Aviation is probably one of the best industries to pick if you’re looking for passionate people. Some people have worked and planned their entire lives around becoming a pilot, and feel extremely grateful for the job they do. Some might even say the gratitude is a bit too much considering the amount of money some are willing to pay to get there, including the issue of ‘pay to fly’ (which we’ll cover in the future).

While passion is not a requirement for curiosity, it definitely has a massive impact on it. Curiosity is one of the building blocks to become the best at what you do. This is especially true for pilots, as we are in a constant process of acquiring up to date knowledge and understanding of our aircraft, the weather, procedures, new manuals and procedures.

But as time progresses, and you get older and more seasoned, it might become harder to stay curious. You might even lose some of that passion and curiosity you used to have when you were a cadet. This could result in poorer performance, less job satisfaction, and a lack of learning.

So what can we do to stay on top of things and actually enjoy doing this at the same time? How can we stay curious and feed our passion for aviation in the most productive way possible? In this article, we’ll dive into practical strategies and tips to stay curious, develop habits that help with lifelong learning, and explore how it can help us become masters at what we do!

Set Learning Goals

Setting learning goals can massively help you make progress in your career. If you want to keep pushing yourself and staying motivated throughout your journey, you need to look at what you should be pushing yourself with. But where do you start? Just follow these steps:

How to stay curious

1) Review your current skills. What are you good at and what do you suck at? Are there specific skills you wish you were better at, or are there certain areas in your knowledge pool that have gaps? Focus on those!

2) Identify your interests. What are the most interesting parts of being a pilot to you? Whether it’s navigation, human factors, meteorology, it doesn’t really matter. Find out what drives you to do this job the most.

3) Define specific objectives. Things like ‘I would like to be able to do X or understand Y better. Make sure the goals are following the SMART framework. They should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

So as an example, if you’re really intrigued by how fronts work, but you’re not quite sure how to proceed:

Specific: I want to know why high pressure areas don’t generate frontal systems
Measurable: I will explain it to someone who doesn’t know anything about weather to test myself
Achievable: I know which books and reference materials I need to find the answer
Relevant: Frontal system knowledge is hugely important for any pilot
Time-bound: I want to complete this goal by the end of next month

4) Create an action plan. What are you going to do about it? Where will you find the information and when can you make the time?

5) Ask for help. Involve other pilots in your learning objectives. There’s a good chance that what you’re trying to figure out can help other pilots as well!

6) Track your progress over time. There are countless apps that can help you with this, but you could just write everything down in something you’ve always got at hand.

You could use these steps for any goal. Find something that interests you and go for it! If you’re new here, have a look around Pilots Who Ask Why, this is exactly the essence of this website!

Reflect and Journal

Reflection is a super powerful tool to get a closer feel for what you struggle with and what’s going well. It can also help with step 6 of our learning goal plan! You could do it digitally (again, there are loads of apps), or in a paper journal that you carry with you. It might sound ridiculous to some, but it has helped many very impressive and inspiring people around the globe get to where they are! What are the benefits of reflecting and journaling? Here are the most notable ones:

How to stay curious

1) Self awareness. Really understanding who you are, both personally and in your career. What does your personality profile look like, what could you improve, what can you be proud of already? Staying in touch with these facts has a lot of benefits.

2) Learning from mistakes. When you screw up, you feel shit, sure. The question is, what are you going to do about it to make sure it doesn’t happen again? By documenting what went wrong today, why it went wrong, and how you could prevent it, you will double your chances to deal with it correctly in the future.

If you do this every OPC for instance, you can simply open up your journal from 6 months ago, before your next OPC, and get the best tailored preflight briefing known to man!

3) Improving decision-making. Regularly reflecting on what you did and didn’t do in certain scenarios can help refine your processes for making decisions. Were you too rash when that caution came on? Or perhaps you dwelled on a decision when time was critical? These things can happen to all of us, but once you’ve written them down, make it count!

