’T report how EVERY day there are approximately 60,000 airplanes that takeoff and land. They DON’T report every one of those landings. But if ONE of those 60,000 flights has somebody on it who makes a lot of noise and has to be restrained by passengers, we hear about it. Even if the plane lands safely, we hear about it. If we hear of a plane that had a little bit of a structural issue, and had to land and make an ‘emergency landing’ as they call it, we hear about it. We hear about EVERY little possible negativity that happens on a plane that the media gets a hold of. Tim Benjamin: So, do you advise your clients to avoid consuming media coverage about air transportation, in particular those incidents? Nathan Feiles: Well – if it’s possible it would be a good idea. But the other issue is that the media understands – they play on the fears of people. And what happens is someone with a fear of flying is going to see a story like this and they’re going to RUN to it because they’re interested. So, while I’d advise to keep away from it, it’s something that’s hard to do. And if someone is truly afraid of flying, they’re going to run to those kinds of stories because it validates their fear. So, what ends up happening with these stories is actually INCREASES our fear of flying. And makes us think these things are going to happen to us. And we hear of a couple of stories a year where someone tries to do something to an airplane. And it fails. But, we hear about it. And, thus, we automatically assume the threat is MUCH greater than it was BEFORE we heard all about it. So – yeah – we do see this fear of terrorism that comes up. But it kind of falls into the same category as perceived threats. And almost into the normalization category where we understand NOTHING that we do on a routine daily basis is 100% safe. And this even includes crossing the street – isn’t 100% safe. So, the point of this program – and I know not everybody wants to hear this part but this will actually HELP with fear of flying – we’re NOT looking to prove that it’s 100% safe. Even though it’s probably as close to 100% as you can get in transportation. Or even most other things. We’re looking to train our brains to understand that we can DO this regardless of the simple – you know – the one out of a billion threats that’s actually out there. We’re trying to train our brains in this way to understand that it IS safe – even if there is some really small possibility. Tim Benjamin: You’ve talked about how your program works. You’ve talked about the different elements of it. A big question that I’m sure anyone listening to this will have will be: what results can somebody reasonably expect from taking that multi-faceted approach? Nathan Feiles: It’s had very good results. And that’s why I’m pushing this program – you know – as much as I have been. People can expect to – let’s say you come in with your anxiety about flying is at a 10 out of 10. It can’t get any worse – you can’t get on a plane. And your level is 10 out of 10. People have come from that down to about a 5 out of 10 after a couple of months. You know – it generally takes about two months. And we can extend that further if you want to go more in-depth in certain areas which certainly can be more helpful, too. People can get on a plane. They can use the exercises and techniques. And they can FEEL – maybe a little anxious still – but then good. And then they come from that – and before the next flight – they often repeat parts of the program as a brush-up. And their anxiety comes from a 5 out of 10 to about a 3 out of 10. A 2 out of 10. And one thing I’ll mention here which I’ve found quite common – and you can even put me in this role when I was younger – is that it can go from a great fear into something that you ENJOY – and look forward to. It actually becomes a source of EXCITEMENT in a way. So, when you learn about flying, I’ve found that people become very interested in it. And with fears – when we learn to OVERCOME our fears – it often triggers a form of excitement. And that ‘I can DO this – this is REALLY neat. I’m LEARNING about this – and I LIKE it.’. And I’ve found that often, people look FORWARD to flying after taking this program because they start to understand it – and they want to see it in ACTION. Like, they want to see not just their own progress in action. But they want to see all the stuff they’ve learned. All the stuff they’ve learned about the airplane. All the stuff they’ve learned about turbulence – and how to handle it – how the plane handles it. And they want to experience that sinking feeling when they go up in the air so they can understand – they understand it from a different cognitive perspective. And people actually begin to ENJOY flying – which is what I’ve seen more often than not, believe it or not. Tim Benjamin: That’s so interesting. That certainly reflects my own experience. Just recently I was on a plane sat next to the window. And this was a few days after interviewing Captain Jeff Neilson who was on the program talking about how lift works. And how wings work. And he talked at length about the role of – you know – how the wings were structured for takeoff, mid-flight and landing. And kind of actually observing the different surfaces on the wing changing in accordance with what he’d been talking about. I found that absolutely fascinating. Nathan Feiles: Oh yeah – it’s very interesting. When you learn about how an airplane takes off or lands, you can maybe learn about the flaps and how they kind of slow the airplane down as they approach for landing. You can see the flaps on the airplane lowering. And – yeah – you can see these structural changes. And when you understand what’s going on – or why you’re hearing a sound at that moment – it can be kind of neat to have – it gives you your own control over the situation which – many people with a fear of flying have that fear of LOSS of control. Understanding how it works brings the control back. Tim Benjamin: You’ve talked about what somebody who really commits to a program like yours can expect. A question that I’m still curious about is – you know – how long might the average person expect to wait before they start to see some REAL results? Nathan Feiles: The results usually start to happen as someone goes through the program. So, the program is structured – it’s structured as a minimum of 8 sessions – which is kind of – the time commitment is one session a week. And there is some homework. And this homework is what the normalization is geared towards. You know – it kind of gets you involved every day in some aspect of flying. But the homework is VERY simple. It doesn’t take more than 10 – maybe 5 to 10 minutes a day. It’s very very quick and simple work. And while, over-all, this whole process I’m explaining might sound somewhat complicated, for the person who comes in to do the program, it’s all very easy. You’re just – you’re running though the exercises, we’re talking about stuff. You know, the complicated part is from my end where I put it all together. But for someone else, it’s not something you have to be able to wrap your brain around every component. But, to get back to your question, the results – usually about half-way through the program – people start to experience flying DIFFERENTLY. And the approach to flying differently – their cognitive approach – they start to see it somewhat differently. And I’d say by session 4, there’s already a change in the experience – if not even sooner for some people. You know, I HAVE noticed that some people do want to take it to about 12 sessions. And maybe 15 if they really feel more anxious about it. Which – it can help. One thing that I’ll staple onto this is that the techniques that we do are also very helpful OUTSIDE of flying. That it’s very helpful for people who experience a lot of stress. I also run therapy for stress reduction. And stress prevention. And some of the exercises do overlap because they’re very good at preventing stress And helping with relaxation. So, people begin to use these exercises outside in their lives and they also can be very helpful. So, as things come together, I’d say within 2 to 3 months, most people are ready to try a flight. And then – beyond that – if they want to continue further to bring their anxiety down to zero – some people do that too – some people find that one time through the program is all they need. Tim Benjamin: Nathan – it’s been a real pleasure having you on the program. If someone listening to this wants to reach out to you, where can they find you? Nathan Feiles: Sure – they can find me – the name of my actual business is ‘New York City Life and Relationship Counselling’. So, if you go on the web – it’s www.nyclifeandrelationshipcounseling.com. That’s all one word – nyclifeandrelationshipcounseling.com. And all my contact info is through there. Tim Benjamin: Fantastic – thanks for joining us, Nathan. Nathan Feiles: Thank you Tim – I appreciate you having me. Tim Benjamin: And to you in the audience – thanks for listening. Bye. [ENDS] Now I’ve got a question for you… Did Nathan say something you could relate to? If so, tell me about it in the comments below. The post How to overcome your fear of flying: a therapist explains appeared first on Fear of Flying School.
