It was the beginning of just another day in Sully Sullenberger’s life when he entered the cockpit of an US Airways Flight 1549 on the afternoon of January 15th, 2009. Sully had been flying for 42 years now, first as a fighter pilot, and then as a commercial one. It was going to be just another day of duty in his 42 year long career, however life had other plans for him. After following the usual protocol, Flight 1549 was cleared for takeoff. It wasn’t even three minutes to the climbout that the airplane got struck by a flock of geese and lost thrust in both its engines. Knowing for a fact that the flight would not be able to reach any nearby runaway, the Captain made a decision: they would land on the Hudson River.
If you’re familiar with this tale of Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger III, aka, Captain Cool, you would probably know what followed. He managed to save all 155 peopleon board, and was greatlyacknowledged for it as well. The significance of this tale of January 15th 2009 is of course that it spews bravery and courage, but it also teaches us a great deal about Life. It tells us how unexpected life is, that no matter how much we try to control it, it always manages to slip by us. And humans by nature have this deep seated tendency to practice control and certainty wherever they go. Going on a trip calls for an itinerary, going to school calls for a timetable, going to the mall calls for a map- we need to know what comes when, we want to be in control. But life is the opposite of control. It is indeed how John Lennon puts it, ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’. Humans indeed have a knack for creating meaning, we attach meaning to a panoply of experiences, ranging from trivial events such as a cat crossing our path, to more complex ones such as early death or reasons behind poverty. However while humans are busy giving meaning to events taking place, life is busy, quite literally, ‘happening’. Take COVID, for instance. Because of COVID much of what lies ahead in our lives is uncertain, beyond our control. Be it our health, our relationships, our finances or the economy- so much of it has changed already and we still can’t say what’ll happen next. COVID is living proof of the fact that very little of life remains constant throughout, much of it changes at an unpredictable pace, and we have to deal with it. We’re indeed living on a planet where it rains on our parade and hails on our crop. It’s true that we have no say in what is thrown our way, but we definitely do have a choice in how we respond to it. And it is these very responses which shape the outcomes of our life.
However not all our responses lead to desirable outcomes. We have to keep trying in order to find the solution that fits the size of our problem, but the key is to do it intelligently. After all Albert Einstein said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Unexpected that life is, one is bound to experience failure. But we can either cave in, or take it as a learning experience and try to change something in the operation in order to achieve one’s goal. This is basically what the ‘T.O.T.E. Model’ in NLP talks about.
T.O.T.E. stands for Test, Operate, Test, Exit. When you want to move from your present state and achieve your goal, or what’s called a desired state, you put a certain strategy to us. If that strategy helps you achieve the desired state, you exit and strive towards another goal. But if that strategy doesn’t work, you keep changing your operation and hone your behavior until the desired state is achieved. The very fact that we have people around us who have strived to reach their goal despite numerous failures proves that it is within our capacity to change our outcomes, we don’t need to be the victims of our circumstances. Now it is up to us to either be Captain Sully who chooses to respond in a calm and grounded way to a situation of life and death, or just simply give up our plane’s control, blaming it on the circumstances. We can either let the oute events take control of and shape our outcomes, or choose to be well balanced individuals who are in control of our own state. This is what is called ‘state management’.
The question that is likely to arise here is how do we change our behavior in order to obtain the desired state? The answer to it is simple. In his book ‘Walking the Path of Compassion’ Amit Ray writes, ‘Outer world is just the mirror image of your inner world.’ Our inner world comprises the narratives that we tell ourselves. It’s the constant self-talk that goes inside our head: our thoughts, our feelings, the way we picture things to be, the impressions we hold about oneself and others. It is this inner world which forms our body chemistry- it steers our hormones and results in whatever physiological reactions our bodies make, like sweat, palpitations, etc.
These bodily reactions lead to our body language- our posture, our movement, our facial expressions, etc. All of this together results in our behavior, which of course leads to a particular outcome. Answering the question posed earlier, to change the outcome or the result in life, one needs to take control of the inner world. That is why Sully Sullenberger was successful, because he could work on his inner world, and the inner world creates the outer reality.