On 28 November 1979, an Air New Zealand sightseeing aircraft carrying 257 people crashed head-on into the side of a volcano in Antarctica.


The pilot Captain Jim Collins flew two large loops through the clouds to bring the plane down to about 2,000ft (610m) and offer his passengers a better view. Assuming he was on the same flight path as previous flights and over the vast McMurdo Sound, he wouldn’t have foreseen any problems. Instead of ice and snow in the distance, the cockpit was looking at the mountain right ahead of them. Then, shortly before 1 pm, the plane’s proximity alarms went off. With no time to pull up, the aircraft plowed straight into the side of Mount Erebus six seconds later.


The initial investigation concluded the accident was caused primarily by pilot error, but public outcry led to the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the crash. The commission, presided over by Justice Peter Mahon QC, concluded that the accident was primarily caused by a correction made to the coordinates of the flight path the night before the disaster.


Those who corrected the flight path failed to inform the flight crew of the change. The result was that the aircraft was rerouted to a path toward Mount Erebus instead of being directed by computer down McMurdo Sound (as the crew had been led to believe). The investigation found that the plane was 2 degrees off course, causing it to crash into a mountain instead of flying over a lake. This led to an aviation law called the 1-in-60 rule.


In air navigation, the 1-in-60 rule states that if a pilot has traveled 60 miles, an error in the Track of one mile is approximately a 1° error in heading and proportionately more for more significant errors. In simpler terms, when a plane is off course by 1 degree, it misses its target by 60 miles.


In life, as in aviation, everyone should use the 1-in-60 rule to achieve any goal. It’s a mental model about making decisions, evaluating your course & making corrections. For example, if you set a destination but never check your progress or make an adjustment, you could end up at a destination you never intended to land in. We tend to set goals as we look forward to a new year and the prospects it brings. 2023 is no different. So as we set our goals for 2023, how can we use the 1-in-60 rule to make it work for us?


Set a specific goal & make it measurable. The key to achieving goals is to measure them against something. For example, one may want to lose weight or get in shape. Noble as it sounds, sadly, that is not a goal. It’s merely that, a want. However, weighing in at 70kgs in the next three months is a specific goal that we can measure ourselves against. Once we come up with a specific, measurable goal, this allows us to track progress & make any course corrections needed.


Create a process to achieve it. Once we have a specific, measurable goal in mind, we need to ask ourselves what things we can focus on & control that would help us achieve this goal. For example, if we go back to the weight loss example above, we could focus on tracking our foods, drinking water, going to the gym three times a week & getting 8 to 10 thousand steps in. It would not make sense to want to lose 10kgs in 2 months, yet every day we are eating the most unhealthy foods, would it?


Foresee obstacles. Then solve them. Much like a plane needs to check the weather ahead, we must write out possible obstacles to following our process. The advantage of doing this is that it makes us proactive rather than reactive. Moreover, the great thing about listing potential barriers is that we then plan the solutions to overcome them.


Forget about the goal. Track and adjust course. Focusing on the goal when you’re not there yet leaves you feeling empty. Many successful people focus on the process designed to achieve the goal. Their focus is on what they can do today. In so doing, they control what they can handle. If you’re not progressing toward your goal, ask if the plan needs to be changed or if you need to be more patient. You may only need a tiny adjustment to put yourself back on course.


One of the biggest keys to the 1-in-60 rule is making sure you choose the right destination in the first place. When setting any goal, make sure it lines up with your values & how you want to live life so you don’t end up charting the wrong course. Goals set the destination. The 1-in-60 rule guides your path.