Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
  Home | Login | Schedule | Pilot Store | 7-Day IFR | IFR Adventure | Trip Reports | Blog | Fun | Reviews | Weather | Articles | Links | Helicopter | Download | Bio

Site Map


Private Pilot
  Learn to Fly

Instrument Pilot
  7 day IFR Rating
  IFR Adventure

Commercial Pilot

Multi-Engine Pilot

Human Factors/CRM

Recurrent Training

Ground Schools


Privacy Policy
About Me


Support this Website

Bad Habits

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
General Aviation Human Factors, November, 2009
CFIDarren Newsletter, June 14, 2010
New Captain Series:   Becoming a Captain | Bag of Crap | The Model Captain | FOTA | Threat & Error Management Series | CRM Series | Professionalism | Bad Habits | Safety Triangle | Barriers to Pilot Monitoring

When I consider the topic of bad habits, more than a few of my own bad habits as a pilot come to my mind.  I think about some of the shortcuts I take as a matter of routine.  Things that I know to be less than optimal help me shave moments from my pre-departure ballet and have become so habitual, I wonder how I can break the cycle.

Such decisions and actions made upon routine assumptions or quick judgments are deposits into the incident bank.  Once the bank is full, the result would be an incident or accident.  Having exposed some of my bad habits through my writing is somewhat cathartic and has fixed a good many of my bad habits.  A few still remain.  And eventually the curtains will be open and center stage where all can see will be the few number of bad habits that have never left me. 

Human Factors experts let us off the hook by telling us that "Habits are acquired behavior patterns repeated sufficiently that they almost occur involuntarily." (Human factors in the training of pilots, Jefferson M. Koonce)  We can pick up these bad habits from other students, from our flight instructors, and even from senior pilots we respect. 

Complacency can also assist us in developing bad habits, especially as you become more comfortable with the aircraft you fly.  It can start with checklist shortcuts all the way to "Hey watch this."  Sometimes we have an unwritten contract with ourselves that a bad habit is "part of the game" -- at least until a close call scares the hell out of us.  I remember a cross country flight where my bad habit of setting (and forgetting about) the friction lock on the helicopter collective caught up with me and nearly led to a full down autorotation when the friction lock came undone.  I learned a valuable lesson at the bottom of the autorotation when I still had power that I wasn't really dealing with an engine failure.  After that, I keep my hand near the collective like I was taught and never over-rely on friction locks to keep the helicopter at an altitude/blade pitch. 

Ever hear, "Old habits are hard to break?"  Ever hear the phrase, "You can't teach old dogs new tricks."  New research into neuroplasticity is teaching us that those phrases are simply incorrect.  Biophysiologists are teaching us that the brain can adjust and create new neural connections in response to new situations and changes in circumstances.  While the roots of this concept go back to the late 1800s, its not until the last 10 years that the scientific community has decided that its easy to break old habits and develop new ones to replace them.  Its all about breaking the cycle and making new, stronger connections.  Its about exercising the brain to make it stronger in new areas of experience.  And for those worried about Alzheimer's disease, these findings also suggest you can delay the onset of that disease by as much as a decade. 

Well, I'll never have a perfect flight, but I can use a proven technique to prevent me from taking shortcuts and decreasing the margin of safety for my flights.  I can use the brain's ability to rearrange itself to form new neural connections and unlearn bad habits.  Here's the technique in a nutshell:  recognize the bad habit, say "STOP", call out the consequences, say "STOP", and better alternatives. 

In the psychology field, I taught folks that addictions are never really cured, just replaced with other addictions.  The same thing applies here.  Exchange your old habit for a new stronger habit, in this case, you're looking for a good habit.  The good habit can become stronger with practice.  Some say it takes 21 instances to create the new neural connections which make your new habit a permanent one.  The key is to build on small successes.  Never try to eat an elephant in one bite.  

Remember it takes practice.  As you become better, you can shorten the process above to "Bad - STOP - Good".

Eventually your bad habit will be a thing of the past.

"Habits are safer than rules; you don't have to watch them. And you don't have to keep them either. They keep you."
 — Frank Crane

Your Thoughts...

Name: (Anonymous posts deleted)

E-mail: (if you want a reply)

How did you hear
of this website?
Message:  (What should I write?)
Business Card
News Group
Safety Seminar
Word of Mouth
(Required) Enter number from image to send:


Check this out...
  Home | Login | Schedule | Pilot Store | 7-Day IFR | IFR Adventure | Trip Reports | Blog | Fun | Reviews | Weather | Articles | Links | Helicopter | Download | Bio
All content is Copyright 2002-2010 by Darren Smith. All rights reserved. Subject to change without notice. This website is not a substitute for competent flight instruction. There are no representations or warranties of any kind made pertaining to this service/information and any warranty, express or implied, is excluded and disclaimed including but not limited to the implied warranties of merchantability and/or fitness for a particular purpose. Under no circumstances or theories of liability, including without limitation the negligence of any party, contract, warranty or strict liability in tort, shall the website creator/author or any of its affiliated or related organizations be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, consequential or punitive damages as a result of the use of, or the inability to use, any information provided through this service even if advised of the possibility of such damages. For more information about this website, including the privacy policy, see about this website.