Fighter Pilot Performance—How to Focus, Handle Pressure, and Perform at Your Best | Hasard Lee | Skillshare

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Fighter Pilot Performance—How to Focus, Handle Pressure, and Perform at Your Best

teacher avatar Hasard Lee, Fighter Pilot, Writer, Content-Creator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons ()
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. You Lose 20 IQ Points

    • 3. Arrogance vs. Confidence

    • 4. How to Focus

    • 5. Overcome Nervousness

    • 6. Systemized Goals

    • 7. The Most Important Part

    • 8. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

In this class, you'll learn how to perform at your best, regardless of your career. These are the same techniques I learned as an F-16 and F-35 fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. 


  • Building Confidence
  • How to Focus
  • Overcome Nervousness
  • Systemized Goals

We have a saying in the fighter pilot community that you lose 20 IQ points as soon as you put on your helmet. What that means is that what looks easy in the classroom is much more difficult when you’re sweating in the hot cockpit, dozens of people are talking simultaneously through the radios, and peoples lives are at stake. This class will introduce you to the techniques to perform at your best, regardless of your career.

YouTube Channel: Hasard Lee

Meet Your Teacher

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Hasard Lee

Fighter Pilot, Writer, Content-Creator


F-35 fighter pilot for the United States Air Force Reserves. Flew 82 combat missions in the F-16--only fighter pilot to fly two different types of jets into combat on the same day.

Writer and speaker for Sandboxx Media on human-performance, decision-making, mental-toughness, and how to debrief.

YouTube content-creator: Applying lessons-learned in the cockpit to daily life (5 million views-per-month)

