Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Control, Stress and Fighter Pilots

I got to thinking today about control, mindfulness and stress. I think it was in the Times on a Saturday or Sunday that they use to have this great column by a Cambridge professor call Dr Happiness (or something like that)

I think he mentioned the stats about the sign-up differences in World War One (or Two – sorry so vague) between fighter pilots and bomber crews. Even though the mortality rates were significantly higher and the risks far more material for the fighter pilots than the bomber crews, the sign-up rates were far higher for calls of duty following their return from the first.

I have since thought that there’s probably underlying factors like general risk-taking and danger-seeking that would probably take the fighter pilots into their chosen career anyway. Dr Happiness’ point however was that it was all about control.

The fighter pilots felt in control of their own destiny. Able to manage themselves and their fate. Bomber crews however did not have the same ability. They relied on others to perform other tasks. To fly the plane. To manage the fuel. To navigate. To man the defensive gun turrets. To drop the bombs.

Why was I thinking about this? Primarily because of the control thing, and really trying to think hard and identify why there is such a hard-wired relationship between feeling in control and feeling happy? It seems simplistic, but it’s so deep-rooted.

I want to know why. Is it an in-built/ historic protection mechanism? A vestige of hunter-gatherer evolution that our social/ tribalism and modern-day team working has yet to wear away?

Relatively boringly, I know that it has such an impact on my work performance. If I feel I am in control, any amount of pressure can be applied and I deal in a fairly relaxed way. Out of control and the slightest thing feels like mental constipation.

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