Overcoming fear of flying: a goal-achievement expert shows you how
Do you know what separates people who succeed at overcoming their fear of flying from those who don’t? It’s commitment. In other words, you’ll only reach your goal if you’re DETERMINED to do so. After all, it takes guts to put yourself in feared situations over and over again. But what is ‘commitment’? And how can you get it (then keep it alive)? Those questions (and many others) are the subject of a new book that’s getting loads of attention right now. The book is called ‘Commit to Win: How to Harness the Four Elements of Commitment to Reach Your Goals’. It’s written by Dr Heidi Reeder, a commitment expert at Boise State University in the United States. Amongst its raving fans is The Economist magazine which says the book is “… delightfully practical as well as informative, packed with intelligence and clarity of both thought and expression. Learned, yet eminently accessible, it is a rare pleasure.” When I read that, I knew I had to get Heidi on the Fear of Flying School podcast. Because as you’ll see, her ideas are CRUCIAL if you want to stop fearing air travel. When you listen (or read the transcript below), you’ll discover: What ‘commitment’ really is (hint: it’s not what you think). The 4 elements of commitment. Commitment and fear of flying. How you can use Heidi’s ideas. And MUCH more. Interview transcript [STARTS] Tim Benjamin: Are you worried you don’t have what it takes to beat your fear of flying? If so, you’re going to love hearing from today’s guest. Hi – I’m Tim Benjamin with the Fear of Flying School, podcast. Dr Heidi Reeder is a social scientist at Boise State University where she’s spent years researching how you can use the idea of ‘commitment’ as a tool to achieve your biggest goals. Heidi has appeared everywhere from the NBC Today Show, National Public Radio and Time magazine. And, now, she’s written a new book that explains what ‘commitment’ is. And how deliberately committing yourself to something will help you overcome barriers to success. The book is called ‘Commit To Win: How to Harness the Four Elements of Commitment to Reach Your Goals’. And it’s a book that’s getting rave reviews. In fact, The Economist magazine says – and I quote – “Her book is delightfully practical as well as informative, packed with intelligence and clarity of both thought and expression. Learned yet eminently accessible, it is a rare pleasure.” end quote. Heidi, The Economist isn’t exactly known for hype, so you must be very happy with that review? Dr Heidi Reeder: Yeah – I was very happy, It came out right around April Fool’s Day – and I had to double check that it didn’t come out on April 1st – and that it wasn’t some kind of a joke – because it was such a kind review and I was thrilled. Tim Benjamin: Now, you’re an academic in the field of social science. Can you just explain to me, what does that area actually involve? Dr Heidi Reeder: So, a lot of people consider science generally in the fields of chemistry and sort of the ‘hard’ sciences. So, as a social scientist, what we’re interested in looking at is how do we create our reality around us. How do we construct our relationships? How do we construct our ideas of self? How do we construct our culture and our society? And we like to be able to – when we give advice – have it based on evidence instead of just our intuition or our own personal experience. Tim Benjamin: Now, your new book – it’s called ‘Commit to Win’. What do you mean by the word ‘commitment’? Dr Heidi Reeder: What do I mean by the word ‘commitment’? I think the word gets tossed around a lot to mean a lot of different things. Like, a lot of people will use it to mean an obligation, like something that you HAVE to do. And I understand that it can be used that way. The way that I’m thinking of it, though, are the things that we’re really invested in. What are the things that we’ve decided are REALLY a part of us? And that we feel – both like we HAVE to do them – but also that we WANT to do them at the same time. The way that psychologists define ‘commitment’ is having a psychological attachment to something. And an intention to stick with it. And so, the question I’m asking in the book is: what are the kinds of goals that we really want to get ourselves to be psychologically attached to – and that we really are going to be vested in continuing them – despite the difficulties that come up? Tim Benjamin: OK – so what sorts of things are you talking about? Dr Heidi Reeder: You know, it ranges. A lot of the research is on relationships: why do we commit to certain relationships or not? If our goal is to have a long-term relationship. What if our goal is to start and succeed at a business? What if our goal is to have long-term health? Long-term weight-loss or exercise routine? It takes more, in my view, than just having a will-power on any given day. You can do certain things with will-power. But if you want to actually have a long-term investment in something where it becomes a little easier over time, then I would recommend commitment. Tim Benjamin: Well, this is a good point. I mean, you mention will-power. How would you define will-power against the concept of commitment? Dr Heidi Reeder: Yeah – will-power is a little more aligned with self-control. Right? So, how can I make myself do something in this moment – or avoid doing something in this moment – to have that power over myself, right? Commitment is more along the lines of – will-power would help with commitment, right, because if I can make myself do something right now, maybe over time I’ll get comfortable doing it. And then it will become more natural in terms of commitment. So, I think commitment is more about long-term resilience. Commitment is more about making those consistent decisions over time – not just in the moment. Tim Benjamin: Now, you say in your book that commitment to achieving a goal – like overcoming a fear of flying for example – contains four elements. Can you explain to me what those four elements are? Dr Heidi Reeder: Yeah. There are four elements that have been found – over YEARS with social science research – of predicting HOW committed someone is. And I call them ‘Treasures’, ‘Troubles, ‘Contributions’ and ‘Choices’. And it works like this: if we REALLY treasure something – what I mean by ‘treasures’ is if we really VALUE something, if we really see the BENEFITS in something – we’re going to be more committed. But we weigh that against how TROUBLING is this situation? How DIFFICULT is it? What sorts of stresses and – you know – costs come along with it? And then, commitment is also a matter of: what have I already put into this commitment? I call it ‘Contributions’. What have I already invested in it? Have I put something in towards this goal that I can’t really get back? And so it makes me want to continue to get the benefit out. And then ‘Choices’ is the last component which refers to: ‘What are my other options?’ If I think I have more attractive options doing something else, then my commitment is going to be lower. And it creates a kind of a little equation: we’re most committed when we REALLY treasure something – and we’ve contributed a lot to it – and our troubles are few – and our choices are few. Tim Benjamin: OK, well let’s start with the first of those: ‘treasures’. Can you just outline in a little more detail what you mean by ‘treasures’? Dr Heidi Reeder: Yeah – so what I mean by treasures is – you know – whether it’s a job or a relationship or a goal like overcoming a fear of flying, what do I really – what is really the benefit for me in doing this? What is the positive outcome for me? You know, when I think of – you know – the fear of flying, for example, which – I don’t know if I would say I have a fear of flying – but I definitely have experienced high levels of anxiety in various flying circumstances. And what’s really helpful is to focus on – OK: what do I really value about this? Because it can be easy to get distracted by the negative anxiety feelings, right? Am I going somewhere where I get to do some work that I really value? Am I going somewhere where I get to interact with people that I really value? Or see new things. You know – really focusing on what is important to me. Or that I’ll just feel good about myself for overcoming this situation. So, those would be the kind of treasures that might come up in – ah – the fear of flying situation. Tim Benjamin: OK – well – balancing ‘treasures’ is the exact opposite: what you call ‘Troubles’. Where do they fit into the picture? Dr Heidi Reeder: Well, you know, I think when I’m experiencing anxiety and other people experience anxiety with flying, I think what we’re really focusing on are the troubles. You know, that it is really costly to get on this plane and experience what I’m going to experience. And that can throw the whole equation out of whack. I may be less committed to – you know – going on this great vacation or taking this new job opportunity because the trouble just seems too much. So, if we want to be committed, we have to find ways to minimize those troubles – either mentally put them in perspective in our head which I think a lot of the stuff that you offer on your website does. Or actually find ways to make the troubles LESS. Like be VERY specific: what is the trouble that I’m thinking? Is it that I’m not going to be able to breathe? Well, is there something I can actually DO about that? Right? So, that’s kind of how the troubles play out. If we can focus more on the treasures and LESS on the troubles – or actually INCREASE the treasures and decrease the troubles – we’re already on our way to higher commitment. Tim Benjamin: So when you’re balancing treasures with troubles, how is somebody supposed to measure the relative weight of those two things? Dr Heidi Reeder: You know, a really good way to think about it is like a cost/benefit analysis. Right? So, I think people who have a fear of flying have already done the cost/benefit analysis. You know – I know that I felt this way myself. You know – it’s not worth it, right? To be able to go there, to get on that plane – it’s not worth it for what I’m going to experience, right? And I’m saying that I think we can ALTER that cost/benefit analysis by actually taking steps to increase what we value about – you know – going to this new location. And DECREASE what’s so difficult and costly about it. You know – think about where we place our attention. Sometimes those of us who have a fear of flying, we focus on say the TV shows that, you know, show crashes and traumas – and that’s clearly very troubling to us, right? So, a way to balance that out would be: ‘Why don’t I actually ACTIVELY watch a lot of those shows that show people going to interesting, great locations. Because it’s not even statistically close the number of times that people make it to these wonderful locations and have these amazing experiences relative to the times that they don’t. The ACURATE treasure/trouble ratio – or cost/benefit analysis – is a GOOD one. So, it’s a matter of getting our minds in line with that reality. So, what do I watch? What do I pay attention to? What stories do I read? You know – do I get Time magazine which might have scary stories in it? Or do I get a travel magazine that shows all these beautiful, wonderful locations? So that might be part of it. Tim Benjamin: In other words, deliberately focus your mind on the positives? Dr Heidi Reeder: Deliberately focus your mind on the positives. Now, that’s the COGNITIVE part of it – the mental part of it. But I think there’s also a BEHAVIOURAL part of it. You know, for me – for example – one of the things that makes me really anxious about flying is that I often have air sickness. So – OK – is there something I can actually DO about that? You know – actually go into problem-solving mode and find a way to reduce that trouble. You know – try out different – you know I get those little knitted elastic wrist-bands – I think they’re called C-Bands – where they apply pressure to your wrist at an acupressure point. That reduces sickness. So that’s something I can ACTUALLY do, right? Another trouble for me is the chaos around me. So what can I do? Can I put in headphones? Can I bring my favorite music or my favorite podcasts? Or special shows that I’ve just downloaded for that trip? That increases my treasures – right – and also decreases my troubles at the same time. It’s about making a plan, I think. Tim Benjamin: So, it’s an active process – it’s not just a kind of WILLING process – hoping somehow that the treasures are going to outweigh the troubles? Dr Heidi Reeder: Yeah – I think it’s really easy whenever we have a challenging part of ourselves to say ‘well – that’s just the way I am’. Right? Or ‘I’m just an anxious person’. Or ‘I’m just fearful of flying’. You can apply that to any number of things. But I think a better approach is to say – yeah – that IS how it’s been in the past. Now, how can I be PRO-ACTIVE? Can I actually sit down and make some choices that would increase how much I’m going to value this? And decrease how difficult it is? Now, it may ALWAYS be difficult at some level. But if you can reduce it – even a little bit – it can make a big difference. Tim Benjamin: OK – so as we were saying a little earlier, there are four factors involved with building a commitment. And we’ve just been talking in detail about treasures and troubles – which are factors number one and factors number two. Factor number three is the concept of ‘contributions’. Can you tell me a bit more about that? Dr Heidi Reeder: Yeah – there’s a really powerful process that social psychologists have seen again and again. Which is, when we start to contribute to something – when we invest our time in something – when we invest money in something – when we invest our creativity in something – we tend to want to see it through. It’s almost like the commitment can take on a life of it’s own. So, if you can find ways to INVEST in overcoming your fear of something, it’ll sort of push you to keep doing it – even when you don’t feel like it, right? So, you can think about this in a BAD way. Like what gamblers do, right? The MORE they gamble, the more they want to keep gambling to get it back. Well, can we use this in a way that actually HELPS us? Can I invest something? Can I invest in – um – you know – a great suitcase? Well, now, I might feel like I need to use it, right? Could I invest by putting on Facebook – or some other social media ‘Hey everybody, I’m going to travel to X’? Well now, I’ve invested in my identity. I’ve invested in my ego a little bit in maybe needing to follow through with this, right? There’s actually a website – it’s called StickK.com – where they have you do something called a ‘pre-commitment’ which means you put down what your goal is. And then you say ‘Here’s my goal – and if I don’t complete it by X date, then I’m going to pay this much money to these people.’