4) Identifying progress. What are you doing better now than 6 months ago? Seeing yourself grow as a pilot and as a human can be hugely motivating to keep pushing yourself. Don’t just criticise yourself, recognise when you aced something that you used to struggle with!

5) Mental Health. Journaling can be hugely therapeutic as it allows you to be honest with yourself about how you feel. Processing emotions is important for all of us. Being honest about how certain situations made you feel can help process stress, anxiety, or any other emotions you felt while in or outside the cockpit.

6) Learning from others. If you keep struggling with the same things over and over again, a journal can help you identify when to seek help from others. If you have someone you trust, it could help to open up about how they might deal with certain things!

Remember that journalling is a personal preference, and you can do it in whichever way suits you. Don’t let anyone tell you (including us) how you should be journalling throughout your career!

Find Joy in Discovery

Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves why our job is such an interesting one. No day is the same. Aircraft can misbehave, weather can change, forecasts could be wrong, passengers might be a pain in the ass, and so many other variables that we can’t possibly predict when we start our day (or night) of flying.

While these are the challenges of the job, they are also what makes it such as varied job in the first place. To bring yourself in touch with this a bit more, try to find joy in discovering new things. Why did that front suddenly appear? Why did that system error generate the other caution? By learning from our experiences and going the extra mile to make sense of what happened to us on a specific flight, you could make the process of finding out stuff much more enjoyable. Of course, asking why is what we do all the time here, and the fact you’re reading this probably means you’re well on the way with this anyway!

Every single flight presents opportunities to discover and learn something new, no matter how benign flights might become over time. You just need to look for it. Try not to lose touch with this and if you already have, try to get in touch with it again. Keep pushing yourself to learn new things every time you fly. Debrief anything that none of the crew have a direct answer to, that’s where it starts to get interesting! Viewing each flight as an adventure will massively help with this.

Knowledge = Competence

Whether we like it or not, how competent we are as pilots heavily depends on how knowledgeable we are in our field. Knowing the ins and outs of your aircraft, meteorology and SOP’s all act as small mitigations against threats that inevitably enter our day to day environment.

But it’s not just knowledge inside the cockpit that will help with this. Knowing how to properly deal with conflict, create crew synergy, social skills, and lots of other fields have an impact on our competence as a pilot.

Attend aviation conferences and seminars, read journals and articles to explore different perspectives and learn from the mistakes that pilots all around you make every day. If you put in the effort to gain insights from more experienced pilots, there will come a time where you can use that knowledge to deal with a situation in a better way.

Find Mentors and Collaborate

Finding impressive people to look up to is not only beneficial to stay motivated to push yourself, it will also teach you loads of things that you can sometimes only learn from experience. On the other hand, if you’re surrounded by miserable people who don’t even want to get out of bed in the morning, and find any excuse in the book not to take off that day, this could impact the best of us negatively.

If you’re in the latter position and you want to become more motivated, you need to flick some switches. A good start is to try and change your environment, if it’s not conducive to growing and learning new things. If that’s not possible, be the change you wish to see in others, we all had to start somewhere! Engage in conversations, motivate others to find the answers that none of you have right now. Talking with colleagues about topics that everyone finds tricky can massively increase your knowledge level on certain topics.

You need to pick the correct people though. There is a clear line in the sand between the 2 types of people that you can reach out to. You have the senior pilots and TRE’s who might roll their eyes at you when you ask a difficult question, and you have the pilots in the same positions who, even if they don’t know themselves, feel motivated to explain and find out what the answers are. For all the senior pilots reading this: please know how much of a difference you can make in an organisation by picking the second attitude.

Surrounding yourself with passionate pilots is probably 50% of the way to staying motivated and passionate. Challenge others, and be prepared to be challenged, and if you don’t have the answer to something, great! Learn from other perspectives, that without other people around you, you’d never have thought about in a certain way.

