Alzheimer's blog

Focus on what really matters and soar above the clouds

By Angela Lunde May 28, 2014

Dr. Amit Sood, my colleague and mentor and a Mayo Clinic specialist in stress and resilience, shared a story with me that I'd like to share with you.

It's about an Air Force F-16 pilot who recently came to see him. Amit said the pilot began talking about how he lands his aircraft. It went something like this:

"I do a Z check to scan all the cockpit gauges and indicators. During this Z check, almost always one or two gauges are off. At that moment I have to prioritize — shall I focus on landing the plane or think about why that needle is off? I am trained to recognize danger. I am also trained to disregard minor malfunctions. With this dual set of skills, I have successfully landed the plane each time."

Amit went on to share that during their discussion the pilot curiously began to correlate his life with how he lands his F-16 plane, and in doing so, he became increasingly aware that although he was a skilled pilot, he wasn't piloting his family life all that well.

"The pilot," Amit said, "realized that he was reactive toward his wife and often focused on the minor imperfections. Even at cruising altitude at home, when things were outwardly quiet, his mind would be busy with memories of hurts and regrets. Worse, he had a tendency to launch pre-emptive missiles to avert future arguments and hurts. Some of these were totally imaginary with low potential of materializing. His life was thus miserable."

Amit shared that at the end of their discussion, the pilot left with the thought that if only he lived his life with the same gentility and care with which he flew his plane, he would be much happier.

"Think about something trivial about your loved one that has bothered you of late," Amit said. "Let go of it today and instead, focus on something profound that is right in him or her. Remember that having one negative thought equals having one less positive thought."

All of life contains seeds of wisdom for us to discover. Like the pilot, each of us can uncover things about ourselves that drain our fuel and impact our relationships and life.

We have the capacity to charter a different course, focusing more on what really matters. There is nothing more freeing then letting go and flying above the clouds.

May 28, 2014