. So, what you might do is say ‘If I don’t successfully complete a two-hour plane trip in the next month, then I’m going to pay $100 to the political party that I’m AGAINST.’. Or some cause that I’m AGAINST. And so you actually put your credit card in – and everything – into the website. And, now, there’s this PRESSURE like ‘I need to follow through on that.’. If you combine that with INCREASING what you value about going – and DECREASING all the challenges – you’re setting yourself up. It’s a pretty good little equation that starts to put things in your favor. Tim Benjamin: Now, there’ll be people listening to you say that who’ve got a cynical – they’ve got a cynical hat on, right? They’ve heard things like this before. Does that stuff REALLY work? Or does it just sound good? Dr Heidi Reeder: [Laughs] There’s SO much research on pre-commitment it’s actually kind of amazing. I mean, obviously, any ONE person is still a person that’s allowed to make choices. And they may decide not to follow through with it. But – statistically speaking – when people put themselves out there and they say ‘I’m going to give X up unless I do that.’- it actually really DOES increase the likelihood – at least statistically – you know – across ALL people. It increases the likelihood that – you know – you’ll follow-through on it. And here’s the thing: each time you follow-through on it – even if it’s awful – even if the whole time that you’re on there you’re like ‘This is terrible’ – at least I’m not paying $100 to this thing I don’t want – but it’s miserable. At LEAST then you’re getting the experience. And as you know – and as I’m sure everybody knows – just getting more experience flying – or with ANY fear that we have – whether it’s snakes or public speaking or whatever – just familiarity – will help out a LOT. Tim Benjamin: Now, factor number four in your equation is the concept of ‘Choices’. Tell us a little bit about that. Dr Heidi Reeder: Yeah – we’re more committed – this is going to sound kind of strange – but we’re more committed – whether it’s a relationship or a job or whatever – we’re more committed when we don’t think we have a better choice. Right? So, maybe I’m not all that happy at a job or something like that, say. But if I still think it’s the BEST job I can get right now, I’ll be more likely to stick it out, right? But other choices that are more attractive can lure us AWAY from our commitment. So, let’s say that I – you know – applying it to the fear of flying scenario – you know – what are my other choices? Right? I can get on the plane and I can get somewhere I want to go. And meet some needs in terms of having a full life and all that kind of stuff. OR – I can stay home, right? OR – I can travel via car or bus, right? And so we sort of – you know – make this judgment in our head about what is the better choice. And MY suggestion would be that you really look at that realistically and say – you know – given the options, maybe this really IS the better choice. Or it isn’t, you know. Tim Benjamin: That’s a really interesting point in terms of my own story. Because for several years, I couldn’t get on a plane at all. And I was living in Australia in the city of Sydney which is on the far east coast of Australia – which is about the same width as the US. So, it was kind of like living in New York – but having my family based in the equivalent of San Francisco. And I found myself once actually taking a train for THREE nights ONE-WAY. And a train back – ANOTHER three nights – the other way. And that was the thing that kind of – ah – REALLY made me realize that when it came to choices, there was NO other choice other than to get back on a plane again. Dr Heidi Reeder: Yeah – exactly. And I think keeping that in your mind – you know – it’s easy to just focus on what I don’t like about having to go on the flight – I mean I know that it’s easy for me like ‘Oh my gosh’ – you know – kicking and screaming. But REALLY – what’s my option? Do I REALLY think it’s a better option to take a three hour trip? OK – no. Do I really think it’s a better option for me to live my life – you know – in ONE location? No! If I REALLY think that through – along with the other elements – you know – that’s the thing – as I think if you come up with a plan where you’re saying ‘OK – let’s get realistic about my choices. OK – great – now let’s INVEST in getting me to want to fulfill this goal of overcoming this fear – or at least going DESPITE the fear.’. Right? And finding ways to value it more – to REALLY treasure the opportunities that come with that. And reduce the troubles where I can. You know, you’ve just changed the commitment equation in your favor. Tim Benjamin: So, we’ve talked about those four elements. When a person first decides that they’re going to commit to something, where should they start? Dr Heidi Reeder: So – I think when people want to begin, I would actually – you know – what’s occurring to me right now – is to actually begin with ‘Contributions’. To actually begin by putting something towards the goal. So, if I want to overcome my fear of flying – or if I want to fly DESPITE the fear – how can I start to CONTRIBUTE to that goal? Can I sign up for a class? Can I start investing some of my time in listening to these podcasts? Can I – can I contribute to other people in helping THEM overcome THEIR fear? If I start to take – you know, I think a lot of times what social scientists are trying to point out to people is that you’re feelings will FOLLOW your actions. Right? So, whether I feel like it or not, if I start taking actions, if I go onto that – you know – united.com or kayak.com website – and I start looking at the trips, I start investing my time. Or I start creating a really cool itinerary for somewhere – a dream place – I’d like to go to. I think by taking those first little steps – and investing in a long-term plan – that the other ones will then start to fall in place as a result. Tim Benjamin: Heidi – there’ll be people listening to this going ‘Look – I get the theory – totally understand it – totally buy into it – but somehow I just can’t FEEL it – I can’t see how it applies to me. Maybe it works for other people. But the nature of MY phobia – the nature of MY fear of flying – is so intense – I just can’t see how this could be relevant to ME and MY problem.’