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10 Inspiring Life Lessons from Astronaut Chris Hadfield

10 Inspiring Life Lessons from Astronaut Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield is an amazing human being. He commanded the International Space Station. He used YouTube to teach us about life in orbit. He used Twitter to give us a new perspective on our planet. He did that viral cover of Bowie’s Space Oddity.

Then he came home. He wrote a book called An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I read that book. It was awesome. Here are some things I learned from it.

1. Have an attitude

In NASA terminology, your attitude is your orientation relative to two positions, for example your spaceship relative to the Earth and a satellite. Losing your attitude is bad, because you could end up drifting, lost and alone in outer space.

Chris Hadfield also thinks of life trajectory like attitude control – you need to stay on the right path to achieve your goals. It’s always not in your control whether you get there or not, but you can do everything in your power to make it happen. In life, losing your attitude – drifting from your path – is way worse than not reaching your destination.

2. Aim for zero

In any given situation, according to Hadfield, you’re either a ‘plus-one’, a ‘zero’ or a ‘minus-one’. If you’re a plus-one, you’re actively adding value. If you’re a zero, you’re generally competent and don’t get in the way. Being a minus-one sucks, because you’re a liability and actively cause problems.

However, if you’re a plus-one and you walk into a situation trying to prove how great you are, you can go from a plus one to a minus one – your ‘I got this’ mentality might easily irritate and prove detrimental to the dynamic.

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So the best thing to do in a new situation? Aim for zero. Listen. Observe. Offer advice. Don’t try to take control of everything. If you know what you’re doing, you won’t need to tell people you’re a plus one. They’ll know it.

3. Utilise the power of negative thinking

‘Negative thinking’ sounds pessimistic. Defeatist. But when you think about it, planning for the worst can actually be energising and confidence-boosting. How? Well, if you always prepare a contingency for every scenario you’ll never be caught off-guard.

Chris Hadfield’s approach is to ask: “What’s the next thing that could kill me?” It sounds exhausting and masochistic. But actually, it isn’t. By thinking about what could go wrong in any specific situation, you preempt problems with your own solutions.

And that means you can actually relax and enjoy life, knowing you’re ready to act if things go wrong.

Chris Hadfield being interviewed

    4. Sweat the small stuff

    “An astronaut who doesn’t sweat the small stuff is a dead astronaut,” says Hadfield. The lesson: averting disaster isn’t about making one-off life-or-death decisions – it’s about learning and understanding all the little things that develop into a bigger issue. An example of astronaut small stuff is knowing the ‘boldface’ – the tried-and-tested instructions that make up NASA’s Flight Rules manual.

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    Not sweating the small stuff runs counter to conventional wisdom, yet there’s truth in it. Yes, an astronaut’s work environment is radically more hostile and dangerous than most people’s. But the point is that paying attention to the granular details – like physical health symptoms or signs of car trouble – makes you incrementally safer.

    5. Do care what others think

    It’s hard to accept we’re not in control of our own destiny. But the fact is other people have more influence over the course of our careers and lives than we do. Chris Hadfield has been to space three times – in 1995 and 2001 on the Space Shuttle and 2013 on the ISS. Yet no matter how hard he worked, it was always someone else’s decision to put him on a mission.

    Which means it makes sense to care what people think about you and your performance. So get feedback. Learn from it. Improve. If the only opinion you’re worried about is your own, you’re probably going to limit your progress.

    6. When the stakes are high, preparation is everything

    We can’t always control what happens to us in life when big moments come around. But we can control how prepared we are. It might seem obvious to prepare if you’re planning to pilot a Soyuz rocket to the ISS, but many of us fail to prepare for normal stuff in life – even if we know there are big moments are coming up.

    So whether it’s a big exam, a job interview or sports final, when the high-stakes situations arise planning for success is key. In most scenarios, Hadfield argues that you’ve passed or failed before you even begin, depending on your level of preparation.

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    Chris Hadfield speaking about his experience

      7. Good leadership means leading the way, not bullying other people to do things your way

      Some people are very successful at intimidating people into going along with their plans. It’s the brute force approach to getting things done. But leading through coercion and bullying others means you’re building your leadership credentials on very weak foundations.

      Chris Hadfield reckons the better way to lead is by proving the best course of action. Setting an example. It’s the consensus-building approach. By showing people the right path, you’re creating a stronger platform for teamwork and leadership. People will follow you because they want to, not because they have to.

      8. Put groupthink at the core of your teamwork

      For Hadfield, the key question to ask when you’re part of a team is: “How can I help get us to where we need to go?” It’s beautifully simple: put the team before yourself, and you’re more likely to win.

      Hadfield argues that you really don’t need to be a superhero to be a valuable member of a team – empathy and a sense of humour are often more important. He also suggests that searching for ways to lighten the mood is never a waste of time, because it encourages expeditionary spirit – everyone pulling together in extraordinary circumstances to collectively accomplish a shared goal.

      Conversely, while sharing common gripes can create a bond between team mates, excessive whining is corrosive and the antithesis of expeditionary behaviour.

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      Chris Hadfield (left) post-landing

        Credit: NASA

        9. Criticise the problem, never the person

        Chris Hadfield believes that if you need to make a strong criticism, it’s better to pinpoint the problem rather than attack the person. Yes, it can be frustrating when you suffer for someone’s mistake, but ridiculing or berating a colleague is counter-productive. ‘Work the problem’ is a core mantra of NASA culture. It’s not about ego.

        In fact, Hadfield advocates going out of your way to help colleagues improve in all areas. This seems strange coming from the hyper-competitive world of NASA, but Hadfield argues that promoting colleagues’ interests helps you stay competitive. Plus you have a vested interest in your colleagues’ success – the better they are, the more they can help you succeed.

        10. Be ready. Work. Hard. Enjoy it!

        Ultimately, Chris Hadfield’s life lessons boil down to being the best that you can be through hard work and preparation. This approach has taken him from being a fighter pilot and test pilot right through to a 20-year astronaut career. It’s not a ground-breaking philosophy, admittedly, but then how often do we truly earn the things we want by working for them? How often do we just wish or hope they’d happen?

        Featured photo credit: NASA via flickr.com

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        Last Updated on September 28, 2020

        The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

        The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

        At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

        Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

        One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

        When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

        So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

        Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

        This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

        Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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        When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

        Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

        One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

        Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

        An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

        When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

        Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

        Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

        We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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        By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

        Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

        While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

        I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

        You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

        Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

        When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

        Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

        Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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        Con #2: Less Human Interaction

        One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

        Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

        Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

        This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

        While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

        Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

        Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

        This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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        For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

        Con #4: Unique Distractions

        Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

        For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

        To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

        Final Thoughts

        Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

        We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

        More About Working From Home

        Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

        Reference

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