Embrace Change and Technology

Yea, some of us might be old dinosaurs. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to stay on top of new procedures, technology, and tools to help us grow. One of the biggest traps of becoming more experienced is thinking that your way is the best way, and that you no longer have to learn. As new generations of pilots enter the industry, they have a lot of unique insight and knowledge that the current generations might not have. It’s a 2 way street, not a 1 way – we can all learn a lot from each other.

Aircraft change, operations change, cultures change, and what we call ‘flight safety’ changes all the time. In general, aviation is becoming more and more complex. If you don’t like that trajectory, or change in general, you’re simply going to have a bad time.

Rather than digging your heels in, trying to cling on to how you might have done something when you started your career, it’ll be hugely beneficial if you can accept that as time goes on, so do SOP’s.

Foster a Growth Mindset

When it really comes down to it, your mindset and how you look at the world is probably the biggest influence on how curious and passionate you are. However, this isn’t something you’re either born with or not. You can choose right now to have a more growth-oriented mindset. You can decide if you want to take your competencies to the next level, or you want to keep scraping by.

Actively investing time and choosing to have a growth mindset is crucial to become more curious. If you see challenges as opportunities for growth, and view failures as stepping stones toward learning, you can only ever become a better pilot over time.

Being a pilot is a dynamic and ever-evolving career path, and there is always more to discover and explore. Try to approach each flight with an open mind, seek to improve your skills, become better at what you do, and adapt to new or unexpected situations.

If you put effort into all these items, you will find it easier to remain motivated and resilient when shit hits the fan. This will then help to become even more motivated to keep the trajectory going. You just need to get started.

In order to do any of this, you need to recognise that skills and knowledge can only be developed through effort and dedication. By believing in your ability to learn and improve, you will find yourself more enthusiastic to continue to grow.

Read and Find Answers

Yes, manuals can be complicated. But manuals also hold a lot of the knowledge we need to excel at our jobs. If you manage to find even the tiniest amount of joy in looking at your flight operating manual for just a few minutes every now and then, over time you’ll find things you hadn’t remembered or didn’t expect to see.

The more we try to acquire all there is to know, the more you’ll realise how much there is you don’t know. It’s both a blessing and a curse of course, but there’s a lot of benefit in this realisation. Only fools think they know everything, it’s the pilots that sometimes aren’t quite sure what the answer is that make the safest decisions overall.

Try to make reading a habit, and set a revision schedule to stay on top of things. In this day and age, it’s simply impossible to know everything about our daily operation. But knowing where to find information and being able to pull the right section of the right manual whenever you want, is a skill that can only be developed by opening up a manual every now and then.


Curiosity has massive benefits if it’s a lifelong commitment for pilots. It can help keep you passionate, help you learn, and connect with others. By finding joy in discovery, expanding your knowledge, seeking mentors, embracing technology, and fostering a growth mindset, you can fuel your curiosity and enhance your career as a pilot.

How to stay curious

If there’s anything we can help with, please leave a comment or find our contact details in the about page!

Categories: Careers

Jop Dingemans

AW169 HEMS Commander | Founder of Pilots Who Ask Why | Aerospace Engineer | Former Flight Instructor


Anonymous · July 12, 2023 at 10:31 PM

Very nice article, as usual
Well constructed and informative 👍

Anonymous · July 10, 2023 at 9:35 PM

Great work as ever Jop

    Jop Dingemans · July 11, 2023 at 5:51 AM

    Thank you, not just me anymore though! Janine does just as much work on Pilots Who Ask Why now 🙂

Raul Sosa Riera · July 10, 2023 at 5:23 PM

Great article, thanks!

UMBERTO LINO FORTE · July 10, 2023 at 6:40 AM

An excellent article. Well done.

Javier Lifa · July 9, 2023 at 10:27 PM

Standing ovation!

Defensive Flying 101: Are you Vigilant or Complacent? · August 7, 2023 at 5:14 AM

[…] You feel overly comfortable / confident and do not actively pursue an accurate understanding of potential threats or push yourself to learn more. […]

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