. What do you say to people like that? Dr Heidi Reeder: That’s a totally understandable thought to have. I think people have the same kind of fear when they’re afraid of being in a relationship which is also kind of a common thing. And so the idea is that – I think part of it is that you DO have to believe that something can work for you. Or it probably can’t. You know – I told you about those C-Bands I wear around my wrists. I don’t ACTUALLY know if those reduce my sea sickness or flying sickness. But if I BELIEVE they do, it actually does make a difference. So, I think part of it is opening up a corner of your mind to the possibility that there IS – that you CAN grow. That you CAN develop. You know – that is a REALLY important thing to have that kind of self-belief. And the other thing is that commitment isn’t just reserved for SOME people. We ALL have the ability to deeply commit. In fact, anybody listening right now is deeply committed to a variety of things in their lives. So, commitment is an inherent part of us. It’s part of our structure. We’re all HIGHLY able to commit. We wouldn’t have survived this long is we hadn’t committed to being part of society. Or doing what it takes to survive. So, applying that – saying – OK – if that’s true – you know – why can’t I apply that to this situation? Tim Benjamin: When tackling a big life goal – you know – my personal experience – whether it’s fear of flying – learning to speak another language – trying to get really good at tennis – is that even when I commit, I inevitably hit set-backs along the way. You know – if we take the flying example – my experience was that I’d have a whole series of flights were I got better and better and better. And then – out of nowhere – I’d have a really bad flight. And that can be dispiriting. It can be depressing. It can kind of sap your enthusiasm. What’s a strategy for dealing with those sorts of setbacks? Dr Heidi Reeder: That is SUCH a good question. I think another myth about commitment is that once I’ve decided I’m committed that I’ll feel committed every day. You know – it will all be forward motion. But if we know – if we accept the fact that the research has shown us again and again and again – that our level of commitment is based on these four factors – we’ll are those four factors going to be the same EVER SINGLE DAY? No. Some days – whether it’s your job or your relationship or – you know – traveling – the troubles are going to be a lot worse. The key issue is NOT to give up on that particular day. Right? If I was to say any day that I’m not happy in my marriage – for example – if I was going to say – well that’s it – I guess I’m not committed. No! No! No! No! No! It doesn’t work that way. Right? If there’s ever a time where – for whatever reason – I can’t contribute as much to my job – does that mean I’m no longer committed? No! No! No! No! No! You’ve got to look at the bigger picture. Right? And in the bigger picture, you just keep taking steps to get you back in line with what you want to accomplish. Tim Benjamin: Listen Heidi – your new book ‘Commit to Win’ is published – I think I’m correct in saying on the 15th of May 2014. Dr Heidi Reeder: Yes. Tim Benjamin: Thankyou so much for sharing your insights with our community. I think everybody will find this enormously interesting. Dr Heidi Reeder: Thankyou Tim Tim Benjamin: And to you in audience – thanks for listening. [INTERVIEW ENDS] Your opinion What do you think of Heidi’s ideas? Will understanding them help you deal with your fear? Let me know in the comments below. One more thing If you get something useful out of this interview, could you return the favour by spending 10 seconds to rate my show in iTunes? You’ll be making it easier for other people to find – and you’ll help me reach more people. How do you leave an iTunes review? Simply visit my page on iTunes. Then click on the blue button under my photo that says ‘View in iTunes’. That’ll launch your iTunes app. In the app, simply click on the tab that says ‘Ratings and Reviews’ – then leave your rating The post Overcoming fear of flying: a goal-achievement expert shows you how appeared first on Fear of Flying School.
Airplane turbulence: a pilot explains why you can relax
The words ‘airplane’, ‘turbulence’ and ‘fear’ have a nasty habit of popping up in the same sentence. But it turns out that airplane turbulence isn’t something you need to worry about. Why? Because turbulence DOES NOT represent a threat to your plane. In fact, there are NO examples in recent decades of an airplane crashing thanks to turbulence. So why do people hate it? I think it’s because they don’t know what it is. And in the absence of FACTS, negative thoughts go unchallenged. That’s why I invited retired Delta Airlines captain, Bill Watts, to join me for a chat. Bill’s working on a project with Delta and the US Government’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) to find better ways to spot and avoid turbulence (P.S. Don’t miss the interview I did with NCAR about air turbulence). In this interview, Bill gives you the information you need to challenge your negative thoughts… Tune in to my interview with Bill (or read the transcript below) and you’ll discover: What turbulence is. How it works at different altitudes. Why it’s NOT a threat to your plane. How to avoid injury when flying through it. New systems for identifying and avoiding it. And MUCH more. Interview transcript [STARTS] Tim Benjamin: Is turbulence one of the things you hate most about flying? If so, check out today’s interview. Hi – I’m Tim Benjamin with the Fear of Flying School podcast. Today’s talk is with retired Delta Airlines Captain, Bill Watts. Bill is representing Delta in a project the airline is working on with the US National Center for Atmospheric Research. The aim of the project is to make it easier for pilots to spot – and avoid – turbulence. And given that lots of you have emailed me to say you HATE turbulence with a passion, I figured it would be great to get Bill on to explain what it is. And why you DON’T need to worry about it. But, before we get into the interview, can I first ask you a big favour? If you find this – or any of my other interviews – useful, I’d love it if you could spend 10 seconds jumping into iTunes to rate the Fear of Flying School podcast. If you do, you’ll really be helping me out. And you’ll be helping out other fearful fliers by making it easier for them to discover the Fear of Flying School podcast. Now, if you don’t know how to rank a podcast on iTunes, simply visit Fear of Flying School dot com where you’ll find quick instructions on the page containing this interview. It’s the page headlined ‘Why You Can Stop Hating Turbulence’. OK – without further ado, here’s my interview about turbulence with Bill Watts… Tim Benjamin: Today we’re going to be talking about turbulence and how it affects air travel. Before we get going, I think it would be really useful for people who’re listening to this just to get a better understanding of the different kinds of turbulence. Obviously some turbulence exists at low altitude – that’s the stuff that people feel just after the plane’s taken off or just before it lands. And then there’s that other kind of turbulence, which exists up, at cruising altitude. Can you just talk me through, to start with, what sort of turbulence people are likely to experience at low altitude? Captain Bill Watts: Well, first of all, let me give just