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1. Intro: Peak performance as a state in which the person performs to the maximum of their ability, characterized by subjective feelings of competence, effortlessness, and total concentration on the task. Welcome, my name is hazard and my fighter pilot for the Air Force. My first experience with a peak performance mindset came at the Air Force Academy. And therefore scad me is located in Colorado Springs, which is also where the Olympic Training Center is. And so they would occasionally have sports psychologists come and work with us to develop a lot of the techniques that I'm going to teach you today. It helped me when I show up to pilot training to be able to do well and to get my number 1 choice, the f 16. And it's helped me throughout my career, including in combat. Combat is one of the most difficult environments imaginable. There is a lot of fog and friction, a lot of unknowns, there are lives at stake and you have to perform your absolute best. So I'm excited to share the techniques that I've used and developed over the last 15 years to help you to achieve your goals. 2. You Lose 20 IQ Points: So we have a saying in the fighter community, as soon as you put on your helmet, you lose 20 IQ points. And what that means is that what seems ease in the classroom is actually really difficult when you have all your gear on, when it's a 120 degrees in the cockpit, when you're pulling nine jeez, that's over 2 thousand pounds of force on your body. Lot more difficult when you have that pressure on you than when you're just at one G in a classroom, what we say is that you cannot rise to the level of your expectations, but you're going to fall to your level of preparation. So the number one piece of advice I can give is to be prepared. Not all practice is created equally. So you want to use deliberate practice that's difficult, so you want to avoid autopilot. So a good example is tying your shoes. When you first learn how to tie your shoes, it was pride difficult. You had to concentrate, and now it's on autopilot. So autopilot is the enemies. So if you are practicing and you're thinking about other things, then you're not pushing yourself hard enough. So we try to push ourselves above and beyond work we're going to expect in combat so that when we actually go to combat, it's not as difficult. And we're accounting for all that extra pressure, all that fog and friction than certainty that goes into a combat sorties. So one of the best examples of deliberate practice that I've heard about is from Ben Franklin. So Ben Franklin, one of the best writers to have ever lived. And the way he taught himself to become a good writer is that he would get news articles from the best authors of the day. And he would write down bullet points for every paragraph that they wrote. And then he would try to reconstruct that article that they had written and then compare it afterwards. And he was able to hone his writing and to get better. So if that sounds like a lot of work, it is. And so that's kinda what we utilize as fighter pilots. Now practice involves feedback as well. So we utilize the debrief quite a bit as a fighter pilot. So we will go out and fly for about an hour and a half. And then we'll spend two to six hours debriefing the sortie going through everything that went wrong. Now, you don't have to spend so much time debriefing, even if you spend five minutes coming up with the top three things that went well. Because as we'll talk to you later, confidence is important. And the top three things that went poorly and you can work on for next time that will improve what you're doing tremendously. 3. Arrogance vs. Confidence: So movies like Top Gun portray fighter pilots as arrogant and cocky. But that couldn't be further from the truth. We really tried to instill confidence and I know a lot of people think that confidence and cockiness go together, but they're really different traits. So cockiness is outward-facing. It's really trying to showcase how good you are to other people. Whereas competence, That's a internal trait and oftentimes, the most arrogant, the loudest people don't have a lot of competence. And so as fighter pilots will be leading packages of up to a 100 aircraft into combat. And so what you really want is a good leader. So for mission planning will have hundreds of people that were all trying to bring together to be able to accomplish a mission. And if you go in there as cocky and brash, really going to turn off people and you're going to have a lower performing team. Then if you go in with that confident mindset of knowing what you bring to the table, but not turning people off to who and what you do. Number 1, key to confidence is self-talk. So how you talk to yourself? So a lot of people who are friendly and nice, really bright themselves when they screw up. This is really common in high performers. So this is something called impostor syndrome where you think that you are way less qualified than everybody around you and it's just a matter of time before people find that out. So a lot of that is tied to how you talk to yourself if you break yourself. So you really want to speak to yourself almost like a mentor speaks to somebody that they're coaching. So you want to have high standards, but you never want to cross the line and really just start yelling at yourself, kicking yourself, because that really impacts your confidence. And in order to be good at something, you have to have confidence in yourself. So that's number one key is to talk to yourself respectfully. And the other tip that works for me is to not talk to myself in the third person. So I don't say you should do this better, you should do that. I own it. So I say, I can do this better. I can do that because that really gives me ownership over what's happening as opposed to everything is happening to me and I can't control it. So I would say the two big techniques I have are one, talk to yourself respectfully, like a good coach or good mentor would, and to talk to yourself in that first-person so that you own the results. And I think that'll help you on your journey to having confidence in whatever you're trying to go after. 4. How to Focus: All right, So focus maybe the most important factor to performing at a high level. And so there was a study done recently where they assess that people have about 60 thousand thoughts a day on average. And 85 percent of those thoughts are about things that we can't control that are either in the future or rehashing things in the past. And so focusing is about staying in the present moment. And that can be incredibly difficult to do. So as fighter pilots, we have to make thousands of decisions and we're traveling fats, so we're traveling with closure speeds in excess of 1000 miles an hour a mile every three seconds. So we have to stay in the present moment and nobody has ever flown perfect sorting. And so what that means is that you're gonna make mistakes and it's important to not hash and dwell on those mistakes, but to worry about the next decision that you have to make. And the same is true in life as well. So you have to have focus. And so one important tool that I use to help to stay focus is to meditate. And so what meditation is, is it just relaxing in your room? It's focusing. I practice two types of meditation. The first is mindfulness, so just focusing on my breath. Or it can be on a sound or can be on a point and you're just focusing and nobody is good at it. So your mind is going to drift. And so the important thing is noticing when your mind is drifting. And then going back to what we were talking about before with confidence, not kicking yourself for messing up. So noticing that your mind is drifting