For the price of 5 minutes in the simulator, this is good knowledge for both training departments and pilots.

The majority of all pilots are currently now grounded, due to Corona Virus Restrictions. As time goes by both airlines and pilots are faced with a question. 

How can you stay sharp when you cannot fly?

Is mental training and advanced visualisation the answer?  

Freddy Gleisner
Freddy Gleisner is committed to sports and performance psychology and he has worked in this field for 31 years. He has worked among others for Olympians, different sport teams, individual professional athletes as well as private companies and private individuals. 

Q: I am sceptical about mental training; how can you convince me that it can help me as a pilot?

A: I have coached and trained many different types of people and helped them master mental training. For example, some of the world’s top athletes, musicians in big symphony orchestras, top CEO’s who had to make big decisions, students who had important exams and also pilots who were faced with pressure getting a job or going through a step like command training. By complimenting their other type of training with regular mental training, they have achieved the results and goals, that their efforts justified them to get, and in many cases they exceeded themselves and fulfilled their dreams.

Allow me to give an example.

Throughout a longer period of time I had worked with a ballroom dancing couple; Camilla Egstrand & René Christensen, leading up to the Ballroom World Championship. Here they were going to prove that they belonged in the top ten. 3,5 months before the World Championship I received a call from Camilla. She is crying on the phone, as she tells me she has suffered a severe injury in her leg, going to restrict her from training for a long time. This was a catastrophe as the World Championship was approaching and if Camilla and René did not compete they would lose their sponsorship support from Team Denmark. I met with the unlucky dancer. Luckily she was already working with mental training. She was for example already using the advanced visualisation, 20 minutes 1 to 2 times per week. Now the couple had plenty of time for more mental training. Normally the couple would train up to 3 hours per day, so now both the male and female dancer, started visualising the perfect dance 30- 60 minutes every day using advanced visualisation.  After 3 months, so only 14 days before the World Championship, they were united back in the training studio ready to take the first dancing steps. Here they got a big happy surprise. The technical level that they had held, 3 months previous, was intact. The mental training had kept the technique current. They could naturally not train for as long as 3 months prior, as their physical strength needed to be trained up again. However, the happiness and motivation levels were huge, and the remaining 14 days before the World Championship was full of high quality training. The result was that Camilla & René achieved a place as no 8 out of 70 of the world’s best couples. Following that result, I did not need to remind them anymore about the importance of mental training.

Camilla Egstrand, René Christensen
Camilla Egstrand & René Christensen

Q: Why is it important to start with mental training right now? 

A: Mental training is not a quick fix, you cannot train a few times and then with a magic move, you have become mentally strong. As with other skills it takes time and requires training before you really get results. You have the time now. That is why you should start now, so you can benefit from your work, next time you are back as a pilot on the flight deck.

Q: It sounds a bit like chair flying, something many pilots already know?

The pilots I have met who knew about chair flying, had not been given much training in it. It is a bit like having access to the GYM but no-one has showed you how the machines work. I find it important that you learn for example, how and what to visualise, to think positive, to block out negativity and distractions.

The type of advanced visualisation I train, is perhaps an advanced form of chair flying.

It is not only about the ”visuals”– you also have to imagine ”hearing” the commands on the flight deck, imagine how touching and operating the switches and handles “feel”. Adding these extra senses to the visuals is why it is called advanced visualisation. If you are able to use advanced visualisation to  imagine how you work well with the technology (instruments, handles, switches on the flight deck), adding environment (other planes, ATC commands, weather) to make it realistic – if you train like this, then you can maintain your skills just as well as completing a real flight! 

“Through mental training it is actually possible to maintain your technical skillset as a pilot, even though you are not flying in a plane or a simulator. Many studies around the world has proved that by advanced visualisation exercises, it is possible to stimulate the brain in the same way as if the manoeuvre had been performed in reality.” -FREDDY GLEISNER

Q: Apart from staying sharp, how can mental training help a pilot?

A:. Apart from the extended visualisation, I think pilots can benefit from getting into positive thinking. Learn to reject negativity. Learning to relax. Become better at concentration. Knowing how to handle pressure and nervousness. 

 “Mental training and learning how to for example handle pressure is, in my view, just as important as to learn about how to fly a plane.“- FREDDY GLEISNER

As pilots you go through a lot of tests all the time and you have a job where there can be a lot of pressure. I am surprised that pilots, in my experience, have very little or no introduction to mental training.  

Q: Where should I start, if I want to get into mental training?

A: If you are new to mental training a good place to start is to work with positive thinking, so this becomes a routine, and you become a positive person. You probably think that it is nice being among positive people. Become one of them. 

Another skill that is good to start training is “thought stopping technique”. This does not mean you train to stop thinking. Though stopping, is a mental skill where you learn to reject a negative thought. For example if you start to doubt in yourself and your abilities to solve situations that arise.

Once you have become familiar with positive thinking and thought stopping, you can start moving on to the advanced visualisation. 

Q: How often do I need to train?

A: Working with positive thinking never stops. People are different and learn at different pace so hard to say how long you need to train the basics before you are ready for anything advanced. Once you are ready for the advanced visualisation, I suggest you train 3- 4 times per week for 30 minutes each time. 

Q: Where can I get help if I need a little guidance or help to get going?

A: In our web shop  you can invest in a mental training package I have developed for pilots who want to get into mental training. It consists of a booklet and audio files. To help pilots with advanced visualisations I have created an audio guided exercise I call an inner movie of a flight. During this exercise, I talk you through a flight, not how to fly, but I help you to get into a state of relaxation. I then control the speed of the movie. You can make variations in the inner movie, you may take-off or land at different airfields. Fly various types of approaches. Fly in various types of weather. Or handle various complex non-normal – which you will handle perfectly. It does not matter if you are a student pilot, new pilot or experienced pilot. You make the inner movie relevant to your situation. At the moment the aim could be to use the advanced visualisation to stay sharp, so you are ready to get safely back in the air. The material is designed so you can get going on your own, but if you need help – one on one coaching with me or one of my colleagues could be arranged via Ask A Pilot.