Yesterday I wrote about my son’s temporary stammer I said the doctor may have been fixated on his initial thoughts that it was, as he put it, a perfect stammer and nothing to worry about. He didn’t seem to believe us when he was told the stammer had only started three days earlier. This unwillingness to accept the facts as presented may have, as I’ve already said, been down to him being fixated on his initial thoughts. Put simply fixation is when we make up our mind on something and ignore all the evidence which contradicts our initial thoughts. It can also come about when we become so focussed on one thing that we ignore everything else to out detriment. A good example of fixation comes from the aviation world, Eastern Airlines flight 401. Crashed into the Florida Everglades at 11.42 PM on Dec 29 1972. On approach to land the undercarriage was lowered. On all aircraft with the landing gear up and locked in place the indicators are out, no lights. When the undercarriage is moving, in either direction, each undercarriage leg has a red light. When they are fully down and locked in place each has a green light. Each of these red and green lights has two bulbs, so if one blows indication is not lost. Sometimes though one will blow and not be noticed until the second one blows. That’s what happened here. The lever was lowered to put the undercarriage down, three reds as there should be. Then as the three legs clunked into place the reds all went out but only two greens lit. It appeared the nose leg was not locked. They pushed the lamps test button and the only lamp one not to light was the nose undercarriage down and locked, the green. There is on this type of aircraft the ability for someone to go into the electronics bay and look at the nose undercarriage leg and check a mechanical indicator to ensure it’s locked. So with the aircraft on autopilot in a holding pattern the Flight Engineer and an on-board maintenance specialist did this. Initially unable to tell its status they did finally determin it was indeed down and locked. So they could have actually landed safely at this point. The Flight Engineer carries spares for this kind of thing in case they land at airports where they don’t have maintenance crews. Instead of just landing and sorting it out on the ground it was decided they would change the bulb before landing. The light bulbs used in this sort of lamp are normally of the sort known as P bulbs. They are small, about 0.5 cm long and 0.25 cm wide, fiddley at the best of times, in daylight with the aircraft on the ground. So to do it at night in a moving cockpit was not the best idea. The cockpit voice recorder bears this out, they struggled to perform a simple but fiddley task. Instead of just one person doing it and the other two flying the aircraft, all swapped between having a go and watching the others. The Air Data Recorder shows at some point the pilot ever so slightly nudged his control yoke forward. Just enough to disengage the autopilot and put the aircraft into a shallow dive. Fixated by the bulb change nobody noticed and the aircraft just flew into the ground killing 99 of the 176 on board.
So where did it go wrong? It went wrong in more than one place but all due to fixation. They were fixated with having three greens before landing instead of going with the mechanical indicator, ignoring the fact they knew the undercarriage was down and locked. It went wrong because they were all either watching the bulb change or doing it. It is actually the Flight Engineer’s job but the co-pilot was better seated. The Captain, who nudged his control yoke forward was seated in the worse position to do it, so why did he try? Because he was fixated on it being done, they all were. This crew were just human beings like all of us and we can all become fixated if we don’t keep it in check. In my previous career as an aircraft electrician, I’ve seen aircraft engineers chase faults that where actually easily fixed because the initial symptoms normally meant the problem was elsewhere in the system. They failed to take notice of additional symptoms. I learnt early in my aviation career not to be that technician. I learnt to step back and look at the whole problem. I learnt not to discount the smallest thing. I’ve carried this attitude over into my hypnotherapy career too. Just because you have the same issue as a previous client doesn’t mean it has the same cause or answer. If we don’t seem to be making the progress we expect, I’ll make changes to how we approach the problem. This is why I like to record all my sessions with clients. I always review each session afterwards to ensure I haven’t failed to pick up on anything important. It’s no good going for a probable cause and a possible fix. I need to find the real cause and the right solution to help you resolve your issue. Only in that way can we be successful. I aim to resolve a single issue in 4 to 5 hypnotherapy sessions although this isn’t set in stone it is a good yardstick. As I constantly review our sessions you can rest assured I won’t become fixated by first impressions or the obvious. In fact you can be certain that the only thing I’ll be fixated on is not becoming fixated.