Learn the Art of Self Discipline From an F-35 Pilot Instructor

January 6, 2021 Topic: Security Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: F-35Fighter JetsFighter PilotsAir Force

Learn the Art of Self Discipline From an F-35 Pilot Instructor

Whenever your mind is most clear, write down a checklist for your day.


Self-discipline: the ability to make yourself do things that should be done. How do you know if you have it? The coronavirus shutdown has given us a window into our character.

Social events are cancelled and work has gone remote—most people have a lot more time on their hands. What have you done with it? Are you in better shape? What about those books you’ve been meaning to read, or that skill you’ve been wanting to learn? You’ve been in lockdown for over a month now. We’ve been stripped of our normal excuses. Looking back, have you spent the majority of your time productively, or have you treated this time like a kid during a snow day? If you’ve wasted your time, let me offer one tool that might help: the checklist.


All aircraft come with a checklist. It’s an amazing tool that allows the pilot to understand the actions they need to take. In the F-35, we have a checklist for starting the aircraft, taxiing, taking-off, refueling, landing, just about any action you would ever take. Most pilots memorize these normal tasks. Where the checklist really makes its money is during an emergency.

There are hundreds, potentially thousands of things that can go wrong in a fighter aircraft—engine failure, loss of a generator, flight control failure, the list goes on; it’s too much information for a human to memorize. So, we turn to a checklist.

The checklist has the steps we have to take; it’s prioritized by severity and sequence. Some steps must be done in a precise order otherwise it won’t help—you must turn the engine switch off so that you have enough electrical power to reset the leading edge flaps. When able, though, the checklist prioritizes the important steps first, realizing that in a high-pressure, dynamic situation, the pilot may not be able to get to all the steps—for instance, getting oxygen to the pilot is more important than resetting the leading edge flaps.

So how does a checklist help the average person on the ground at 1G? With the coronavirus, we are all operating in a contingency environment—similar to an emergency while flying. We need to prioritize tasks by severity and sequence. Whenever your mind is most clear—for me it’s in the morning before my situational awareness is drained by the day’s various tasks—write down a checklist for your day. Prioritize it by severity first—what are the top things you have to do? Rank order each task making sure there is a specific criteria for crossing each one off. Next, figure out if any of the tasks build on each other; if they do, put them in the proper sequence.

After reading this, write down at least three things you would like to do in the next 24 hours. Once they’re on paper, you’re committed to doing them; it’s essentially a contract with yourself. It may sound ridiculously simple, but that’s self-discipline: the ability to make yourself do things that should be done.

Justin Lee is an active duty U.S. Air Force F-35 Joint Strike Fighter pilot. Lee has earned four Air Medals over the span of more than 400 hours of combat flight time throughout his eight+ years at the stick of the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-35, and now he’s bringing his unique insight to the audio world with his incredible new podcast, “The Professionals Playbook.”

This article first appeared on Sandboxx News.

Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander Cook