and then refocusing on your breath without burning yourself. So that's all you're trying to do, and nobody is going to be perfect at it. If you can just lower the number of times that you start thinking about something else by 25 percent. That's going to translate into a significant performance increase in terms of your focus. The second type of meditation that I use is reflection. So there's a lot we're overstimulated. There's a lot that happens to us every day and all of that builds up. But when you're first starting out, I'd recommend 45 days for 45 minutes and you're just sitting and you're following those thoughts. So when those thoughts pop into your mind, you follow that out as far as you can. Because a lot of thoughts we have our repetitive, so we're just rehashing the same thing over and over and just thinking about it. One or two levels deep. But I would encourage you to follow that thought all the way out to the end, whether it's something that happened in the past or as humans, we do a lot of fear-based planning of something that's going to happen in the future. But we really don't take that to completion. So if you can take it to completion, oftentimes, you can let that thing go. And it's almost like emails building up in your inbox. So you'll have thousands of them after living for 2030, 40 years. And if you can spend 45 minutes a day for 45 days straight, it's like your inbox going to 0. And now you can worry about the important stuff. So you can worry about your relationships with your family. You can worry about what you're trying to accomplish in this life. Those important traits as opposed to rehashing that fear-based planning of things that are going on a future or things that just happen that are still bothering. Another thing in terms of focus is to not try to focus on two things at once. So as humans, we are terrible and multitasking, and that's difficult as a fighter pilot because we have so much stuff going on and we have a limited time to make those decisions. So like I said, a mile every three seconds we have to be moving quickly. But even in a fighter cockpit, we are using our cross-check. So we're not focusing on two things at once. We're focusing on one thing and then moving on to the next. And so we try to break the chunks down of our tasks into the ability to have that complete cross-check so that we're doing all the tasks. But we're not focusing on two things at once because that's almost always a recipe for failure. And then lastly, I would encourage you to focus on what you want to have happen. So I used to play baseball back in the day and as a pitcher. And we were always taught to focus on where you want the ball to go, not where you don't want it to go. Because as soon as you think that it's like thinking of, Don't think of a purple elephant. You're immediately going to think about that. And the same thing is true in flying, as well as making any decisions out there as soon as you think of which you're not supposed to do, you're now taking your focus away from what you should be doing. So focus on what you wanna do. Don't have that negative mindset. So those are some things to help you with focus. It's one of the most important skills and it's something that can be developed relatively quickly. 5. Overcome Nervousness: All right, so this is a good one to how do you overcome nervousness? So the first thing I would say is realized that anxiety can be a good thing. Being anxious can be a good thing. It's your body getting prepared to perform at a high level. So one of the things that happens is that sometimes we get nervous about being nervous and it gets even worse. So just understanding that you're gonna get a little bit nervous, you're going to get a little bit anxious. You're going to have butterflies in your stomach for any big performance. But from my experience, the things that have happened that are best in my life, I've always been a little bit anxious about. So anticipating that feeling as something good can be one of the best things you can do to alleviate anxiety and nervousness. Secondly, when we get nervous, we tend to start holding our breath. So one of the things that happens with new students when we go and refuel in the air. So that's when two aircraft are touching going 350 miles an hour. It's pretty nerve-wracking because your entire career you've been told Don't touch another aircraft because that can result in you crashing and now you're purposely doing it to get fuel is to breathe. So I call it box breathing for a second, sin for a second. Hold. Four seconds out. Four seconds hold. And repeat that because oftentimes we go either go into shallow breathing or you hold our breath so that box breathing can help your sympathetic nervous system to start calming down. Next would be progressive muscle relaxation. So that involves tensing your muscles and then relaxing them. Because oftentimes we insidiously start tensing our muscles more and more and before we know it, we're just clenched and tight the whole time. So tensing your muscles, relaxing it. So again, when we're on the tanker all encouraged people if they're starting to get a little bit nervous, you don't have the coordination. When you start getting nervous is two, tense your legs and then to relax them, wiggle your fingers, wiggle your toes, and then do that box breathing. And that usually calms them down. And they have a little bit better acuity with their coordination and with their hands to be able to manipulate the controls to stay on the tanker. Another thing I encourage people to do is when the moment is getting away from you, you're kinda shrinking to the moment is to ground yourself back and reality. And for that, it's to be able to call out one thing you're seeing, one thing you're hearing, one thing you're feeling, then, now one thing you're tasting. So really just trying to ground yourself in the moment as opposed to doing that fear-based planning about worrying about something that's going on in the future or rehashing something, focus on the present. If you focus on the present and not about how nervous you are or what's going to happen if you get nervous. That can go a long way towards reducing anxiety for people that get nervous. One of the things I'd encourage you to do is to have a set routine going into any high anxiety performance. So as fighter pods, we have a really set routine for how we flies who will show up. We'll do what's called a operational risk assessment. Going into all the factors that could affect that sortie. We'll start out with a brief, we'll go through all the contracts that we need to do for the flight, then we'll put on our gear, then we'll step out to the jets, will start the aircraft in the exact same way every time taxi out, do our pre takeoff checks. We have these routines built in so that we have something to fall back on. A lot of times people think that routines prevent creativity, but really they're just something to fall back on when we're starting to get nervous, when we're starting to get anxious. And it actually allows you to be more dynamic as required. So I'd encourage people that get nervous to have a set routine now it doesn't need to be superstitious, doesn't need to go too far. You want it to be a little bit flexible, but have some sort of game plan for going into these performances. One of the most powerful ways to get better at a task is to visualize it. So when we're flying, we call this chair flying. So we will sit at a desk not much different than this. Close our eyes and imagine every aspect of the flight. And you can get a lot of reps that way for free. So you can just sit there, go through everything that's happening now the trick is to bring in as many senses as possible. So smell