a little background on turbulence as a phenomenon. Turbulence is merely a disturbance in a fluid called ‘air’ – similar to the waves in the ocean. And many things can cause these disturbances. And even though it appears to be mystical – because we can’t SEE the air movements – it’s similar to a sea-state – or even a bumpy road – which are easily observed. But, to be more specific about the LOW altitude, in the lower atmosphere, typical causes of turbulence can be terrain disrupting a steady flow where air moves from high pressure to low pressure. Just basic physics. Tim Benjamin: And when you say ‘terrain’, what do you mean by that? Captain Bill Watts: In other words, if we had a 20 knot wind and it’s going from the surface up to 10,000 feet. And it’s flowing along. And it has a mountain in front of it. Or a mountain – say – that goes up to 4,000 feet. That terrain will impact that airflow and cause it to be turbulent. It would be much like if you had the ocean rolling over a breakway – say 100 yards from the shore. So, it’s just an obstacle to the airflow. And when the airflow hits that, it becomes turbulent. Does that make sense? Tim Benjamin: It DOES make sense. What about airports which are not located near mountains? I mean, they can get a bit bumpy at times as well, right? Captain Bill Watts: Correct. And it doesn’t have to be just terrain. It can be buildings. It can be intersections of different airflows. So, it’s ANYTHING that disrupts that airflow is what can cause us turbulence. Just like – again I like to refer back to the ocean – because people can see how the ocean can be affected by either a rock formation or currents coming in from different directions. So that the changes in speed AND direction – whatever the reason – whether it’s a mountain or a building or currents coming together – are caused by the differences either by these impacts of terrain. Or it could be atmospheric pressure. Temperature. Or even the rotation of the Earth. And that rotation of the Earth causes a frictional affect on the wind. So, all those things can impact that flow. And if there’s no clouds associated with this disturbance, we call it ‘clear-air’ turbulence. Or nickname is ‘CAT’. Convectively – convective activity – like thunderstorms, or cumulus fluffy clouds, can also create turbulence. In other words, these flows that are created, create these clouds and moisture. And when they are associated with this convective activity – we call that ‘convectively induced turbulence’ – or ‘CIT’. So, lots of things can affect that flow. The ‘turbulence’ is just another name for that flow being disrupted. Tim Benjamin: So that’s turbulence at LOW altitude. What kind of turbulence is typically encountered at cruising altitude? Well, generally, turbulence at cruising altitude is very similar to the low altitude forms of turbulence. The differences are caused by just different phenomena. For instance, at the higher altitudes we have the jet stream, which most people are familiar with. And that’s just a very high volume of air and high velocity of air – sometimes up to 150 knots – found at the higher altitudes. And I won’t go into all the causes of the jet stream but most people are at least familiar with the jet stream. So, that’s one factor in the higher altitudes you don’t see at the lower altitudes. Another is the convective activity which we talked about earlier associated with thunderstorms. Build up to quite high altitudes – sometimes 40 or 50 thousand feet. And all that convective activity – or airflow within that thunderstorm – creates a lot of disruptions in the atmosphere at the higher altitudes. Sometimes as far as – I don’t know – 50 to 100 kilometres away from the thunderstorm itself. So, the net effect is essentially the same – they’re just disruptions in the air flow as described for the lower altitudes. And we still talk about the CAT and the CIT – or convectively-induced turbulence – and clear-air turbulence in the upper atmosphere. So, it’s just – I guess – the cause and effect are slightly different – but the NET effect is the same. It’s just a disruption in the fluid. And it becomes somewhat mysterious because people don’t see the effects of air because it’s invisible. Tim Benjamin: Well, if they COULD see, what WOULD they see? Captain Bill Watts: I’m sorry – say again? Tim Benjamin: Sorry – if they could ACTUALLY see turbulence, what would they be looking at? Captain Bill Watts: Well, very much like the ocean currents. If you stand on the sea shore and watch the ocean roll in and the waves break, or if you drop a rock in a pond somewhere, you’ll see the ripples of that disruption go away from the rock. If you have a sea wall that’s, maybe, 100 meters off the shore, then you can see the waves break over that and the disruption of those waves. And if you stand in those waves, you can feel the effect of it as well. So, it’s just another body of fluid that you cannot see, but if you watch the ocean, you have a similar phenomenon. Tim Benjamin: On that point, people often talk about planes hitting ‘air pockets’. Is there such a thing as an ‘air pocket’? Captain Bill Watts: Not really. ‘Air pocket’ implies a vacuum. And there’s really not a vacuum out there. It’s more like, going back to the oceanic waves that cause the airplane to move up and down. So, typically there’s not a whole lot of up and down movements with LOWER levels of turbulence. But even with that, people are affected by that. And even with the heavy turbulence, the VERTICAL movements of the aircraft are usually in – I don’t know – less than 10 feet or so. The MAIN point is that when you’re sitting inside of a ‘closed system’ – like the cabin of an aircraft – movement seems to be exaggerated. Especially if someone is apprehensive. And I can assure you that people experience more radical movements in other areas of their life. Like riding in a boat. Riding in a vehicle off the highway. Or on an amusement ride. So, it’s more the ‘closed’ system – and the apprehension I think – that creates that effect. VERY seldom do you have a large-scale movement of the airplane. And then, it’s not really a safety factor as much as it’s an apprehensive factor. Tim Benjamin: If we talk about how long an episode of turbulence typically lasts for, I mean, is there a kind of rule of thumb? Captain Bill Watts: Well, typically, the duration of the episode is very short for the heavier turbulence. It’s kind of like the wave that we talked about that you might see as a surfer. Oftentimes a surfer will ride a wave for a fairly good distance. And then, when it breaks, it’s fairly dramatic. But for the heavier turbulence, it doesn’t last very long. But for the LIGHTER turbulence, it’s kind of like if you looked at a stream going over some rocks. And if those rocks existed for a long distance, then you could have that turbulent flow across the stream for quite a long time. So, you know, when you talk about lighter forms, they can last for a number of minutes. And again, it just depends on the circumstances. Often at these lower levels of turbulence, the experienced traveller almost finds it easier to sleep with the rhythmic movement of the aircraft. I know a fearful flier