Chris Hadfield has spent decades training as an astronaut and has logged nearly 4000 hours in space. During this time he has broken into a Space Station with a Swiss army knife, disposed of a live snake while piloting a plane, and been temporarily blinded while clinging to the exterior of an orbiting spacecraft.
In his bestselling An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Hadfield takes readers deep into his years of training and space exploration to show how to make the impossible possible. Here are some of his lessons.
1.- Being a space flight participant is not really the same as being an astronaut.
Space flight alone doesn’t do the trick. These days, anyone who has deep enough pockets and good enough health can go to space. Space flight participants, commonly known as space tourists, pay between $20 and $40 million each to leave Earth for 10 days or so and go to the International Space Station (ISS) via Soyuz, the compact Russian rocket that is now the only way for humans to get to the ISS. It’s not as simple as getting on a plane; they have to complete about six months of basic safety training.
An astronaut is someone who’s able to make good decisions quickly, with incomplete information, when the consequences really matter.
2.- The best way to reduce stress is to sweat the small stuff.
We’re trained to look on the dark side and to imagine the worst things that could possibly happen. In fact, in simulators, one of the most common questions we learn to ask ourselves is, “Okay, what’s the next thing that will kill me?”
Competence means keeping your head in a crisis, sticking with a task even when it seems hopeless, and improvising good solutions to tough problems when every second counts. It ecompasses ingenuity, determination and being prepared for anything. Astronauts have these qualities not because we’re smarter than everyone else. It’s because we’re taught to view the world–and ourselves–differently. But you don’t have to go to space to learn to do that. It’s mostly a matter of changing your perspective.
3.- An astronaut is essentially a perpetual student.
If the only thing you really enjoyed was whipping around Earth in a spaceship, you’d hate being an astronaut. The ratio of prep time to time on orbit is many months: single day in space. You train for a few years, minimum, before you’re even assigned to a space mission; training for a specific mission then takes between two and four years, and is much more intensive and rigorous than general training. You practice tricky, repetitive tasks as well as highly challenging ones to the point of exhaustion, and you’re away from home more than half the time.
If you viewed training as a dreary chore, not only would you be unhappy every day, but your sense of selfworth and professional purpose would be shattered if you were scrubbed from a mission–or never got one. Some astronauts never do. They train, they do all the work and they never leave Earth. I took this job knowing that I might be one of them.
We spend our days studying and simulating experiences we may never actually have. It’s all pretend, really, but we are learning. And that, I think, is the point: learning.
4.- Fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen.
“How do you deal with your fear?” It’s one of the questions I’m asked most often.
When people try to imagine what it feels like to sit in a rocket with the engines roaring and firing, they assume it may be terrifying. But I’m not terrified, because I’ve been trained, for years, by multiple teams of experts who have helped me to think through how to handle just about every conceivable situation that could occur between launch and landing.
In my experience, fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen. When you feel helpless, you’re far more afraid than you would be if you knew the facts. If you’re not sure what to be alarmed about, everything is alarming.
5.- Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive.
It’s puzzling to me that so many self-help gurus urge people to visualize victory, and stop there. Some even insist that if you wish for good things long enough and hard enough, you’ll get them–and, conversely, that if you focus on the negative, you actually invite bad things to happen. Why make yourself miserable worrying? Why waste time getting ready for disasters that may never happen?
Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive. Likewise, coming up with a plan of action isn’t a waste of time if it gives you piece of mind. While it’s true that you may wind up being ready for something that never happens, if the stakes are at all high, it’s worth it.
My optimism and confidence come not from feeling I’m luckier than the other mortals, and they sure don’t come from visualizing victory. They’re the result of a lifetime spent visualizing defeat and figuring out how to prevent it.
Complement An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth with Be curious and build a character. Pebbles of Perception is is an exploration of the more important decisions in life. Inspired by the teachings of Charlie Munger, the book is an invitation to Be Curious, Build Character and to make Better Choices.
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