that jet fuel, feel the heat, the loud engine roaring in the background, bring those senses then to try to make that a real memory of going for an actual flight. And then once you go through the entire sortie, perfectly, you can now bring in some contingency scenarios of things that are going wrong and how you're able to fix that. Another piece of advice I have is a lot of people, when they do this, they practice visualizing these flights will be about an hour and a half long, so they'll get good at visualizing the first part of the flight. But then there are weaknesses, the amount of times they visualize the last part. And this also applies to speeches. So I would encourage you to flip it every once in a while and practice the last part of the speech or the last part of the test or the last part of the flight first and get good at that. And then bring in that first part. So switch it up so that you're practicing visualizing every aspect an equal amount or at least representative of what you need to work on. Also, what I've found is that visualizing in the first-person perspective is generally the best. So just pretend that you're actually giving the presentation. Pretend you're actually blind. Being able to be in that first-person is probably the best way to instill that you're actually doing that flight. Now there are some people that advocate towards third person. So you're actually seeing yourself from outside that can be okay for technique, especially in sports, but for really harnessing the mental benefit, the confidence I would encourage you to do it in the first-person. 6. Systemized Goals: So in order to do anything great, you have to have a systematic approach for achieving it. And that's where goal-setting comes in. So you'll want to make them smart goals. So make it specific, make it measurable, make it achievable, make it relevant, and make it time-based. So make it a specific goal. Small goals are great. So make it as small as possible. You might have that dream, you might have that mountain on the horizon, but break it down into a small of goals as possible. So make it achievable. You want to have competence at the end of this, if you make it too big of a goal, then that's going to really tear down your confidence. But if you make it small, you can feel good about accomplishing that goal. It can be even a daily checklist if you want to write down the things you wanna do during the day, it's satisfying to be able to cross one of those out. So make it a small goal to encourage yourself along the way. You'll also want to make it relevant. So if you have that dream on the horizon, houses small goal gonna get you there so you want to break it down. Life is really a system of systems, so you have to break it down into the small piece, but realize this small goal that you're trying to go after fits into the larger puzzle. So you have to know how that sin, so that means you have to do your research ahead of time. There are a lot of great coaches out there. If you're an athlete or if you're a student trying to become some sort of professional, you can do the research to see where the bread crumbs lead you. So you have to know where you're headed to to be able to have a relevant goal. And lastly, time-based, you want to after a certain amount of time, remember, small goals are great. You want to have small goals. So after a week or after month, you can look back and say, did I achieve this goal? And if you did, you can check the box and then you can move on to the next goal. A couple of tips here. One, make it process over something external that you can't control. So make it something that you can control. So a good goal wouldn't be that you want to the best test score in the class. So that's external. You can affect how much other people are studying. A good goal would be spinning a certain amount of time, using deliberate practice to try and get as good of a score as you possibly can. So instead of just worrying about other people, try to worry about it on process as opposed to external events. So things that you can control entirely next is to make it positive. So instead of saying, I don't want to make those mistakes, again, think of the purple elephant. That's exactly where you're going to think of. Think about positive things. So instead of not making mistakes, think of things that you want to do well so that you can execute on that path and you can put all your attention into those positive goals. And lastly, I would encourage you to write it down. So writing it down makes it real. So if you just have a bunch of goals that are kind of in your brain, kind of bouncing around in there. It's kinda easy to blow those off or to forget about them. But if you write it down, it makes it real and then have it scheduled in your calendar that you're going to review those goals whenever they're up, or maybe you wanna do it regularly, like every week or every month. 7. The Most Important Part: So I've had a chance to work with a lot of other careers, from astronauts to FDI negotiators, to CIA agents, to programmers. And one of the things that fighter pilots do better than anybody else is the debrief. So after the fact, so we will go and fly for about an hour to an hour and a half. We'll come back and we'll debrief for two to six hours and we'll go through everything that went wrong. Sometimes we'll listen to the same radio called 15 times to figure out who heard it and how we can do better. And we break the debrief into three parts. So we break it into how did we assess the problem? So build that 3D model around us. Next is did we choose the correct course of action? And then lastly, did we executed correctly? And so all of the mistakes can be lumped into those three categories. And we'll go down and we'll focus. And the most important thing is making it a sterile environment. So it's not personal. We're just trying to get out the facts and how we can get better in terms of feedback, ego can get in the way quite a bit, making it structured, making it focused on the errors and not the people really allow us to get better. And like I said, we spent a lot of time in the debrief. You don't have to do that. Spending anytime is better than what most people do. Most people, they're busy with whatever they're doing and as soon as they're done with that, they move on to the next one. I would encourage you after you do anything that's important to you to spend five minutes to think of what are the three things that went well? Because as we talked to before, confidence is extremely important in terms of being a high performer and the Nestle, what are three things that you need to work on? Just write those down. And then whenever you do that task, again, review those things, review those three things that went well, review the things that you can work on. And that's the way that you can debrief and get better at whatever you're trying to accomplish. 8. Final Thoughts: So there you go. I hope you enjoyed this class on mental toughness. This is the class that I wish I had. It's taken me about 15 years to be able to master all of these things. I'm still working on it. Let's be honest, I'm not a master at this, but is absolutely helped to make me a better student when I was going to the Air Force Academy to make me a better boxer, to make me a better pilot. But it's also helped me out outside of those fields. So it's helped me to be a better husband, to be a better father. So I think these techniques can help you. Now the most important thing is it's easy to understand it conceptually right now, but being able to actually practice it when you're in the heat of the moment. The most important things. So I look forward to seeing how it works for you and I'll talk to you next time.