Chris Hadfield spent decades training as an astronaut and has logged nearly 4,000 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. The secret to his success and survival is an unconventional philosophy he learned at NASA: prepare for the worst – and enjoy every moment of it.
Synopsis of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
The Power of Negative Thinking
Hadfield funds the self-help gurus by urging people to visualize victory. Some even insist that if you focus on the negative, you invite bad things to happen. This seems to make sense though. Why waste time getting ready for disasters that will probably never happen? Well Hadfield argues that anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying. The best productive idea is to come up with a plan for the worst. This gives peace to the mind.
Whenever Hadfield gets into a crowded elevator, he automatically thinks what he could do if the elevator somehow failed. Same thing happens when he hops into a plane. Hadfield is always asking himself what’s the next thing that can kill me but he assures us that he is not a pessimistic person. He says his optimism is a result of a lifetime spent visualizing defeat and figuring out how to prevent it like most astronauts.
I’m pretty sure that I can deal with what life throws at me because I’ve thought about what to do if things go wrong as well as right. That’s the power of negative thinking.
Aim to Be a Zero
In life you’ll be viewed by other people in one of three ways:
As ‘-1′- Actively harmful person who causes problems.
As ‘0’- Person whose impact is neutral.
As ‘+1’- Someone who constantly adds value.
Everyone wants to be a plus one. You can’t be a plus one if you’re actively trying to prove it by bragging about your plus one things. Yet so many people do it. Anyone who views themselves as more important than the others is not cut out to be an astronaut and will never come close to working at NASA. NASA can’t afford to hire jerks. People’s lives are on the line as well as having to meet the expectations of millions of people who have had to fund space exploration with their dollars. So how do you become a plus one? Hadfield wasn’t sure either, so he observed Jerry Ross the most experienced member in the crew to see how he did things. After a while Hadfield noticed that he would come into the office early to take care of administration tasks for the commander, so the commander could focus on more important things. Ross was never asked to do this and didn’t expect gratitude. He put others needs first and hence in result not only did he bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table but he acted as if he considered himself a zero competent but no better than anybody else. If you’re truly observing and attempting to learn rather than seeking to impress others, you may actually get the chance to do something helpful.
When Hadfield was a student, before he had flown in space he was in a shuttle simulator and noticed the commander reaching to press the wrong button. As Hadfield was watching closely he said wait that’s not the right button. Months later the commander praised Hadfield’s efforts at the Johnson Space Center in front of others. Shortly after that he got his first mission. Although he admits then that this may not be a connection between these two events, they sure didn’t hurt his chances to become a plus 1.
Have an Attitude
In astronaut terms attitude means orientation, which way your vehicle is pointing in relation to the Sun, Earth and other space vehicles. Losing control of attitude could make the vehicle spin out of control and also make it straight from its course creating a life or death situation. If you’re low on fuel then maintaining attitude in space is vital for success. Hadfield believes something similar is true here on earth. So many things are out of our control. You can’t make everyone fall in love with you. You can’t control the economy and you can’t win every game you play but there is one thing you can control and that is your attitude. Chris consciously controls this attitude because to him, a poor attitude is far worse than failing to achieve his goals. The chances of becoming an astronaut are extremely slim. Getting to space depends on variables and circumstances that are outside people’s control as just two Canadians were chosen to be astronauts out of 5351 applicants. If you have a personality type that NASA doesn’t like then bad luck, if you have a minor health defect then bad luck, if the only reason you wanted to be an astronaut who wants to fly around in space then you’d hate being an astronaut. As a general rule of thumb for every few months you train on earth, you spend just one day in space. This is why Hadfield never expected to get to space and he never attached his self-worth and happiness to spaceflight. He adjusted his attitude to enjoy every day whether he was on earth or in space.
Sweat the Small Stuff
An astronaut who doesn’t sweat the small stuff is a dead astronaut. NASA’s strict attitude towards details and rules may seem ridiculous to outsiders but when astronauts are being killed on the job the reason is almost always an overlooked detail that seemed unimportant at the time. For example there was a time when astronauts never wore spacesuits. I mean why bother as the suits take up room and add weight to the rocket while the ship was already designed to protect them but Russians began wearing spacesuits after a valve came loose and their ship de-pressurized during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere in 1971 killing all three cosmonauts on-board. Shuttle astronauts began wearing them after a shuttle called Challenger exploded during launch in 1986 . A cracked ring or a dislodged piece of foam is enough to cause terrible disasters. This is why Hadfield sweats the small stuff even on planet Earth especially when pursuing major goals.
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