Flight Plans: A Metaphor for Correcting Mistakes and Errors

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

What possible connection is there between a flight plan and correcting our mistakes and errors? I heard it explained once that when a pilot is flying a plane to a particular destination, the plane is rarely right on course.   Initially that was an unnerving bit of information.   I then learned that pilots are frequently making corrections to move the plane closer to the actual flight plan that they posted prior to departure.

Flight Plans for our Personal Lives

I found the constant correcting by a pilot toward the stated flight plan to be a useful metaphor for correcting and improving ourselves in our personal and professional lives.   For some of us, we are overly zealous about trying live the perfect “flight plan”.  These individuals tend to be obsessive, highly disciplined, but often find it difficult to have fun in the pursuit of their destination.   The “flight plan” or journey is not enjoyed because of the complete focus on the destination or goal.

At the other end of the pendulum are individuals who drift far away from their life’s “flight plan” and their ultimate destination, sometimes by their own choices, sometimes not.  For example, these individuals may experience serious illness, relationship issues, and/or addictions.

For the majority of us, we try to correct the flight plan a few degrees at a time to improve ourselves, our relationships, health, and/or work to reach our destination or goals.

Perhaps perfection need not be our ultimate goal but to know what the corrections need to be that will bring us closer to perfection and the desired “flight plan” for our lives.   In our personal lives, they are as many flight plans as there are individuals.   Discovering what kind of individual we are and/or want to be is a unique search for everyone.  Once we are clear about the “flight plan”, then it is a series of corrections and how to avoid the mistakes that will take us away from our flight plan and our various destinations.

Flight Plans Caring for Families

For those of us that are health professionals involved in the caring of families experiencing illness, we also know that the “flight plan” of working with families will need constant correcting and avoiding of errors.   There is much written by various health professionals about the kind of relationships and skills that will soften suffering but little about what errors to avoid in our relationships and how to correct those errors.

A few years ago, I presented at a conference in Iceland some preliminary findings about therapuetic errors and failures. The room was packed with fellow health professionals.    I was curious why so many had attended and so I asked the question: “Why did you decide to attend my presentation?”.  Several participants made the same comment:  “I know what I am supposed to be accomplishing when meeting with families with illness but I have never heard anyone present about mistakes and how we can correct them.   We all are making mistakes that we wish we could avoid”.

These preliminary findings were from research conducted with Janice Bell and our research assistants.  We observed retrospectively on videotape our clinical work with families who expressed dissatisfaction with our efforts to assist them. We discovered that the following errors had occurred with these dissatisfied families: failing to create a context for change; taking sides with family member over another; and/or giving advice prematurely.   By identifying these errors, we have been able to substantially correct our “flight plan” with families and are more sensitive to avoiding these mistakes.

Identifying common errors is the beginning of awareness to change our behavior as clinicians. Further improvement in our relational practice and clinical skills can occur through the demonstration of how to correct our mistakes when interviewing families.

To that end Maureen Leahey and I just produced a brand new 2010 DVD entitled:   Common Errors in Family Interviewing:  How to Avoid and Correct. You can view a sample streaming video of this DVD by just clicking on this link.   Specific interviewing skills are demonstrated that show how to work collaboratively with all family members in the room without taking sides and how to create a context for change once these mistakes have been made. Both physical and mental health issues are explored.

The skills to avoid mistakes and errors can also be read in more depth in the chapter in our book Nurses and Families:  A Guide to Family Assessment and Intervention (2009) 5th Edition.

To correct errors in our personal lives, even small corrections can make for substantial changes to move closer to the preferred “flight plan” of our lives.

The same is true in our clinical work with families.   Small corrections can move us closer to a preferred “flight plan” working with families that will offer more hope and healing to individuals and families who find themselves suffering an undesired and unplanned “flight plan” for their lives.

How close are you to your preferred flight plan for life and caring for families?

What small corrections would make for substantial changes towards your destination?

8 comments on “Flight Plans: A Metaphor for Correcting Mistakes and Errors”

  1. Laura Grande says:

    My personal flight plan at the moment consists of getting through university with a great education to be carried off to the people I care for as a future nurse. Staying on my flight plan can be hard at times, for example when I’m extremely stressed or have been reading for hours and hours on various pediatric or OB topics, I simply just want to shut off my brain and call it a night. While sometimes taking a night or two off from studying is good enough rest to get back into the game, I’ve found that lately it’s been more difficult than past years to stay on track. Being far from family and friends back home makes my mind wander off the important information from the here and now, and gets me thinking about how much I can’t wait for Christmas break to come, even though the summer just barely ended.

    However, when I get all these thoughts about calling it quits, I think about my future as a nurse. I know that’s where I want to be (in now less than two years!) and I know I would sacrifice a lot to stay on my educational “flight plan” to get there. I’ve lost the strong bonds I used to have with my friends back home in order to get my education from this university, and have sacrificed intimate relationships to get where I want to be in the future. Another important aspect of my life back home is being involved in the lives of my sisters. By being far away, I have made the short-term sacrifice of not being there for them while they are growing up, hoping that once I have my degree, I can return to them with open arms and develop the relationships that I’ve to some degree lost.

    I hope that the small sacrifices I’ve made will help me be a better nurse in the future when caring for families. Perhaps with these various experiences I will be able to relate to families further to improve their healthcare experience. However, at the moment all my thoughts and feelings are just that, simply thoughts and feelings about the future and where I will be. I know I will be a nurse but other than that, I don’t know anything for sure. I don’t know if my experiences will help the families I care for in the future, I don’t if my relationship with my sisters will return and be stronger than it was before I left, I don’t know how any of this will turn out, but I sure hope with by only straying off the “flight plan” here and there, I can stay connected to those back home, gain valuable experiences, and come out of this the well-rounded, supportive nurse that I’ve always wanted to be.

  2. What kind of life flight plans have been designed. I am busy doing flight plans for individuals at work in 7 areas of their world (Jack Canfield “What I want”) Stuff and the results with goals and milestones linked to a flight plan of a plain have been super, any new ideas around the topic??


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