may not be able to do that. But it is kind of interesting that some travellers are not affected by that at all. Tim Benjamin: It’s interesting that point about lower level turbulence versus cruise level turbulence. I mean – does it tend to last longer or shorter depending on the altitude? Captain Bill Watts: Not necessarily. Again, we talk about the higher altitudes – being above 30,000 feet. Sometimes, depending on the weather phenomena, it could last for a longer period of time. But, again, these levels – from a safety standpoint – are fairly light. Tim Benjamin: Now, we talked a moment ago about how – particularly for nervous fliers – the plane can sometimes feel like it’s shaking a bit too much. And, perhaps, for a little too long. What’s the impact on the airframe of the plane of turbulence? Captain Bill Watts: Well, like any object in motion, the aircraft follows the laws of Newton. And this means the aircraft is like a ship in the ocean. But we cannot see the air that the aircraft navigates through. As turbulence is created, the aircraft rides through the waves, much like a boat. Unlike a ship, that could be swamped with water, the aircraft is enclosed – and has much more ability to move around in its fluid without any concern of taking on water, if you will. Or taking on air. So, it’s a VERY solid structure. It’s built to EXTREME safety standards. And if you look at all the statistics, you’ll see that it’s just VERY rare that an aircraft is affected by it – these acts of turbulence. So, I think it goes back to the apprehensive flyer sort of exaggerating in their mind what’s really happening to the airplane. But I can assure you that the airplane can withstand much more than you will EVER experience. Tim Benjamin: And so what should people think when they see the wings bouncing around? Captain Bill Watts: Well, you would HOPE that they would bounce around because a RIGID structure can break more quickly than a dynamic structure. If you’ve ever looked at a very tall building, they’re DESIGNED, structurally, to sway. And that’s the same thing with an aircraft wing. It’s DESIGNED to bend and flex with the movement of the airplane and the lift that’s created by the airplane. So, movement of the wing is actually designed into the structure. Tim Benjamin: OK – so that’s the airframe. What about the engines? Are they affected at all by turbulence? Captain Bill Watts: The engines are minimally affected by slight disruptions in air flow. And that’s all turbulence is. Since they’re designed to such high safety standards, again. The engine is designed to withstand the ingestion of large birds – again – for certification. And I assure you that a large bird will create MUCH more of a disruption of an airflow through the engine than any turbulence. Tim Benjamin: So, that’s the engine. What about the interior of the aircraft? Any issues there that people should be worrying about – or not worrying about? Captain Bill Watts: Well, the aircraft interior is just an integral part of the total airframe – moving in conjunction with the aircraft. The main thing is that you want to be strapped in – meaning having your seatbelt on, the flight attendants seated and all loose objects are restrained. In other words, the overhead bins are closed. And people hold on to their iPad or tablet, so to speak – if you were getting some VERY heavy turbulence. Tim Benjamin: And what about the squeaking? Sometimes, if the plane is moving around – and this is true on the ground as well actually – sometimes the bins, the overhead bins, squeak a bit. And some of the other bits of furnishing just sort of rub up against each other and squeak a bit. Is that something to be concerned about? Captain Bill Watts: Not at all. Again, the aircraft has been designed to withstand all these different movements and motions from takeoff to landing. And the safety factors built-into an aircraft are INCREDIBLE. If you’ve been involved in the design of aircraft you would be AMAZED at the safety that’s built into it. Tim Benjamin: OK – so we’ve talked about what turbulence is. We’ve talked about what how aircraft are designed to handle it. What I’m keen to talk to you about now is how people involved in aviation – whether that’s pilots, air traffic control, etc go about minimizing exposure to turbulence in the first place. And I guess the first question is: are there certain kinds of turbulence that you try to minimize exposure to? Captain Bill Watts: Well, first of all, we might want to talk a little bit about how turbulence can cause the injury. And if it’s strong enough to move the airframe around, it can make it difficult for people to walk around the cabin. And a person could fall and have a resulting injury – just like people can be walking along on a sidewalk and step-off the curb and trip. Same thing can happen on an airplane. The heavier levels of turbulence can cause items to move about the cabin. But two important things need to be noted. First, these levels of turbulence statistically seldom occur. Secondly, if everyone is seated with a seatbelt secure as we talked earlier – and all objects are stowed – it’s virtually IMPOSSIBLE to have an injury in this scenario. But back to your other question, it is important for the airline to provide the best experience to the customer that’s possible. So, the air traffic controllers, the dispatchers and the pilots – and the community as a whole – typically tries to minimize the exposure to the heavier levels of turbulence – sometimes called ‘moderate’ turbulence or greater. And, as mentioned, this level of turbulence is NOT common and usually can be avoided. However, even when it is encountered, if everyone is properly secured and followed the steps that we talked about earlier, then it’s pretty impossible to hurt anybody. We estimate that well over 95% of all turbulence is ‘light’ – or less. The airline and crews try to balance the passenger experience by minimizing turbulence. But not to the point of avoiding ALL turbulence – which might require delays or even making an extra stop on the flight for additional fuel. So, I think most people would be willing to tolerate light turbulence as opposed to flying at such a low altitude that they would have to have a two hour stop somewhere in-between to get additional fuel. Tim Benjamin: And, presumably, that explains why often – you know – one will board a plane and one of the pilots will come onto the public address system before takeoff and say ‘Look, it’s going to get a little bumpy or a little choppy just after we take off’. Because I know that for people who hate turbulence, they hear that and think ‘Oh – WHY are we taking off when we know it’s going to be a bit bumpy?’. Captain Bill Watts: Yeah – and the reason is that – would you prefer to delay the flight for five hours? You might have a different reaction from the rest of the passengers! [laughs]. ‘You’re going to DELAY my flight for FIVE hours? When it’s NOT unsafe?’