Doh! A Lesson in Situational Awareness!

What we hear while we are asleep continues to resonate with us upon awakening. ~ Henry Reed

By now you’ve likely seen or heard the flack about the Northwest Airline pilots who overshot their landing destination due to “loss of situational awareness”. According to news reports, a series of mundane activities distracted them and led them to miss their destination.

How often does something like that happen to you?

Getting caught up in the daily rat race makes it easy to become distracted and you may end up going through the motions of everyday life like a robot. Then before you know it, you lose situational awareness and miss your landing destination, whether that means the promotion you wanted, the life partner of your dreams, the business or Encore Career you wanted to start, the money you imagined earning, or the lifestyle you dreamed of for your retirement.

Loss of situational awareness usually ends up being no more than an embarrassing inconvenience. You miss your freeway off ramp and have to retrace your route. You don’t notice where you put your car keys and by the time you find them, you end up arriving late to your meeting. You promise to run an errand for a loved one on your way home and then forget to do it.

So how do you know when you’ve lost situational awareness? Somewhere along the way, you WILL get a wake-up call. It may come as a whisper, a tap on your shoulder, or a knock upside your head, depending on how long you’ve been ignoring the signals. If the pilots had been more aware, they would have gotten the message that they were off track much sooner and avoided a lot of embarrassment.

What does it take to stay awake and learn to avoid losing situational awareness?

1. Be aware of your destination (goal) and where you are in relationship to it.  Like Yogi Berra says, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.”

2. Check your instruments. Like the pilots, if you don’t regularly check your instruments, you are likely to fly off course.  What are your most valuable instruments?

  • Your Intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Pay attention and trust your inner guidance system when you get signals that something is amiss. Stay alert until you understand more about what is going on.
  • Your Satisfaction Meter. On a scale of one to ten, how much joy and satisfaction do you experience in your career, relationships, spirituality, health, personal development, finances, or other areas that are important to you? A low number is an indication that something is missing. Rather than putting the blame “out there” take a look inside to see what needs to change, what’s missing and how you can bring it into your life. Then take action.
  • Your Creativity. Many people say they aren’t creative, meaning they think they can’t draw or paint or sculpt or write or sing. Those are very narrow definitions of creativity.  The amazing thing about creativity is that it’s limitless and boundless. How do you know when you are being creative? Perhaps this quote by Frank Capra says it best; “A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something”. Follow your hunches – even when it seems crazy or impractical.

3. Surround yourself with a trusted team. Wasn’t it interesting to see how judgmental everyone became when the Northwest plane flew off course? Hardly anyone focused on the fact that a whole team of people sprang into action to get the pilots’ attention. A well trained team can help by alerting you when you don’t notice that you’ve flown off course or lost situational awareness.

4. Look for lessons learned.  Certainly in the case of the Northwest airline pilots, an investigation is warranted, especially if it focuses less on punishment than on looking for what’s missing and how to fix it. Where are the holes and what must be done to plug them up?

5. Ignore the hoopla. It’s easy to get distracted when it seems like a tide of disapproval is washing over you after you’ve lost situational awareness. Learn to sort through the criticism to find nuggets of real feedback that will help you get back on course and stay there.

Losing situational awareness is part of being human. The quickest way to wake up, acknowledge it when it happens, apologize when it’s necessary, forgive yourself, clean up any messes that result and move forward.  Doing so requires an act of courage.  But isn’t it worth it to be able to look into your own eyes in the mirror and give yourself a nice high five at the end of the day because you like who you see?


Have you been blind-sided by a “loss of situational awareness” in your life or career? Discover ways to wake yourself up and get back on course. Call Coach Sue at 949-212-4345 for a complimentary “Get Acquainted” coaching session or email