How Flying Builds Habits for Success

A great reason to encourage prospective pilots.

Ray Dolby standing in front of a plane
Once Ray Dolby discovered flying, it became an all-consuming passion.Jim Sugar

He could have been a ­10-year-old kid. He was certainly acting like one. We were at the Helicopter Association International annual convention, and John was sitting in a helicopter pretending to fly it. He gradually became aware that someone had been standing beside him, waiting for him to come out of his fantasy. “I am so sorry,” John said. “I just realized you’ve been waiting to get into the helicopter.”

“No,” the patient man said. “I’ve been waiting to talk to you.”

The person waiting had recently used our courses in his studying to learn to fly, and he wanted to explain that we had helped him with something that meant the world to him. As the conversation progressed, John began to realize that this very expressive, personable man was an extraordinary person. “I’m John King,” John said as he extended his hand. “I’m Ray Dolby,” the good-natured man replied. John can be slow on the uptake at times, and it took him a while to realize that this was the Dolby who had created the eponymous noise-reduction system—and the company that was known worldwide for extraordinary innovations in audio systems.

As John and Ray talked about ­flying, Ray explained that he had discovered flying late in life and deeply regretted the many years he hadn’t been experiencing the joy of flying. Ray was now in a hurry to drink deeply from the well of satisfaction and fulfillment that flying provides.

As John and Ray talked, they ­realized that they had much more to talk about than the circumstances allowed. Ray invited us to spend a weekend with him and his wife, Dagmar, at their Lake Tahoe vacation home. There we discovered that this was a person with deep passions not only about flying, but about many subjects. He had lots of interests and, even in his 70s, was always learning. These were habits he had all his life, and they served him well. They certainly made him interesting company. We became friends and did many things together, including taking flying vacations. We never ran out of fascinating things to talk about. It was a relationship that we continued to enjoy greatly right up until Ray passed away.

We knew what Ray meant to us—he was a great friend and a fabulous intellectual companion. But it wasn’t until we attended his celebration of life that we began to realize what Ray meant to the rest of the world. He had improved the quality of sound experienced in movies, symphonies and every other form of music so significantly that people in those communities referred to time as B.D. and A.D.—before Dolby and after Dolby. At his service, ­representatives of each of these communities were there to explain how Ray had improved their world.

When John and I read the ­articles about Ray afterward, we began to fully understand that he was an ­enormous success in about every way you could measure—including in his ­contributions to the communities he served and financially. We had never considered that he was a billionaire.

This made us very thoughtful. There are not that many billionaires around, but as we began to think about it, we realized that we knew more than a few. Why did we know so many billionaires? Because we have spent our lives teaching, talking about, and living and breathing flying. Flying attracts successful, motivated winners and, we believe, supports them in becoming even more successful.

Since the beginning, humankind has envied the birds in their ­command of flight. It is only in the infinitesimally short time frame of the past hundred years or so that we have begun to take to the air ourselves. Our relatively newfound ability to explore and utilize the third dimension is a powerful attraction and, as learning pilots discover, deeply rewarding.

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When a person does decide to learn to fly, they commit themselves to a prolonged period of habitual effort and study. While they are learning the skills to command the flying machine, they concurrently develop the habit of managing the risks of operating in this new environment. Perhaps most significant, they also develop the habit of remaining calm and in ­control in stressful, even threatening ­situations in this environment, until so recently foreign to humans. These are ­wonderful habits that, once developed in flying, automatically carry over to other realms of life.

Significantly, flying attracts many people who already have habits that make them successful people and great contributors to their communities, and they serve as wonderful role models for the rest of us. But for all of us, the activity of learning to fly—and continuing to fly—develops and strengthens beneficial habits.

As John and I have observed this, we have developed an acronym to help describe and remember these habits. The acronym is P.L.A.Y. Please bear with me. This explanation is hokey—but John and I often strain to craft tools to help people remember things.

The P stands for “Passion.” Flying often introduces learning pilots for the first time to the joy and benefits of having a passion. People with a passion explore things deeply and tend to persist even in times of difficulty.

The L stands for having “Lots of Interests.” Flying develops new interests. People with lots of interests have a habit of exploring new things.

The A stands for “Always Learning.” Flying gets people into the habit of learning. Habitual learners enjoy the process of learning, and when learning is required, as in flying, they embrace it.

The Y stands for “Yet Again.” People who stick with flying have these behaviors as ingrained habits, and they keep circling back to practice them over and over again.

People with these habits develop the knowledge and intellectual resources that empower innovation.

We have another acronym that we think explains how innovators can best advance their ideas. The ­acronym is T.N.T.

The first T stands for “Trust.” If you aren’t perceived as ­trustworthy, it is very hard to accomplish anything through others. The N prompts us to seek out the “Needs” of others. The last T is a stretch, but it reminds us that we “Triumph” by providing solutions to the needs of others.

Using P.L.A.Y. and T.N.T., you have the makings of great contribution and success. As a result, like Ray Dolby, you will wind up making the world a better place for lots of people.

So when you have an opportunity to encourage someone to learn to fly, I urge you to encourage them with enthusiasm. It will give them great satisfaction, help them build and strengthen these wonderful habits, and put them in great company.