. Tim Benjamin: Just looking at what pilots do when they do encounter turbulence, what’s the scene in the cockpit typically? Because – again – for people who’re terrified of flying, in their own minds, there are all sorts of terrible thoughts happening. What are pilots thinking when the plane encounters some turbulence? Captain Bill Watts: Well, that relates to the previous question about do we operate in turbulence? Yes we do. Weather is ALWAYS a factor in flying. And it’s important to note that we never fly in any situations we deem unsafe. The aircraft is certified to withstand a LOT more stress than is seen in any normal operation. And an aircraft is certified to fly up to the specific cross-wind limits. And the crews are TRAINED to these limits. Often a crew might land or takeoff in gusty winds but both the crew AND the plane are well within the limits of regulatory requirements. And these regulatory requirements are strictly monitored by government agencies. A passenger might see a storm in the vicinity of the airplane, but the crew maintains a minimum distance depending on the level of storm was to the associated turbulence. These operations are safe, are operating within prescribed guidelines. And if the airline did NOT use these guidelines, the aircraft could be delayed or even diverted to another airport like we talked about earlier. This would create significant disruptions to the passengers and, therefore, impact the customer experience in other areas. So, like anything in life, there’s always a balance of what the goals are. Tim Benjamin: Presumably, then, that kind of scene in the cockpit itself when the plane is bumping around a bit is a fairly calm and ordered and planned one. Is that right? Captain Bill Watts: Absolutely – I mean – a pilot is always aware of the conditions around him and he has VERY strict guidelines as to how to deal with those contingencies – whether it be turbulence or [?] weather or factors. Tim Benjamin: So, we’ve talked about the cockpit. What about the cabin crew? What do they do when it gets a bit bumpy? Captain Bill Watts: Well, the cabin crew is trying to manage that cabin. And it’s a joint effort with the cockpit and the cabin crew. They constantly coordinate with each other on how to manage the cabin. When I say ‘manage the cabin’, it’s based on the level of the turbulence. If the turbulence is at a low level, the captain will ask the passengers to stay in their seats with the seatbelts on while the flight attendants continue the service – because they have years of experience of moving about the cabin with lower levels of turbulence. If the turbulence reaches a certain level, the captain will tell the passengers to stay in their seats – with seat belts on – and the flight attendants to stow their equipment while taking THEIR seats – also securing their seatbelts. So, it’s a constant coordination between the cabin and the cockpit at achieving the goals of the flight. Tim Benjamin: We’ve been talking up until now about how everybody involved with aviation deals with turbulence. What’s the future of forecasting for turbulence? And I ask that question because I know that you’re deeply involved with a project at the moment looking at ways in which it can be improved. Captain Bill Watts: Yes – the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which I think is the organisation you talked with before, they’re working with agencies around the world. And they’ve developed some very important products to help improve how we identify turbulence. The first one is a system for inferring and reporting turbulence encountered by commercial transport aircraft from what we call ‘on-board flight sensors’. And these are just sensors that record movement of the aircraft. In the past, this system relied on subjective pilot reports that could be inaccurate in intensity and location. And then the second tool is a forecast model that is updated every hour and it runs on a super-computer and it takes the objective reports off the aircraft that we talked about previously. And it constantly improves the accuracy of the model. These tools are accessible to the airline dispatchers and the meteorologists. But they’re sometimes difficult to transmit to the cockpit in a timely manner – depending on the events surrounding the flight. So, the joint FAA and Delta demo which is using the NCAR product allows a small test group of pilots to use the wifi on the aircraft to get access to real-time data on a website to better manage the cabin with more timely and accurate information that supplements the existing sources. NCAR is constantly improving their models using other data sources to include satellite, ground-based [?] radar. They’re also working with other agencies around the world to improve the methodologies for predicting turbulence. And trying to encourage other airlines to embrace the new reporting technologies. So, there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on right now. Tim Benjamin: And will those technologies benefit passengers directly? Captain Bill Watts: Oh – absolutely – because we’ll be able to better predict and report the turbulence. And, as a result, we can better manage the cabin AND allow the passengers to know what the expectations are. Which brings up another point. We’ve done some informal surveys, and we’ve found that if a passenger KNOWS that he’s going to experience turbulence – and you tell him it’s gonna be ‘light’ turbulence for 15 minutes and we’re gonna turn the seatbelt on, they seem to be comfortable with that approach. But, if they’re flying along and unexpectedly encounter turbulence, it makes them more nervous because they didn’t expect it. Tim Benjamin: Bill – this has been a fascinating discussion. And I’m sure anyone listening to this will find it ENOURMOUSLY re-assuring – what you’ve had to say. That really brings us to the end of this which means it’s left simply for me to thank you very much for joining me on the Fear of Flying School podcast today. Captain Bill Watts: It was my pleasure. More help with turbulence… Now that Captain Bill Watts has explained what turbulence is, I recommend you do two things right now… Thing #1: check out my revealing interview with the US government’s top turbulence experts. Thing #2: learn how to apply your understanding of turbulence to STOP negative thoughts screwing with your head. How? By downloading your FREE copy of my new eGuide, Trapped: Why You Fear Being Stuck On A Plane – And What To Do About It. It’s packed with practical techniques you can start using TODAY (including the 3 vital steps to controlling a panic attack). Once you’ve read it, you’ll know how to INSTANTLY manage your negative thoughts about turbulence (and become as bored by it as everyone else). Here’s what people who’ve read my free guide are saying about it… “Thank you for making this guide. I’m really glad I found it.” – Lauren. “Once I read what you had to say, I started to laugh in relief. Finally, someone understood.” – David. “Your base of information is awesome, thank you.” – Paul. “Thank you for putting such a valuable resource out there!” – Lisa. To get your FREE copy instantly, click here. The post Airplane turbulence: a pilot explains why you can relax appeared first on Fear of Flying School.
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May 20th, 2013
Latest Episode
Jan 26th, 2015
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