Friday, June 29, 2007

Safety is a State of Mind and Proper Training

"We become what we think about." – Earl Nightingale

"The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack." - Morihei Ueshiba

The realization that we become what we think about was the pivotal force in Earl Nightingale's life, lifting him from a life of grinding poverty to helping him spawn an international radio show and become a pioneer in the industry of motivational recordings.

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, was one of history's greatest martial artists. Even as an old man of eighty, he could disarm any foe, down any number of attackers, and pin an opponent with minimum injury to his opponent.

What have these two distinguished gentlemen to do with safety? Nightingale emphasized the idea that we, as individuals, have the capability to choose our own thoughts and attitudes. Ueshiba instructed his students that training is not an event in of itself but a way of life. Controlling our attitudes and living in constant training are at the crux of creating a safe environment.

When we are new at a task, most of us are tentative and cautious. We don't want to mess up and we certainly don't want to get hurt. When we're still new at a task, we tend to have an inquisitive and heightened awareness and we tend to pay attention to instruction. We approach new tasks with a "beginner's mind" and are eager to receive proper training.

With increased knowledge and familiarity with a task, (whether it be driving a car, using a band saw, cooking steaks on the grill, even walking down a couple of flights of stairs with an armful of publications) comes increased confidence. This increased confidence is beneficial, up to a point. A natural inclination for all of us when we become proficient at a task is to start to lose respect for the hazards inherent in the task. While familiarity may not always breed contempt, it does tend to lead to carelessness.

As our proficiency and confidence increase, two thought patterns start to insidiously creep up on us:

1) An attitude of overconfident carelessness.

2) The all-knowing feeling of "Been there, done that. I already know all I need to know about this task and I don't need to know anything more".

What makes these two paradigms so clandestine and treacherous is they both work on an almost subconscious level. If we are not aware of the formation of these attitudes within ourselves, they will take over before we realize it, cloud our judgment and misdirect our actions.

Awareness of our present attitudes and the knowledge that we can control our attitudes is the first step in creating a safe environment for ourselves. Whenever we start to feel that we are total masters of a specific task, it is precisely the time to remind ourselves that, while we may be good at what we do, we have yet more to learn. We need to remind ourselves that accidents are most likely to happen to the beginner and the one who "knows it all".

In fact, it is well documented that pilots are most vulnerable to mishaps when they have 0 to 100 hours flight time (beginner) and when they have between 1000 and 1500 hours flight time ("know-it-all" hotshot). This phenomenon is most likely true in all industries.

Continuous training and review of the basics is the other half of the equation for maintaining a safe environment. Vince Lombardi, the coach of the winning Green Bay Packers, always started the training season with a football in his hands telling his players, "Gentlemen, this is a football". Lombardi knew that a continuous review of the basics was essential in crafting a championship team. That's the way we need to approach the tasks we do – review the basics. Train continually. Tighten up the slack.

One form of training that military aviators participate in is the "what if" game.

"What if you have just taken off from an airfield and a bird is suddenly sucked into your number 2 engine causing the engine to flame out. What are you going to do now, dude?"

The object of this training is to have a course of action already predetermined. Another form of training is to review the operator's manual before using a piece of equipment. Still another is to take a look at pertinent safety regulations on a regular basis. Different situations require different methods of training but the idea is to continually review the tasks that are to be performed, understand the hazards involved, and take appropriate action. Build a culture of continual training. A solid training plan not only increases our proficiency but also makes for a safer environment.

So let's take our cues from these two masters – Earl Nightingale and Morihei Ueshiba. Realize that the thoughts and attitudes we choose will make huge differences in our outcomes and that constant training will keep us sharp. We realize that we will never be entirely free from accidents. This big, goofy, wonderful world of ours is just too full of imperfections and unpredictability. But if we cultivate our attitudes toward safety and continually train at the tasks we must do, we will have done much to minimize injury and damage in our homes and work places, making it a safer place for ourselves and for others.



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