MATT HALL IS A GENUINE HIGH FLYER. A third-generation pilot, former Royal Australian Air Force Fighter Combat Instructor, international unlimited aerobatic competitor and now winner of his first International Red Bull Air Race in Austria. For Matt, the sky has never been the limit, and he tells Samantha McLean why you should aim high too.
WHAT COULD be more motivational than listening to a man who has achieved truly dizzying heights in his career? An inspiring man who tells tales from a life in aviation that includes going into combat as Australia’s Top Gun fighter pilot, evading missiles over Iraq, life in the Red Bull Air Race and countless near-death experiences, all the while using his own extraordinary life experience to convey key inspirational, motivational and educational messages about risk management, goal setting for success and teamwork? This man is Matt Hall.
In recent years, Hall has presented at conferences both in Australia and overseas for major international banks, global engineering firms, Fortune 500 companies, the Australian Institute of Sport, the Australian International Aerospace Congress and on Australia Day as an Official Australia Day Ambassador.
Hall first went aloft in a plane with his father as pilot at the age of two and started flying as a teenager.
“It never entered my head that I wouldn’t fly a plane,” says Hall, “because that’s just what we did in my family. While my friends were off playing cricket and soccer on the weekends, I was training for a pilot’s licence, starting with gliders because you were allowed to fly solo in a glider at 15. My grandfather was a pilot in World War II, and my own goal was to become a fighter pilot.
“Not only did I want to be a fighter pilot, but a fighter combat instructor, which is the top level of Australian fighter pilots. I had a lot of people telling me they doubted I could do that, so I need to convince myself that I could do it. I’m not sure how I stumbled on the power of goals, but as a teenager I thought, ‘Well, you know what? To do it here’s what I’ve got to do.’ I didn’t put a lot of goals in place, I always focused on what the next goal was.”
Hall’s first goal was to get into the RAAF, so he put every effort into firstly getting an interview.
“Passing those interviews and then getting my letter of acceptance into the Air Force was the next step, then the next goal was to be the best I could be at my initial training. I believe goals need to be measurable, so rather than just saying ‘The best I can be’, I actually put a measurable item up saying, ‘I want to dux my course in the initial training’.
“Which I did. Then I put ‘Okay, I want to dux the next round of training’. This is the selection process to go fight, and I was able to achieve that as well. It’s one of those cases in life that if a dream seems a long way off it can seem impossible to get there. The key to achieving goals is to consider them as stepping stones to your dreams. They’re achievable items that are clear and measurable. They all, in the end, line up to take you to your dream.”
According to Hall, setting step by step measurable goals also prevents slowing down and getting complacent.
“When I joined the RAAF, I noticed other people slowed down their work ethic over time, whereas I maintained my work ethic right up to the end. I wasn’t comparing myself to anyone else, I was just trying to be the best I could be.”
As both a fighter pilot and Red Bull racer, Hall has faced extreme pressure situations and danger that would leave most people petrified with fear. The keys to overcoming any level of performance anxiety, says Hall, are preparation and mental rehearsal.
“Performance anxiety clouds the brain and stops you thinking clearly and operating naturally,” says Hall. “The key is extreme preparation and rehearsal so when you step up to the plate you’ve got no self doubt. You’ve done everything you can to be successful. In your mind, you know exactly how it’s going to play out if it goes perfectly and you are also confident that if it doesn’t go perfectly you know what you’re going to do, how you’re going to see it, how you’re going to react.
“Then you can calm down and go, ‘Well, I’m going in there with no remorse.’ That’s the key.
“You also need to visualise and create emotions inside you that you will succeed, because people often hold themselves back self-consciously because they don’t think they can do it, or don’t know what the experience will be like if they win. You see it all the time in every aspect of life; people choke at the final moment and that’s because they don’t believe they can actually do it.”
Ultimately, says Hall, to succeed in anything, from real estate to fighter combat, you have to believe in yourself.
“It’s something every athlete has to deal with, every professional has to deal with,” says Hall. “You have to believe in yourself. Once again, it comes back to preparation and planning so you have confidence in yourself, but the other thing people need to do is remove from their mind things they cannot control.
“If you dwell on the things you can’t control, you will get extremely stressed. You will start to doubt yourself and start thinking ‘That’s going to come and get me. There’s no chance I’m going to ever be successful because that thing I can’t control will take me out’. You’ve got to acknowledge that there are things out there that you can’t control then look at yourself and go ‘I can do a great job no matter what’s thrown at me’.”
Ready to achieve your own goals and dreams? Finally, Hall stresses the importance of putting them in writing.
“I’ve got a big whiteboard in my office,” says Hall. “It’s not for taking notes and writing project timelines. On it, I’ve handwritten the dream and goals with timelines. I sit down and go, ‘What’s going on? It’s all getting too hard.’ Then I look at the dream and go ‘Is this really where I want to be going?’. I’ll visualise myself in 10 years’ time and go ‘That is still what I want’ or it might have changed slightly.
“When you’re freaking out and thinking ‘We’re not big enough. We’re not growing fast enough’ you look at your plan and your dream and then the goals in chronological order and you can generally go ‘We’re doing pretty damn well when you look at what we’ve done’. That will then regather the passion and motivation and hopefully get you out of the slight rut of self doubt and put you back on the horse again.”
Never one short of a big dream and the ability to achieve it, Hall’s next aim is to create an airfield.
“I want to create an airfield in Newcastle that is a hub for all forms of aviation, that people from all over Australia talk about and wish to attend because it embraces the passion I have for aviation. I also dream that when my time is up I can rest peacefully with a smile on my face, knowing my family will enjoy the next hundred years.”
And the Hall flying tradition looks to be in good hands for a fourth generation.
“My son always said he wants to be a scientist,” says Hall. “The other day he asked for a signed copy of my autobiography, The Sky is Not the Limit. He got halfway through reading it and came to me the other night and said ‘Dad, if I was a pilot I’d be the fourth generation, is that correct?’ ‘That’s correct, mate,’ I replied. ‘I’m doing it,’ he said. Cool.”